Unit 1 Notes

Site: Emily Carr University's Moodle Site
Course: Instructional Skills Workshop Online
Book: Unit 1 Notes
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Date: Sunday, 26 June 2022, 4:08 AM


Unit 1 Notes


Unit 1 Learning Outcomes

This unit focuses on the following course learning outcomes and self assessment criteria:

Learning OutcomesSelf-Assessment Criteria
Facilitate online learning effectively Read the RRU Teaching Philosophy and compare it to other institutions you have worked for.
Build and sustain online community Discuss the use of appropriate strategies to develop and support online community.

Community Building

To know someone here or there with whom you can feel there is understanding, in spite of distances or thoughts expressed, can make of this earth a garden.

– Goethe

Developing a supportive and connected online learning community is a key factor in helping learners feel comfortable and willing to fully engage in learning activities. Preparing a statement on a given topic and posting it for everyone to see can be an intimidating experience for a learner in a new group, particularly for those who are relatively new to the online environment. When people know a bit about each other and have had an opportunity to interact informally, a sense of camaraderie can develop which encourages people to feel comfortable enough to take risks and explore ideas. Many programs begin with a face-to-face course or residency so learners have met each other in person and have begun to form a cohesive learning community. As an online instructor you might be the "stranger" who needs to get to know your learners.

Jen Walinga (0:34)

We build a sense of connection with our learners through presence, interaction and commitment to a common purpose in a given space and time. Non-verbal and verbal cues of welcome, invitation and encouragement contribute to the tone of a face to face class. In the online environment most of these communication tools are at our disposal if we just know how to employ them.

  • Providing brief audio and video introductions to both the course and yourself as an instructor help bring your voice and personality to the class. Learners can do the same.
  • Make your intentions and expectations explicit.
  • "Silence" in an online course, (a lack of messages, responses to messages or other interactions), can be construed – and misconstrued. In addition, it is easy to misunderstand a written message and draw negative conclusions. When a person is feeling anxious, the likelihood that they will interpret things negatively increases.

Mike Thompson (1:24)

Our job as learning facilitators is to be obviously supportive, both of the group and of the individual. The kinds of learning activities we choose play a significant part in the development of a sense of community. Learners cannot be passive knowledge-absorbers who rely on the instructor to feed information to them. It is imperative that they be active knowledge-generators who assume responsibility for constructing and managing their own learning experience. In a learner-centred environment, many of the traditional instructor responsibilities such as generating resources and leading discussion shifts to the learners. Success in an online learning environment depends on the use of instructional strategies that support this shift in roles.

This shift in roles is very important when team-based learning is integrated into the online environment. Learning teams may look to faculty for their leadership initially and expect in-depth involvement in discussions and activities. The focus, however, should remain on the learners. With the best of intentions, we as faculty run the risk of interfering with group development when we participate too much in the group dialogue and discussion. The opportunity and challenge for the online facilitator is to find a balance between providing too much and too little support. The wisdom of the Tao Te Ching can be aptly applied in the online learning environment:

The teacher guides his students best, by allowing them to lead.

Lao Tzu, Chapter 66


It is important for students to understand that we are actually present, reading their postings watching activities unfold and noting learning processes. This is referred to as "instructor presence". Throughout the four weeks, you will find tips and strategies to establish and maintain presence without being overbearing or stifling student initiative.

Doug Hamilton (1:03)

Often there is a place, such as our Café, set aside for social interactions. This is an area where students can share their lives a bit, and have discussions that are not related to the course curriculum. It serves as a place for conversations that might occur outside of the classroom.

Social activities are best framed as optional so that students feel they can choose to what extent they want to be involved in extra-curricular socializing. Examples of connecting activities include:

  • A thread (or Flickr space) set up to share photos from people's home, work, family, and special events.
  • Threads for students to talk about what they are going to do on holiday break, after the course is done, etc.
  • An exchange of links to personal blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages.

A course Q&A area can be useful as a place to ask questions and get clarification. Students often answer each other’s questions before the instructor has time to respond.

These offer opportunities to create connections through the course content and through linking to people's lives. Don't be afraid to use your imagination and get creative; bring who you are to the online environment. At the same time watch that you don't overwhelm the group with additional activities that burden them. Keep it simple and make much of it optional.

Doug Hamilton (:47)

Paramount to creating a learning community is creating a sense of safety. As a facilitator, the tenor of all your postings should model the kind of respectful, constructive communications you want to foster between students. Be appreciative and acknowledging of the group's efforts and contributions. Be judicious about singling people out and never berate or criticize an individual or group publicly. In Unit Three, we will be looking more deeply into the issue of group dynamics in an online environment.

A Facilitation Tip

Before you begin a unit, preview the required learning activities, including online discussions, to look for opportunities to enrich or enhance the unit's materials. Think about how you will “add value” to the participants' learning process. Adding value might be accomplished through the suggestion of a timely resource to read, a “practical tip”, or a personal story that helps illustrate a key point.

Learning Outcomes

A learning outcome provides a description of what learners should know, understand, and be able to do in a course or program (Huba and Freed, 2000). It provides direction for the design of instructional activities and clearly communicates to learners the end-product of the learning experience. A learning outcome is also learner-focused. It places emphasis on what students will obtain in the learning process, not on what the instructor is attempting to do in the course or unit.

