September 20, 2018

Some comments on synchronous online learning technologies

A typical Webex interface

A typical Webex interface

Last week was a week of synchronous online sessions for me. I did ‘virtual’ keynotes into conferences in Tehran, Iran, and Beirut, the Lebanon, as well as a Contact North webinar.

The presentations

The topics were as follows:

The technologies

Each was done using a different combination of technologies:

  • Contact North’s was done using Cisco’s Webex, involving Powerpoint slides with my voice over in real time, and questions and comments submitted as text through the Webex chat facility; in this case there were fifty students from 16 different countries scattered around the world attending live. In addition there were about another fifty signed up who could later access a recording of the webinar;
  • the Iranian conference used a YouTube recording of a session I gave face-to-face at York University in 2012, which staff at York had recorded and uploaded to YouTube. The video presentation in the lecture hall was followed by an audio question and answer session from people in the conference hall using VOIP (voice over the Internet) through an American telecommunications company, Webco;
  • the Beirut conference used Citrix’s GoToMeeting web conferencing. This time, I ran the Powerpoint slides on my own computer, which then used GoToMeeting’s shared screen facility to deliver the slides (and my voice) into the lecture theatre in Beirut. Questions and comments were both sent by audio over the Internet and as text through the GoToMeeting chat facility.

In all three cases, as a presenter I was dependent on using the technology solution chosen by the client.

The results: technology

I haven’t seen any formal evaluation yet from participants. I would really like to hear from any participants about what their experience was of the technology. I am conscious then that I can report only from my perspective.

Technically, the smoothest by far was the Contact North webinar, even though the webinar was delivered to many different locations around the world using standard desktop computing and the Internet. The sound quality in particular was excellent. It is not surprising that the technical quality was high, as Contact North has a long history and great experience in audio conferencing. I had the services of an exceptionally high quality moderator provided by Contact North with lots of experience of moderating webinars. This is important, as he was able to pick up the text-based questions and comments that were arriving via the chat facility while I was presenting, and thus he was able to choose the order of questions and comments. (Contact North prefers not to use the audio for comments from participants when there are as many as fifty online different locations.) Also if there were unanswered questions during the session I could answer them later by e-mail, which Contact North would then distribute to those that had signed up.

With the Iranian conference, the use of a pre-existing video of one of my keynotes enabled a high quality technical presentation via local video and sound. However, the big problem for me was the quality of the sound coming back from the lecture theatre in Tehran when it came to the Q and A session. While I was responding to questions, I could hear my voice coming back from the lecture theatre speakers (with about a half second delay), even though I was using a headset and microphone, which meant I had to focus really hard on what I was saying. Also it was impossible for me to hear the questions being asked in Tehran, due to the poor quality of the audio by the time it reached me. I think this had more to do with the acoustics of a traditional lecture theatre and the use of hand-held microphones than the quality of the audio link over the Internet. However, the questions were converted into text via the chat facility, so I was able to respond to them verbally. Nevertheless, given that the presentation and the Q and A session was delivered in a foreign language, I suspect that it must have been difficult for many of the participants.

Language would not have been such a problem at the American University of Beirut, where the teaching is mainly in English. I can’t comment on the quality of the video and sound at the other end. Again, though, it was difficult for me to hear the questions from Beirut and again the chat facility was essential. However, in this case there was not much time for questions in any case.

Overall, audio quality is often the weakest link, especially if people are in an open lecture theatre. The technical problems interfered a little but not enough to prevent my getting across the main points of what I wanted to talk about. The Q and A sessions were not as smooth though as I would like on the conference presentations.

The results: pedagogical

This is more difficult to assess. The issues are general to all keynotes or presentations. Even though some technology systems allow the presenter to see at least a small group of the audience via video, I feel I am always talking into a vacuum when doing webinars or online presentations. Provided the technology is working this is not usually a major problem, but I have in the past been in a situation where I was talking for 15 minutes or more after a connection had been dropped before I became aware that I was talking to myself. Over time, though, the technology has become more reliable, although the basic design (a space for slides with voice over, and chat for questions and comments) has changed very little over the last 20 years.

The bigger issue is that it’s still a lecture and although I do my best to break it up with a few questions or opportunities for comment every ten minutes or so, I am deeply conscious that I am working in a way that is contrary to the message I am usually trying to get across.

Another limitation is that while there is plenty of opportunity for questions and comment, it is very difficult to get a genuine discussion going amongst the participants in the way that you can with an asynchronous discussion forum.

