Saturday, February 23, 2013

Reflections on Online Teaching

I would like to address this topic in two parts.  First with some reflection on the general topic based on the readings and my experience in my own teaching context in Japan.  Then I’ll turn to one of the resources noted in the Michigan Merit Curriculum Online Experience Guideline Companion Document and reply to the questions.

1. Generally relating online teaching to my teaching context.

I think there are much more limited opportunities for online experiences in Japanese institutions than in Michigan schools.  Where it is being offered it seems to most often be individual instructors or small groups of instructors who are doing it in their own classes or a small set of courses and this is mostly blended learning. However, some institutions are starting to offer teacher-led online courses.  My impression is this is driven more by a desire to expand the pool of potential students, particularly non-traditional aged students and part-time students, than a desire or plan to build technology skills.  These types of learners are accommodated very poorly in the traditional brick-and-mortar courses but are a growing percentage of potential students especially with the age-demographic realities in graying Japan.

I am actually not sure if my university offers any information or training on online citizenship and security.  I do know that during orientation there is an introduction to using the system and students get accounts so they can use the on-campus computers, which is more than at my previous school.  There is no Wi-Fi on campus and only teachers, not students, can connect their own computers to the Ethernet and then only with the IT office having registered and approved the computer.  There don’t seem to be any campus-wide directives or objectives similar to the MI initiative.  Some departments do require a computer course but usually it is based on learning to use Office software.

Online research and online resource evaluation training seem like they would be very valuable for our students.  Students generally are comfortable finding something (and, sadly, copying it) from Wikipedia or doing a basic Google search, but don’t seem to expand beyond that into checking multiple sources, checking the original sources and validity of what they do find, etc.  The Online Experience Guideline Companion Document has a lot of resources in these areas I plan to share with others in my English Education Center.

I think many of the design standards described in the Guide to Teaching Online Courses (pp.6-7) have not made it yet into the general curricular standards though I would say that many language teachers do strive to meet them.  Courses being learner-centered and collaborative, fostering skills rather than only content memorization, and being flexible in both coursework and assessments to accommodate the varied backgrounds, needs and learning styles of students are areas that I feel there is a lot of attention to in the language teaching community but not necessarily at the institutional or regulatory level.  In fact, some polices implemented to make sure educators and students are held to standards can actually run counter to these goals.  As noted in The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age,
… traditional learning institutions, whether K–12 or institutions of higher learning, continue to privilege individualized performance in assessments and reward structures. Born and matured out of a century and a half of institutional shaping, maturing, and hardening, these assessment and reward structures have become fixed in place. But they now serve also to weigh down and impede new learning possibilities. (p. 24)
An insistence on formal final exams which account for at least 25% of the grade is an example of this in some institutions in Japan now.  On the other hand, there is a long-held assumption that a course in any format is to be teacher-led, and there is a recent push from regulators to be certain that course standards are made clear and that even university teachers should be expected, and provided opportunities, to continually improve their teaching practice.

Guide to Teaching Online Courses also suggests three necessary support structures for online instructors, which I would say should apply to teachers delivering blended-learning courses as well.  These are technology infrastructure, technical and administrative support, and educational support.  My experience with Japanese universities in this respect has not been stellar.  One school had no IT office or dedicated support staff, for example, and when Wi-Fi was introduced on campus it was made almost impossible for anyone to get permission to use it outside of one small department which was including ICT as a significant part of their curriculum and required the access.  Also, other than instructors using some of their research and materials budget to attend conferences I have not seen any real education support as outlined regarding ongoing teacher education.

2. Using one of the technologies.

One of the resources that could be useful in my teaching is one I found at  The link I followed from the companion document was no longer active, but by searching around in the courts site I eventually found this.  It is a wiki of 15 different lessons on various aspects of how the court system works.  There are PDFs and PowerPoints to download and use.  While it is designed for 3rd graders in the USA, I think this resource could be applicable to some of my students at university in Japan.  I teach a class of students who are Law majors.  I think this could be an interesting way to give them a project that will be related to their majors more directly than much of the work we do.  How I envision using it is to create groups and then have them look at the titles of the lessons and get each group to choose one of the lessons to explore.  Then they would explore the lesson and do the activities involved in it on their own.  Then I would ask them to research how the Japanese courts would deal with a similar situation.  Finally, each group would use what they learned to create a presentation in English and share it with their classmates.  The presentations could be standard, in front of the class presentations or perhaps video presentations they could upload and share.


  1. I agree Thomas, too often simply fall back on the comfort of Google and settle there. Even at the university level a little training would be beneficial for students when it comes to online learning and research. It seems that we often assume students have basic knowledge of the internet, when really all they are experts on is the social aspect of it. It has turned into an ignored tool for academic work.

  2. Great post, Thomas. I think we are in the infancy of online teaching and learning...and we have to so far to go. My hope is that those of us in the online teaching world are able to keep our minds open to many possibilities that are available. We have to learn and grow as the technologies change and develop.


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