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The author of this book, Claire Howell Major, brings a great deal of experience in both on-campus and online teaching to this book, as well as extensive research experience. The book is written for faculty who are new to teaching online, for faculty who are developing their online teaching skills – which is what we are all doing, and for faculty and others who are developing online courses. Howell Major addresses concerns that inexperienced faculty and administrators have regarding online classes, and offers a perspective through research data that indicates online learning is equally as demanding and effective as on-campus course rigor. She covers readiness on behalf of the instructor as well as readiness at the institutional level, barriers to offering and teaching online courses, and methods of overcoming those barriers.
As stated in the book, per the Sloan Foundation, online enrollment "represents 33.5% of total enrollment" (Howell Major, 2015, p. 7). This is a significant segment of the student population. With the increase in the number of students taking online classes, a great deal of focus has been given to researching whether or not online classes offer the same level of rigor as is seen in on-campus classes. The research clearly shows online education does meet the rigor, though some faculty members have a different perspective and believe the rigor is lower. This perception is shared between on-campus-only faculty, faculty who teach both on-campus and online, and faculty who teach online only. The author of this review believes the variety of opinions may originate from the different expectations of instructors at each institution, and how those expectations are upheld.
A major factor in teaching online is the technology. Howell Major discusses how technology is used in the classroom: it is a background element and doesn't really deliver the lessons. Campus classroom technology includes lighting, air temperature, and tools to share presentations and lecture notes. Students do not need to know how to use the technology in place in a campus setting in order to learn. Online classroom technology includes the course platform, assignment methods, and it may be the primary source of teaching the course concepts to students. Students must learn the technology components in order to succeed in online courses. The instructor of the course is both the subject matter expert responsible for teaching the course content, and he/she is usually the first point of contact for students who have challenges using the technology tools.
This additional expectation of technological knowledge places a burden on the instructor and/or developer as the course needs to be designed in a way that makes the assignments as clear as possible as well as relatively easy to find within the classroom and complete. If a student has to spend hours learning a new type of technology (e.g., the assignment asks them to create a video) and they have no experience doing this kind of work, the frustration level is high and the failure rate on the first attempt is also likely high. These issues are barriers to student success and must be addressed during the development process of the class.
In the online setting, faculty must figure out how to best convey the knowledge they have regarding the content. This is often significantly different from how it would be conveyed in a classroom setting. Some students come to the online classroom expecting video lectures or live synchronous lectures, whereas others expect there to be a great deal of self-directed learning. The developer must take into consideration the pathways from which students will learn. Chapter four talks about the different types of pathways – centralized where learning the content is the focus of the coursework, decentralized where students work in groups to address the content learning and yet have the opportunity to go about that learning with some level of creativity, and distributed where students do a great deal of creation in group settings and the group membership can change throughout the class (Howell Major, 2015). Each of these types of structures has benefits and challenges, which are addressed in depth within the chapter.
Online classes may have structures that allow for capturing assessment details to show student learning. As an example, creation of automated assignment rubrics allow instructors to collect the data and organize it in a manner that shows which segments were completed successfully and which segments were most challenging for students. Long-term, this data can contribute to course improvements as well as how successful the course is in teaching students the content.
The book moves on to address concerns developers and institutional leadership must address. The Learning Management System (LMS) choice and use of copyright material to deliver course content are discussed to a depth that allows for a beginning understanding of the concerns related. The information shared in the book will help guide the reader in further research on each of these topics if greater depth is desired.
There is a segment of the book that addresses time management in the online classroom. This is an invaluable look at the demands of an online instructor for those who are considering teaching online but haven't ever done so. There are suggestions to manage time well and ensure that a faculty member is not online 24/7, or even feeling as though they are online 24/7. The book also addresses methods of successfully creating an instructor's persona in the online class, and how to increase connection between students and the instructor. Doing so increases student satisfaction in the course, which in turn leads to increased retention and decreased failure rates. Further, there are suggestions on effective communication, creating community, and engaging the students in the learning environment.
Finally, the book contains a chapter that relates students' rights to an accessible classroom. Recently, several schools and video providers faced lawsuits from students who are hearing impaired and needed closed captioning. The school and video provider lost the lawsuit. This section of the book addresses extremely important details that need to be incorporated into the online classroom to ensure every student taking the course can gain the education the materials are intended to convey.
One of the things found to be a bit challenging is that the sidebars are interspersed with the chapter material. The sidebars are full pages of online faculty knowledge, which are great additions to the book. However, the main text is difficult to find again as there can be many pages of "sidebar" contributions. An example is in chapter 4 where the chapter readings are split from page 87 to page 105. Pages 88 to 104 are sidebars. The author of this review found it challenging to not get distracted by the sidebar readings, and then to pick back up on the text reading.
Overall, this is an excellent look at a variety of different and important elements that need to be considered when developing and teaching online classes.
© 2015 Lynne Trevisan
Lynne Trevisan, D. C., Assistant Professor, College of Health, Human Services, and Sciences, Ashford University