The following passage written by Palloff and Pratt (2001) describes a view of learning outcomes that is aligned with the RRU teaching philosophy:

In a collaborative learning environment, learning and learning outcomes are much more than the simple acquisition of knowledge. The co-creation of meaning and knowledge that can occur in the collaborative online classroom can serve to create a level of reflection that results in what is called transformative learning. In transformative learning, students are able to begin to reflect on the following question: How am I growing and changing as a learner and as a person through my involvement in this course? If the course has been designed to incorporate and invite real life experience into the classroom, students can begin to explore the material being studied not just from an academic standpoint but through the personal meaning they derive from it. As facilitators of the online classroom process, instructors can encourage students to engage in this level of reflection by creating assignments and asking questions that allow students to apply material to their work or life situations.

(Palloff and Pratt, 2001, p. 83)

Furthermore, a learning outcome establishes the basis for learner evaluation by aligning assessment criteria with specific learning outcomes. Assessment criteria are descriptive statements that enable instructors and learners to measure the achievement of specific learning outcomes. Formal and informal assessment processes provide both participants and facilitators with opportunities to evaluate if learning is aligned with pre-set learning outcomes. Often, assessment is viewed with trepidation, and even fear, rather than as part of a learning development process. As learning facilitators, we have a challenging task to incorporate assessment in a way that is both constructive and supportive of our students. This is especially true in the online environment where our students may feel increased isolation and concern.

Jen Walinga (1:21)

Most of RRU's courses have pre-established learning outcomes. One of your key roles as an instructor will be to determine how to use these outcomes to guide and support the learning experience of your students. Thus, you made find it helpful to reflect on the following questions as you prepare to teach your online course:

  • How do the outcomes inform and focus the course's learning activities?
  • How do I keep students focused on the outcomes?
  • How do I ensure that ongoing assessment and feedback aligns with the learning outcomes?

Learning Outcomes and the RRU Philosophy

Jen Walinga (0:44)

As noted earlier, the emphasis in online facilitation is on guiding and supporting learners versus content "delivery". This point is echoed in the RRU Teaching Philosophy:

At Royal Roads University, faculty members share a passion for teaching and learning.


  • value learners as individuals who bring expertise and life experience to their education
  • support learners as they construct knowledge in a personally relevant way
  • enhance their life-long learning skills
  • focus on applied and professional learning
  • integrate research into the curriculum
  • are experts in many substantive areas of knowledge and take steps to share this
  • knowledge in ways that do not interfere with the adult learner's responsibility to learn and reflect for themselves
  • are knowledgeable in current adult learning theory
  • know how to use appropriate learning technologies for the desired learning objectives
  • believe that teaching and learning is a critically reflective practice
  • foster learning climates that are respectful, welcoming and inclusive
  • facilitate learning experiences that are authentic, challenging, collaborative and engaging model and encourage academic integrity
  • are life-long learners who aspire to create experiences where new learning changes all members of the learning community and where learners contribute meaningfully to the learning of others
  • actively participate in the University's global learning community

Using Learning Outcomes to guide learning and assessment is probably the most critical element of the RRU online learning context.

Effective Questioning Strategies

Asking questions — either in discussion forums or as a feedback technique in reviewing a student’s paper or assignment — can help students clarify their thinking, shift perspectives, go to a deeper level of analysis, and reflect on their learning. When students get stuck, effective facilitators can use questions to enhance learning. By posing convergent or divergent, open or closed, high or low level and structured or unstructured questions they enhance students’ knowledge and comprehension.

Asking good questions helps to ensure that students assume and maintain responsibility for their own learning and reinforces the instructor’s role in guiding, not directing, the individual’s learning.

Doug Hamilton (0:40)

Providing Feedback

Feedback is essential to learning. It lets people know whether they are mastering the outcomes and indicates whether or not remedial or additional action is required. Feedback can also encourage students to stretch and reach new heights. Feedback is like water or air for online learners; they need it to survive.

Feedback can be inspiring to students. It can assist struggling students who need more encouragement and positive reinforcement. It can also help students better appreciate the specific strategies they need to use to improve their skill level or performance. Nevertheless, if not done with sensitivity, respect, and empathy, feedback can also be devastating. Poorly planned, organized or phrased feedback can confuse and demoralize a learner. To be effective, feedback should be positive, concrete, and specific. Feedback should also be instructive. Like asking good questions, providing feedback also enables participants to reflect on their learning and determine possible follow-up actions and strategies.

Alicia Wilkes (1:04)

Providing ongoing feedback is one strategy for coaching students. Rather than saying what is wrong or deficient, facilitators provide specific advice that is relevant and respectful on how students can improve their work.

Gathering formative feedback from students while the course is running (through check-ins and informal surveys) is often the most important means of ascertaining how the strategies you’re using to establish and maintain presence are actually impacting the students in the course and allows you to make mid-course adjustments.

Furthermore, as you’ll note from your mini-sessions, you've been introduced to the FLIF model of providing feedback. Before teaching your next online course, it may be helpful for you to determine what kind of feedback model you would like to test out with your students.