The real benefits

The real benefits of web conferencing are really to do with convenience, economics and ecology.

For participants, the advantage of being able to log on from home or the office rather than travel long distances to a conference or lecture theatre is considerable. For those in a conference, being able to access speakers at a distance enables a wider range of perspectives and approaches to be covered within the conference than would otherwise have been possible. This was particularly important for the people in Tehran who are really anxious to establish better contact with other specialists in online learning now that sanctions are being removed.

For presenters such as myself, the convenience is enormous. I get increasingly jet lagged by international travel, and being able to work from home is also very nice. (However, time differences can be a problem: my presentation into Beirut at 10.00 am their time meant I had to do the presentation between midnight and 1.00 am my time in Vancouver. It was not helped by having a dinner party that ended just before the presentation.) If I had travelled to Beirut or Tehran, it would have been a week out of my life, just for 40 minutes to one hour. Indeed, it wouldn’t have happened because I just don’t want to do that any more (when I was younger, it was different).

And of course there is the cost. Even without a speaker fee and flying economy, you are looking at something like $3,000 to bring a speaker from North America to the Middle East, by the time you have covered meals, hotel, taxis and air fare.

And lastly, there is the environment. The cost in greenhouse gases in flying such long distances is huge. Anything we can do to lower greenhouse gases these days is really worthwhile.

Nevertheless, there is a loss. I was in Tehran many years ago, but I would like to visit Beirut one day. You don’t get the close social interaction and networking that physical presence at a conference can provide, and these are often the most valuable parts of a conference for me. The technology is still a little awkward and clumsy and could be designed better to encourage more interaction. But the advantages so much outweigh the disadvantages.

Now I’m off to Toronto for the ChangTalks at Ryerson. This time I will be talking about building an effective teaching environment. It’s more about gardening though than technology. I’ll explain later.




Ensuring quality teaching in a digital age: key takeaways

Building the foundations of quality teaching and learning

Building the foundations of quality teaching and learning

I have now completed and published Chapter 11, ‘Ensuring quality teaching in a digital age‘, for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.’

Unlike earlier chapters, I have not published this as a series of blog posts, as it is based on an earlier set of blog posts called: ‘Nine steps to quality online learning.’

However, there are some substantial changes. The focus here is as much on applying basic principles of course design to face-to-face and blended/hybrid learning as to fully online course design.

More importantly, this chapter attempts to pull together all the principles from all previous ten chapters into a set of practical steps towards the design of quality teaching in a digital age.

Purpose of the chapter

When you have read this chapter, and in conjunction with what has been learned in previous chapters, you should be able to:

  • define quality in terms of teaching in a digital age
  • determine what your preferred approaches are to teaching and learning
  • decide what mode of delivery is most appropriate for any course you are responsible for
  • understand why teamwork is essential for effective teaching in a digital age
  • make best use of existing resources for any course
  • choose and use the right technology and tools to support your learning
  • set appropriate learning goals for teaching in a digital age
  • design an appropriate course structure and set of learning activities
  • know when and how to communicate with learners
  • evaluate your teaching, make necessary improvements, and improve your teaching through further innovation.

What is covered in this chapter

Key takeaways

1. For the purposes of this book, quality is defined as: teaching methods that successfully help learners develop the knowledge and skills they will require in a digital age.

2. Formal national and institutional quality assurance processes do not guarantee quality teaching and learning. In particular, they focus on past ‘best’ practices, processes to be done before actual teaching, and often ignore the affective, emotional or personal aspects of learning. Nor do they focus particularly on the needs of learners in a digital age.

3. New technologies and the needs of learners in a digital age require a re-thinking of traditional campus-based teaching, especially where it is has been based mainly on the transmission of knowledge. This means re-assessing the way you teach and determining how you would really like to teach in a digital age. This requires imagination and vision rather than technical expertise.

4. It is important to determine the most appropriate mode of delivery, based on teaching philosophy, the needs of students, the demands of the discipline, and the resources available.

5. It is best to work in a team. Blended and especially fully online learning require a range of skills that most instructors are unlikely to have. Good course design not only enables students to learn better but also controls teacher and instructor workload. Courses look better with good graphic and web design and professional video production. Specialist technical help frees up teachers and instructors to concentrate on the knowledge and skills that students need to develop.

6. Full use should be made of existing resources, including institutionally-supported learning technologies, open educational resources, learning technology staff, and the experience of your colleagues.

