How to Blend Face-to-Face Delivery with Online Tutoring
Jill Margerison, Australia
Jill Margerison is a registered teacher at The Southport School (TSS), Queensland and has experience in the design and facilitation of online teaching forums. She has presented at conferences overseas and in Australia on the impact of digital literacy in education. Jill has a PhD in Political Science and International Relations from The University of Queensland. She also holds degrees related to English literature, Asian literacy and Japanese language. E-mail: Jill.Margerison@tss.qld.edu.au
10 strategies to effective online tutoring
Social media can be a powerful pedagogical tool in the classroom, but the key to its success lies in building a dynamic and sustainable 'online teacher presence'. The 10 strategies below offer insight into effective online tutoring techniques that complement traditional face-to-face educational delivery styles.
Digital technologies have changed expectations regarding the way we connect and engage with both content and each other. Screen, (touchpad phones, laptop devices or other), has become a dominant form of communication, whilst non-linear and non-sequential reading paths have also developed, offering new opportunities to re-construct, deliver and interpret meaning. Harnessing and blending these changes alongside traditional face-to-face educational approaches, provides teachers and students with a variety of innovative learning opportunities. These opportunities not only meet the expectations of 'connectivity' in this digital age, but also offer alternative ways of learning in the classroom which in turn, realise the potential for improved literacy performance, increased critical thinking aptitude and even enhanced levels of motivation. Not surprisingly, therefore, the interest of teachers is piqued. At the same time, however, questions arise over how best to combine emerging digital technologies and social media principles with conventional teaching approaches. This article discusses ten strategies to develop and blend an effective teacher presence online with a face-to-face learning program.
- Building a safe online environment, in which everyone feels comfortable and confident to contribute, is essential. To initiate early active participation, try tempting your students to work with a digital 'ice-breaker.' Consider your audience; your first interactions online might involve posting graphics/audio files or video clips to elicit creative and constructive responses. Remember to scaffold the questions and activities. Allowing for social connection should come before content-oriented goals. Work on building trust before launching into lessons that warrant more complex cognitive online demands.
- Teacher and student commitment to logging into the educational community online is important. From a teacher's perspective, online facilitation does not have to involve '24/7' dedication, but facilitators do have to encourage the growth of their 'pop-up cyber society'. Some forums that report early failure demonstrate the 'abandonment', or inactivity of the facilitator. Don't assume that students will be intrinsically motivated to interact with a digital community for the sake of it. They will join and maintain involvement because they recognize that there is a leader present who is capable of building group dynamics, encouraging social interaction and providing valuable feedback.
- Actively refer to the online forum environment whilst delivering lessons in the traditional face-to-face manner. Consider the forum as an extension of your classroom. Students need to hear you talk about the relevance of their online learning tasks alongside their in-class work. One way that this can be achieved is to set homework online and then utilize interactive whiteboards to 'televise' and praise online contributions. This strategy also affirms the construction of a new literacy reality for students; in that online text is not only significant in a social setting, but also beneficial for the development of cognitive abilities and educational gain. This further consolidates the relevance of digital technology in the classroom.
- Embed positive psychology into the online educational forum. Verbally acknowledging and praising online responses to homework provides reward and extrinsic motivation for students. Like any other community, the digital sphere is a social one, and therefore identification and constructive affirmation of student participation is critical to effective tutoring and overall well-being of the community. Importantly, at the heart of every successful learning experience, lies the facilitation of positive human interaction and communication.
- Use the student’s names online. This personalizes their 'educational journey' within the forum and as a result, builds confidence and satisfaction. It also provides ongoing incentive to interact and contribute to the development of knowledge online.
- Understand that giving feedback online to students provides you with the ability and power to communicate with the whole group simultaneously. Unlike the traditional methods of commenting in student's individual workbooks, the opportunity that digital forums offer for teachers is significant. However, not only is the ability to post online a time saver, it also provides a way of breaking down any perceived 'intellectual' barriers. Delivering feedback in an open forum ensures a way of avoiding any perceptions and pitfalls of 'preferential' written feedback to certain students. Communicating via the forum, can therefore be both equitable for students and economical for teachers.
- Effective teacher presence in forums can contribute to team building. As facilitator, your objective should be to weave together online threads and individual posts (as well as keep discussions 'on-track'). In doing so, you are connecting like-minded ideas, which provides members of your group with new and fresh ways to view their peers. This also highlights that there are opportunities for facilitators to develop cyber-pastoral care skills. Effective teacher presence therefore also means monitoring for any perceived negativity that can pull the online community apart.
- As the online community develops, actively encourage cyber-discussions that hold the potential for further intellectual and educational gain. This kind of encouragement supports discovery based learning pedagogy and will enhance the critical thinking abilities of students. When appropriate, combine these 'extension' cyber-discussions with physical classroom discussions. Social media should not be used in isolation or seen as an ‘add-on’, but rather ‘blended’ into your teaching and learning sphere.
- Effective teacher presence can involve working with online forums during class time to let students experience a virtual live debate within the physical classroom space. The ‘hot potato’ exercise in classrooms is one that can be effectively adapted to suit an online forum setting and activated in class time to brainstorm and develop concepts. Whilst brainstorming online, encourage the students to read and constructively respond to peer postings. This will contribute to overall critical literacy skills.
- As the facilitator of the forum, you might want to establish a clear set of guidelines regarding the ‘netiquette’ of your social media community. It is often helpful to explain the purpose and expectations regarding online communication in the initial stages. In reflecting upon these rules, you might want to think about how you deal with the issue of grammatical correctness – perhaps initial rules can establish a ‘no payout zone’ for grammatical errors? If the students are going to take the risk to comment online in a social media setting, they need to feel at ease to make spelling or grammatical mistakes without believing all comments need to be ‘perfect for publication’ before posting. Also, how often do you expect your students to post comments? Since we all learn in different ways, some students will post regularly and others will be less active. Be encouraging, but also supportive of this likelihood.
Finally, some further thoughts for reflection. Do you consider opening your blog up to other members of staff so that they can see an effective facilitation of ideas online? This type of collaboration between staff members can be a powerful exercise in professional development. Perhaps you could organize an online open day when your site is available for access by staff members. Or even invite other members of staff with expertise in an area to 'guest blog' on specific topics that connect with your unit of enquiry. This would be an innovative way of showcasing the talents of individual staff members. It could also demonstrate teamwork across the faculty and further contribute towards strengthening community spirit across the school.
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