Best Practices in Teaching Online from Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher

Brookfield (2015) claims that the key to effective online instruction is adhering to the same fundamental principles of good teaching that are applied in any environment (p. 170). These principles include:

  • setting clear expectations
  • establishing the relevance of the learning early in the course
  • chunking the content in a manageable way
  • using a range of learning modalities
  • questioning skillfully
  • providing continuous feedback to students
  • organizing learning tasks from simple to complex

All of these principles can be applied in an online or blended environment very effectively using standard Learning Management systems. I would add to this list some of Hattie’s most impactful influences on student achievement (Hattie 2013), namely:

  1. Formative evaluation (see my blog post on this)
  2. Self-report grading 

In addition, Brookfield notes that the online classroom environment is still plagued by the same classroom management problems that face to face classrooms have (see Brookfield 2015, p. 170):

  • Reluctant students not wanting to contribute
  • Highly articulate minorities wanting to dominate the class discussion
  • The needs of diverse learnings needing to be addressed
  • How to work with larger groups of students
  • Allowing students to work at different paces.

Brookfield offers some suggestions for best practices in an online environment:

  • Chunk lecture videos into 10-15 minute blocks
  • Set clear expectations (syllabus contains objectives, chief topics and content to be covered, due dates, resources, how students’ work will be assessed)
  •  Set ground rules for discussion posting
  • Providing grading rubrics
  • Create teacher presence (daily summaries, critical incident questionnaires
  • Keep online discussion focused
  • Require students to appraise and critique peer work.

A lot of these principles apply equally well to the blended classroom, and really there comes a point when a teacher needs to decide the level of “blending” they want to do: more face to face, or more online.

Reflections on my context:

I think there is a huge opportunity in a university setting to enhanced otherwise fully face-t0-face classrooms with a more blended learning approach, taking the best of both worlds. It’s important to note and Brookfield has reminded me that best practices in teaching apply equally to the online environment as well as the classroom. A teacher can’t simply put the online course on autopilot and expect good results. That teacher needs to be “present” in some way – either by weekly video posts, online synchronous collaboration, or prompt feedback to assessments and even personal messages to students. Some instructors automate a personalized email for continuous enrollment courses, so students get timely feedback based on when they began the course. So there are lots of ways to enhance the face-to-face classroom so that students can get more out of the learning outside the classroom. More blogging on that later!

References:

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2006). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Granada Learning.

Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2013). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.