7. The main technologies you will be using should be mastered, so you are professional and knowledgeable about their strengths and weaknesses for teaching.

8. Learning goals that are appropriate for learners in a digital age need to be clearly defined. The skills students need should be embedded within their subject domain, and these skills should be formally assessed.

9. A coherent and clearly communicable structure, and learning activities for a course, should be developed that are manageable in terms of workload for both students and instructor.

10. Regular and on-going instructor/teacher presence, especially when students are studying partly or wholly online, is essential for student success. This means effective communication between teacher/instructor and students. It is particularly important to encourage inter-student communication, either face-to-face or online.

11. The extent to which the new learning goals of re-designed courses aimed at developing the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age have been achieved should be carefully evaluated and ways in which the course could be improved should be identified.

Over to you

Although the previous blog posts on nine steps to quality online learning were well received (they have been used in some post-secondary education courses) feedback on this revised book version will be much appreciated.  I haven’t seen anything similar that tries to integrate basic principles across all three modes of delivery, so I am especially interested to see how these are perceived in terms of regular classroom and blended learning.

Up next

The final chapter, which will take a brief look at the institutional policies and strategies needed to support teachers and instructors wanting to teach well in a digital age. It will deal explicitly with what we should expect (and more importantly, not expect) of teachers and instructors, issues around faculty development and teacher training, working methods for teachers and instructors, and learning technology support.

I aim to finish this (and the whole book, at least in first draft form) by March 14. French and Spanish translations are already under way.

A brief history of online learning

© Online Colleges, 2012

Lepi, K. (2012) Who actually started online education? Edudemic, November 12

No – it wasn’t Sebastian Thrun or Daphne Koller or any of the other MOOC aficionados.

This very brief history posted by Katie Lepi has a decidedly Canadian bias, but is still pretty informative, all the same. In fact it goes back as far as 1959 with the design of PLATO.

I was pleased to see it referred to CYCLOPS, a teleconferencing system I helped to pilot at the UK Open University in 1976.

Given the Canadian slant, I thought it might have referred to CoSy, an online computer-mediated communication system developed by the University of Guelph, and used by the Open University for its first course using online learning, DT 200, with over 1,300 students, in 1988.

I was a faculty member who designed and taught the block of four week’s work on information technology in education and training on DT200. As part of the assessment students had to write an evaluation of computer-mediated communication. My wife was a student taking this course, so her informal feedback (mainly in the form of curses and slammed books) helped shaped my views as well! Conversations went something like this: ‘How do you set the dip switches on the printer?’. ‘Sorry, I can’t help you with that – it’s part of your assessment.’ ‘I don’t want to be assessed – I just want to get the !@x%$ thing to work!’  (If you are old enough to remember dip switches, you’ll appreciate her difficulties.) I’m glad that her ‘anonymous’ assessments were marked by someone else in the team.

Being pioneers is fun, looking back, but it doesn’t always seem that way at the time.

See also: Stephen Downes overview of e-learning and a little history lesson

Nine steps to quality online learning: Step 5: Master the technology

In this post I argue that taking the time to be properly trained in how to use standard learning technologies will in the long run save you good deal of time and will enable you to achieve a much wider range of educational goals than you would otherwise have imagined..

This is the sixth in a series of 10 posts on designing quality online courses. The nine steps are aimed mainly at instructors who are new to online learning, or have tried online learning without much help or success. The first five posts (which should be read before this post) are:

Nine steps to quality online learning: introduction

Nine steps to quality online learning: Step 1: Decide how you want to teach online

Nine steps to quality online-learning: Step 2: Decide on what kind of online course

Nine steps to quality online learning: Step 3: Work in a Team

Nine steps to quality online learning: Step 4: Build on existing resources

A condensed version covering all the posts in this series can be found on the Contact North web site: What you need to know about teaching online: nine key steps‘.

There is also a version in French: Ce que le personnel enseignant doit savoir sur l’enseignment en ligne: neuf étapes clés

Deceptively easy technology

I’m going to be discussing here the following types of online learning technologies:

  • learning managements systems (such as Blackboard and Moodle)
  • synchronous technologies (such as Blackboard Collaborate and Adobe Connect
  • lecture recording technologies (such as podcasts and lecture capture.)

You need to know not only how to operate such such technologies, but also their strengths and weaknesses.

