The process of learning across a distance has been with us for centuries. Once they were called “correspondence courses.” In the early days of the Internet and online instruction, this was the first model implemented, simply using the Internet as a very fast pony express. Research on learning in the internet environment, however, has taught us that courses on ‘auto pilot’ are much less effective than courses delivered with a real instructor who is ‘really present’ with the learner.
Two models developed using the Internet, one we call ‘Sakai Courses,’ and the other we call ‘hybrid’ course. Within our APU eCollege environment an Sakai Course is an electronic version of a class that meets. The difference between the classroom meeting type of course (‘on-ground’) and the online course is that the meeting takes place in ‘virtual’ time and space. That is to say, the instructor can go online at a convenient time, and each individual learn can go online at their own convenient times. This model makes learning across time zones and continents very convenient. One can be a part of a learning community with students from any number of geographic regions.
The challenge with Sakai Courses is that the instructor must create a sense of ‘presence’ with the learners. This is accomplished through carefully crafted written text, inviting-but-not distracting graphics, and illustrative audio-visual material. Also, it is essential that students see quick and timely responses to online student comments in discussions. Instructors need to engage their online courses daily so that students know they are ‘in the instructor’s immediate presence. .
Using the eCollege Tools
The Sakai Course shell in eCollege includes many important tools to complete the classroom environment and all of these should be used because they were designed to create a sense of presence. The in-shell email tool is more convenient than using your independent email accounts. The Webliogrpahy is important for building links across the electronic world to current real-world course content application. The gradebook is interactive and keeps the students informed that the instructor is carefully monitoring their learning. Chat is an option but it requires real-time participation, so should not be used for full learning community activities. Doc sharing and journal are additional tools through which the instructor can build ready access to course materials.
Essential Materials and Hyper Linked Text
Where you have essential materials, documents, video or audio clips etc, it is much more effective to place those files in your Files Manager and then hyper-link them into the text of particular presentations where they are being applied, than to put them into Doc Sharing for student download. You can save their time by making either viewable material or download links with such information.