What I most appreciate about the COI framework is the survey instrument developed by Zehra Akyol because it discusses design and organizational elements as well as instructor behavior/instruction, which all (if implemented) could reduce transactional distance between learners. For instance, if the instructor clearly communicates important course topics and goals, keep participants engaged and productive using the online or web-based medium, and develops a sense of community among course participants by allowing participants to converse and interact with others then he or she is helping students feel comfortable in an online community – community being the key word. From a constructivist perspective, learning is an active, social process. Therefore, the COI framework encourages both social and teacher presence in order to help learners feel as though they truly know their teacher and their peers. I especially liked the encouragement of instructors to provide feedback in a timely fashion – that goes for both in-class and online teaching environments. So often, my freshmen complain that they have no idea how they are doing in a class. Around midterms, we’ll sit down to calculate their tentative GPA. More often than not, I get the “I haven’t gotten any tests back, so I don’t know where I stand.” I recommend they meet with their instructor during office hours, but freshmen in particular don’t feel comfortable meeting one on one with an instructor. I don’t think they can relate to their instructor as a real person. Instead, they think professors are this expert, god-like creature with the power to belittle you if approached about a grade or new way of thinking. If developing an online or blended course, it’s so helpful for the students to know and regularly have opportunities to converse with the professor as well as their peers.
I spoke with VCU’s Econ chair a few days ago about her blended course in macroeconomics. She walked me through her rampages course and made sure to point out that she offers an audio, voice over powerpoint that allows students to hear her voice and watch her work out problems. She emphasized how important it is for her students to know she’s an actual person. Beautifully put I thought at the time and so relevant to the COI framework. An article I found on the web offered helpful tips on reducing transactional distance that could also assist course developers in designing learning opportunities. Some of the suggestions on teacher presence could include YouTube videos or audio podcasts, showing course content on an incremental basis, and using visuals with photographs of yourself. From a social presence angle, instructors could develop debate-style discussions that would engage and encourage other viewpoints surrounding a topic. The discussion prompts could not only help improve participation among students, but also offer participants the opportunity to appreciate different perspectives and develop group cohesion (cognitive presence).
My module topic will address how to help freshmen be more successful in blended learning environments. Most of my former advisees are freshmen business majors who are required to take online and blended coursework in their first year. I want to start conversations with them about their online preparedness when they first arrive on campus. I have the benefit of teaching introduction to university courses and academic success skills classes, so I already teach goal action plans, time management, and study skills that I will adapt to an online learning format. I envision one lesson introducing blended learning to students and making them aware of the tools that will be used. If I clearly communicate the topic and goal of the module, then I’m implementing the design techniques mentioned in the COI survey. Since I want students to individually assess themselves and how that relates to the tools they’ll be using, I don’t want them playing the “compare game” with their peers. If I incorporate some social aspect, I think I’d like to have an ongoing (and structured) discussion forum for students to discuss their online experiences throughout the semester. It can be an opportunity for students to hear from others in the same, confused state or from others who may be offering best practice solutions for navigating an online tool. I like the idea of students learning from one another about the do’s and don’ts. I’d then act as facilitator of those discussions. Along those lines, there could be an option for students to have online discussions about their goal action plans. I find when students share their goals with others, it brings about a level of accountability among their peers. I think this could also trigger cognitive presence because students would feel motivated to discuss problems related to course issues and construct solutions on their own.