These technologies are deceptively easy to use, in the sense of getting started. They have been designed so that anyone without a computer science background can use them. However, over time they have become more sophisticated with a wide range of different functions. You won’t need to use all the functions, but it will help if you are aware that they exist, and what they can and can’t do. If you do want to use a particular feature, it is best to get training so that you can use it quickly and effectively.

To give one example. With an online course with a large enrollment, there are likely to be several different sections, with perhaps several different instructors. However, the content is likely to be the same for each section. It is possible in some LMSs to enter the content once, then divide the students between different sections, rather than copy and paste the content into each separate section. If set up properly, any change to the content – such as a new url or reading – can also be added once only, with each section getting the new version automatically. However, (a) you need to know the LMS has that feature (b) you need to know how to set it up this way. You also need to know how to keep sections apart, so that each group can have its own version of materials, if necessary. You will also need to decide if individual instructors sharing the same course material can change material centrally and if so, what the procedure is for informing the other instructors.

Furthermore, new functions are constantly being added to existing LMSs. For instance if you are using Moodle there are ‘plug-ins’ (such as Mahara) that allow students to create and manage their own e-portfolios or electronic records of their work. The next wave of plug-ins is likely to be learning analytics, which will allow you to analyze the way students are using the LMS and how this relates to their performance, for instance.

Thus a session spent learning the various features of your LMS and how best to use them will be well worthwhile. The same applies to synchronous technologies such as Blackboard Collaborate. Also it is worth knowing how to incorporate or integrate Collaborate or Adobe Connect with your LMS – or whether it might be better to keep them separate.

This training should be provided by the centre or unit that provides faculty development and/or learning technology support. If your institution does not have such a unit, or such training, I would think very carefully about whether to use online learning – even the most experienced instructors occasionally need such support. Also, just like any profession, you will probably need at to spend a little time least once a year looking at any new features added during the year.

Relate your technology training to how you want to teach

There are really two distinct but strongly related components of using technology: how the technology works; and what it should be used for. These are tools built to assist you, so you have to be clear as to what you are trying to achieve with the tools. This is an instructional or pedagogical issue. Thus if you want to find ways to engage students, or to give them practice in developing skills, such as solving quadratic equations, learn what the strengths or weaknesses are of the various technologies for doing this.

This is somewhat of an iterative process. When a new feature is being described or demonstrated, think of how this might fit with or facilitate one of your teaching goals. But also be open to possibly changing your goals or methods to take advantage of a tool in enabling you to do something you had not thought of doing before. For example, an e-portfolio plug-in might lead you to change the way you assess students, so that learning outcomes are more ‘authentic’ and evidence-based than say with a written essay. (This will be discussed further in the next step ‘Setting appropriate goals for online learning.’)

A recorded lecture from MIT

Why not just record my classroom lectures?

Podcasts and lecture capture enable lectures to be recorded, stored and downloaded by students. So why bother to learn how to use other online technologies such as an LMS?

Although this may appear to be much easier for you as an instructor, you are likely to end up doing more work because you are likely to be inundated with individual e-mails, or have a very high student failure rate. In other words, students in general don’t learn well online in this way. There are several reasons for this:

  • online students need a sense of ‘presence’ of the instructor when studying online. They don’t get this from recorded lectures alone. They need regular and ongoing contact. If this is not ‘managed’ properly by the instructor, you are likely to get lots of e-mail. An LMS provides a variety of ways for you to be ‘present’ online, such as facilitating online discussion, adding materials or personal contributions regarding difficult ideas or concepts, providing online feedback to individual students on their online work, etc.
  • online students have to fit their studying with other aspects of their lives, such as work and family. Usually there is a much higher proportion of students online working full time and with families than in fully face-to-face classes. Long lectures don’t in general work so well for these students.
  • downloading one hour long video lectures takes time, depending on the bandwidth, but can take up to 10 minutes of ‘dead time’ while the video downloads.
  • attention span decreases even more rapidly online than in a classroom lecture.
  • online students also tend to study in smaller ‘chunks’ of time (because of their other life style commitments), so a 50 minute lecture doesn’t work so well for them. Retention tends to be better when studying is spread over frequent but shorter periods of time. An LMS is really good for doing this.
  • over 60 years of research shows that lectures are a poor medium for instruction (see Christensen Hughes and Mighty, 2010). A great deal is missed or misunderstood, and even more is forgotten immediately the lecture ends. Quality online teaching is based on research that has identified how students best learn (see E-learning quality assurance standards, organizations and research). Asynchronous learning combined with a selective use of synchronous technologies provides better results.

