This little book packs a whallop in terms of professional development for online teachers. As a grade 12 online English teacher, and a teacher-librarian, I found Lehman and Conceicao’s research to be precisely focused on my needs as a teacher to help my students stay motivated and to retain students in the course.
Immediately, the authors set up a common lexicon for the reader to discuss different types of learning and this format of precise language continues throughout the book when talking about phases of engagement, learning strategies, and design strategies. I learned that if we only measure attrition in online learning, then we aren’t truly measuring or acting with the problem of why a student does or does not persist in online learning. I was also interested to learn through the authors’ research that contact with faculty is more important than contact with other students. After just completing my M.Ed. thesis on transliteracy, the transfer of literacy across modes and mediums, Lehman’s research also confirmed that the struggles between user and reader are separate and yet deeply impactful on the success of all students, but especially those working in online classes. In this environment of receiving and giving messages, the limits of self-reliance, problem-solving and collaboration are truly tested.
The authors review the four design strategies that best help students in the LMS which include: consistency, variety, relevance and content (p. 20-23) and offer many specific strategies. One strategy that I will revisit as I enter my 4th online teaching experience is to facilitate ice breakers and ease into multiple social groupings. I also now know that my feedback needs to be more timely and focused on the learning process, not the product. The most meaningful message from this book is actually to help students achieve self-care strategies through metacognition, and explicit teaching about goal setting and rewards. I will be adapting the online resources mentioned in the book into practical checklists to engage my students with their own learning process. Even things like giving a clear syllabus of readings, skills, technology and evaluation is something that I need to more precisely express to my students.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone teaching online in the K-12 environment and beyond.