By Hamid Ali
Technology is evolving at an exponential rate; the influence of technology has virtually reached all possible fields. This influence has brought especially a variety of benefits, conveniences, advances, high proficiency and high productivity to Online Learning as well. Online learning is education that takes place over the internet and it is often referred to as “e-learning” among other terms. However, online learning is just one type of “distance learning” – the umbrella term for any learning that takes place across distance and not in a traditional classroom (Stern, n.d). According to Sloan Consortium, as cited in Stern (n.d) Online learning is by far the most popular and exponentially growing method of learning at present.
Covid 19 pandemic has forced educational institutions to rapidly convert into an online teaching and learning approach, as large gatherings can further increase the risk of spreading the virus. Therefore, different variations of online classes are quite common these days amongst teachers and university lecturers. During this rapid conversion of traditional face to face classes to online classes, it is important to think about ways to engage students in an online learning environment as well.
As any of our regular faces to face classes it is important to create a social presence for the students learning in an online environment. According to Whiteside, Dikkers, & Lewis (2014), Social presence involves creating a level of connectedness among lecturers and students that determines how motivated students are to take an active role in their own and their peers, meaning-making processes. In addition, Etienne Wenger (as cited in Whiteside et al, 2014) explains that learning is the social negotiation that involves making meaning from abstract information through participation in social activities. Therefore, creating a social experience for online learners is quite important to create an effective learning environment.
In order to create social presence lecturers and instructors can provide opportunities for students to connect with one another and collaborate. This can easily be done through Zoom breakout rooms as well, where students get an opportunity to discuss a shared issue or concept related to a particular topic until the time allocated for the task by the lecturer. By doing so the lecturer is not becoming the centre of every discussion and proving the students a chance to share thoughts freely. There are other simple ways the lecturer can create a social presence in an online class by giving students the opportunity to introduce themselves in their first online class, and providing asynchronous tools such as forums where students can comment and share thoughts on a common theme. Email, discussion forums, Moodle wiki, Non-real-time file sharing are some asynchronous tools that can be used to create a social presence on the Moodle course management system.
Another crucial element in an online class is the use of presentation skills. Lecturers will have to be mindful about maintaining an audible tone and pace. Unlike the regular face to face classes, in an online class where the lecturer presents the content through a video conferencing application, there are several factors that may affect the delivery of a lesson. For instance, if a lecturer’s voice is not audible and clear the students may not be able to understand the delivered content.
Moreover, if a lecturer speaks too fast again this can be an issue as the voice plays a crucial role in the delivery of a lesson in an online class. Therefore, Chapel & Sudha (2020), states that, is important to maintain an audible tone to ensure that the students can hear well. In addition, to improving the audibility of lecturer or instructor, he or she can vary voice volume and make sure that words are articulated and enunciated as clearly as possible. Also, adjust the microphone and check whether it is not so close or too far away from your mouth. If the microphone is too close to your mouth and nose, the sound of breathing may disrupt students attention.
Another crucial factor is the effective use of a web camera. If the lecturer decides to use the camera, then it important to ensure that the lecturer sits in a place where there is ample light and the camera frame properly covers the lecturer’s face and shoulders. Finally, creating the elusion of eye contact can also help gain the attention of students and connect with them.
Interactivity is the next important element in delivering an effective online lesson. Airth (2020), describes interactivity as how much a student uses an online course and how much he or she participates using the various tools in the online learning platform before, during and after a lesson. Unlike in face to face classes, in an online class, the lecturer may not see the cameras of the students or the students may not even turn on the camera, therefore, the lecturer may not see when a student needs prompting to ask a question.
So online interaction requires intentional action on the part of the student. Some of the example ways how a lecturer can promote interactivity are providing opportunities for weekly discussions, making such discussion questions thought-provoking and open-ended, and creating a safe space on the learning platform such as Moodle where students can discuss concepts, concerns and worries as well.
To sum up, creating a social presence, using effective presentation skills, and interactivity for students will help lecturers create a more conducive and fruitful teaching and learning experience for both the lecturer and the students.
Airth, M. (2020). Promoting Interactivity in Online Courses. Retrieved from https://study.com/: https://study.com/academy/lesson/promoting-interactivity-in-online-courses.html#:~:text=Interactivity%20in%20online%20courses%20refers,and%20the%20course%20content%20itself.
Chapel, L., & Sudha, A. (2020). The Importance of Presentation Skills in the Classroom. Retrieved from https://study.com/: https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-importance-of-presentation-skills-in-the-classroom.html#:~:text=Kate%20also%20tells%20her%20class,Develop%20self%2Dconfidence
Whiteside, A., Dikkers, A., & Lewis, S. (2014, May Monday). The Power of Social Presence for Learning. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/5/the-power-of-social-presence-for-learning