This is not to say that the occasional recording from you as the instructor would not be valuable. However, it is best to keep it to 10-15 minutes maximum, and it should add something unique to the course, such as being about your own research, or a guest professor being interviewed, or your relating a news item to issues or principles being studied in the course.

Delivery of content is much better done through the LMS, where it is permanent, organized and structured (see Step 7 later), available in discrete amounts, can be accessed at any time, and can be repeated as often as is needed by the learner.

If you must use lecture capture, think about structuring your in-class lecture so that it can be recorded in separate sections of say 10-15 minutes. One way of doing this is pausing at an appropriate point to ask for questions from the classroom students, thus providing a clear ‘editing’ point for the video version. Then provide online work to follow up from the lecture, such as a discussion forum or some online student research on the topic.


Online learning technologies such as learning management systems have been designed to fit the online learning environment. This requires some adjustment and learning on the instructor’s part. Like any tool, the more you know about it the better you are likely to use it. Thus formal training on the technology is necessary but need not be onerous. Usually a total of two hours specific and well organized instruction on how to use an LMS should be sufficient, with a one hour review session every year.

The harder part will be figuring out how best to use the tools educationally. This requires you to bring a clear conception of how students best learn, how you need to teach to match that, and how to design such teaching through the use of online technologies.

Next step

The next step will focus on setting appropriate goals for online learning and will address some of the pedagogical issues raised in this post.


1. How much formal training have you had on your institutional learning management system? Is this enough or are you now fully confident that you know all the features and how best to use them?

2. When should you use a synchronous technology such as Blackboard Collaborate? What are the disadvantages of synchronous technologies for online students? (see Models for selecting and using technology: 4. Synchronous or asynchronous?‘ for more on this).

3. Should you rethink entirely your teaching when moving online or could you use mainly your classroom material? What would be the possible disadvantages of using recorded lectures online?


Christensen Hughes, J. and Mighty, J. (eds.) (2010) Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Montreal QC and Kingston ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 350 pp, C$/US$39.95

Nine Steps to Online Learning: Step 4: Build on existing resources

Molecule shapes simulation: phET, University of Colorado at Boulder,

In this post I argue that using existing online resources rather than re-inventing the wheel will save a good deal of instructor time compared with creating everything from scratch.

This is the fifth in a series of 10 posts on designing quality online courses. The nine steps are aimed mainly at instructors who are new to online learning, or have tried online learning without much help or success. The first four posts (which should be read before this post) are:

Nine steps to quality online learning: introduction

Nine steps to quality online learning: Step 1: Decide how you want to teach online

Nine steps to quality online-learning: Step 2: Decide on what kind of online course

Nine steps to quality online learning: Step 3: Work in a Team

A condensed version covering all the posts in this series can be found on the Contact North web site: What you need to know about teaching online: nine key steps‘. There is also a version in French: Ce que le personnel enseignant doit savoir sur l’enseignment en ligne: neuf étapes clés

Moving content online

Time management in online learning is critical. Faculty often spend a great deal of time converting their classroom material into a form that will work in an online environment but this can really increase your work. For instance, PowerPoint slides without a commentary often either miss the critical content, or fail to cover nuances and emphasis. However, I’m going to suggest that while some of this work cannot be avoided completely, you can cut down on ‘conversion time’ by using existing online resources.

In Step 1 I recommended rethinking teaching, and not just moving recorded lectures or class PowerPoint slides online, but developing materials in ways that enable students at a distance to learn better. Now in Step 4 I appear to be contradicting that by suggesting that you should use existing resources. However, the distinction here is between using existing resources that do not transfer well to an online learning environment (such as a 50 minute recorded lecture), and using materials already specifically developed for online teaching.

Use the existing institutional technology

Before discussing content, if your institution already has a learning management system such as Blackboard or Moodle, use it. Don’t get drawn into arguments about whether or not it is the best tool, at least when you are beginning. Frankly, in functional terms, there are few important differences between the main LMSs. You may prefer the interface of one rather than another, but this will be more than overwhelmed by the amount of effort trying to use a system not supported by your institution. LMSs are not perfect but they have evolved over the last 20 years and in general are relatively easy to use, both by you and more importantly by the students. They provide a useful framework for organizing your online teaching, and if the LMS is properly supported you can get help when needed. There is enough flexibility in a learning management system to allow you to teach in a variety of different ways. In particular, take the time to be properly trained in how to use the LMS. A couple of hours of training can save you many hours in trying to get it to work the way you want.

The same applies to synchronous web technologies such as Blackboard Collaborate or Adobe Connect. I have my preferences but they all do more or less the same thing. The differences in technology are nothing compared with the different ways in which you can use these tools. These are pedagogical or teaching decisions. Focus on this rather than finding the perfect technology. Indeed, think carefully about when it would be best to use synchronous rather than asynchronous online tools. Blackboard Collaborate is useful when you want to get a group of students together at one time, but such synchronous tools tend to be instructor-dominated (delivering lectures and controlling the discussion). However, you could encourage students working in small teams on a project to use Collaborate to decide roles or to finalize the project assignment, for instance. On the other hand, asynchronous tools such as an LMS provide online learners with more flexibility than synchronous tools, and enable them to work more independently (an important skill for students to develop).

Use existing online content

The Internet, and in particular the World Wide Web, has an immense amount of content already available. Much of it is freely available for educational use, under certain conditions (e.g. acknowledgement of the source – look for the Creative Commons license usually at the end of the web page). You will find such existing content varies enormously in quality and range. Top universities such as MIT, Stanford, Princeton and Yale have made available recordings of their classroom lectures , etc., while distance teaching organizations such as the UK Open University have made all their online teaching materials available for free use. Much of this material can be found at Apple’s iTunesU.

In the case of the prestigious universities, you can be sure about the quality of the content – it’s usually what the on-campus students get – but it often lacks the quality needed in terms of instructional design or suitability for online learning (for more discussion on this see Keith Hampson’s: MOOCs: The Prestige Factor; or OERs: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). Open resources from institutions such as the UK Open University or Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learn Initiative usually combine quality content with good instructional design.

Where open educational resources are particularly valuable are their use as interactive simulations, animations or videos that would be difficult or too expensive for an individual instructor to develop. Examples of simulations in science subjects such as biology and physics can be found here: PhET ,or at the Khan Academy for mathematics, but there are many other sources as well.

But as well as open resources designated as ‘educational’, there is a great deal of ‘raw’ content on the Internet that can be invaluable for online teaching. The main question is whether you as the instructor need to find such material, or whether it would be better to get students to search, find, select, analyze and apply information. After all, these are key ’21st century skills’ that students need to have.

Certainly at two-year college or undergraduate level, most content is not unique or original. Most of the time we are standing on the shoulders of giants, i.e. organizing and managing knowledge already discovered. Only in the areas where you have unique, original research that is not yet published, or where you have your own ‘spin’ on content, is it really necessary to create ‘content’ from scratch. Unfortunately, though, it can still be difficult to find exactly the material you want, at least in a form that would be appropriate for your students. In such cases, then it will be necessary to develop your own materials, and this is discussed further in Step 7. However, building a course around already existing materials will make a lot of sense in many contexts.

What are your colleagues doing?

Another often invaluable resource is the material your colleagues have developed for their courses. If several of you are teaching related courses, it is likely that they will have material, such as a graphic of equipment or a video clip of an experiment, that would also be relevant to your own course. Indeed, if several of you are developing a program, then there is considerable scope for working collaboratively to develop high quality materials that can be shared.


Teaching online offers you a choice of focusing on content development or on facilitating learning. As time goes on, more and more of the content within your courses will be freely available from other sources over the Internet. This is an opportunity to focus on what students need to know, and on how they can find, evaluate and apply it. These are skills that will continue well beyond the remembrance of content that students gain from a particular course. So we need to focus just as much on student activities, what they need to do, as on creating original content for our courses. This is discussed in more detail in Steps 6, 7 and 8.


1. How original is the content you are teaching? Could students learn just as well from already existing content? If not, what is the ‘extra’ you are adding? Is this accommodated in your online course design?

2. Does this content exist on the web? Have you looked to see what’s already there?

3. Are you avoiding using institutionally supported technology, such as the LMS or synchronous tools? If so, why? Have you tried to find out whether they will in fact do what you want?

4. What are your colleagues doing online – or indeed in the classroom, with respect to digital teaching? Could you work together to jointly develop materials?

5. Have you had any formal training in using the institutional LMS or synchronous technologies?

If you feel that your online course is too much work, then maybe the answers to these questions may indicate where the problem lies.


Step 5: Master the Technology