An online classroom environment presents a unique set of challenges for both teacher and student. Making your digital course accessible and engaging for every student thus requires a different pedagogical approach than in-person education because of the specificities of digital learning. Designing engaging and efficacious online courses necessitates teachers to firstly acquaint themselves with the problems that teachers encounter in the online context.
This module seeks to provide an elicitation of a robust pedagogical framework with tips and tools that can be used to facilitate online education that is more inclusive for participants in the digital classroom – by highlighting practices and approaches that create opportunities to challenge inequalities.
Many teachers had to transition their courses to an online environment in accordance with the safety measures that were taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the move to online learning did not have pedagogical underpinnings in the course design but entailed the use of digital tools in order to continue course instructions in the same vein as in-person classes. In other words, teachers implemented various digital tools to replicate the conditions of a physical classroom, e.g., through videoconference software. This has several pedagogical implications that are important for teachers to consider – whether the transition to an online environment was incentivised by safety considerations or otherwise. A portion of these implications have been captured as chiefly emerging challenges that were identified in a study of student experiences with online courses (Korthals Altes, 2021).
Lack of connection in online courses
According to research, insufficient ‘presence’ had an impact on student participation and engagement. Students experienced online interactions as very limited and superficial, and felt insecure about how the teacher and their unknown fellow students would react to their contributions
Hypervisibility in online classrooms
At the same time, paradoxically, in online classrooms students experience hypervisibility, which is why some students avoid active participation or avoiding synchronous online classroom entirely.
New codes of conduct
In addition, the students often felt insecure about the codes of conduct in the digital classroom and seemed to feel less responsible for their role in shaping the classroom dynamics.
More of the same
At the same time, students found courses and their contents tedious and repetitive, which was demotivating – especially since there was less space to socialise outside of the classroom.
Double audiences in hybrid classrooms
In ‘hybrid classrooms’, where in-person and online presences are combined, students who physically participate in the classroom reap the benefits of in-person social presence, while students who are virtually present run the risk to be more absent and get less attention.
The common denominator in these challenges that online learning presents can be typified as a lack of ‘presence’ in courses taught remotely. The aspect of community establishment and social relations has gotten explicit attention in the field of online education. This presence has been categorised into three interconnected and intersecting elements in a community of inquiry (CoI) framework for meaningful learning – the teaching, social, and cognitive presence (CoI, n.d.). The community of inquiry model or CoI has been used to examine the effects of a sense of presence on learning outcomes. (Arbaugh et al., 2008; Rourke et al., 1999)
- Teaching presence refers to the “pedagogical action from the instructor such as course design and organisation, catalyses discourses, and provides instruction” (Biccard, 2022).
- Social presence denotes “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities” (Garrison, 2009, p. 352, as cited in Akyol, Garrison & Ozden, 2009, p.67).
- Cognitive presence encapsulates how learners construct meaning through discourse and critical reflection on the course content (Garrison, 2009, p. 352, as cited in Akyol, Garrison & Ozden, 2009, p.67).
The CoI framework suggests that teachers can encourage deep learning (cognitive presence) through a pedagogical design that offers a selection of meaningful course content (teaching presence), while using their teaching presence and facilitation of safe and purposeful community engagement for participants (social presence) – to foster a purposeful learning experience. The social presence of the teacher and students in the course is how cognitive presence of the course is mediated and vice versa.
It is important to consider that in the online context both teacher and student can move into the ‘teaching presence’ in that they each have the capacity to exercise educational influence through their actions that contribute to “communicative, social and cognitive processes involved in learning” (Biccard, 2022). This underscores the roles and responsibilities of all classroom participants in establishing an inclusive online pedagogical climate as opposed to looking at the teachers as the sole agent of the teaching presence. By factoring in that the roles of students and teachers change significantly in the online contexts when designing the course, teachers can thus create courses which are based on an inclusive and wholistic pedagogy for online education. Taking this into account in practice requires a certain level of openness and flexibility in course design, so that courses can become more adaptive to the perspectives, needs, and developments of the participants in the online classroom. As Biccard (2022) puts it: “presences such as teaching presence and cognitive presence that are traditionally the instructor’s responsibility can be reframed by distributing them across the participants, content and tools in the learning space”. Such a dynamic pedagogical approach aims to provide tools that strengthen teaching, social, and cognitive presences from the understanding that all participants of the classroom show up as agents of these presences.
Fortunately, the online context offers multiple opportunities for participation and co-construction between teachers and other participants. A range of technological tools exist that invite active participation, in named or anonymized form, which include survey tools, collective brainstorm platforms, online notice boards, and instruments for peer feedback. Students can vary in their forms of contribution, ranging from text to graphs, audio, and video, in synchronous or asynchronous ways. The online context also facilitates co-construction. A course manual can be a dynamic document, and a literature list can easily be made collaborative.
As outlined in the overview below, the main points of consideration for course design for the online environment are ensuring the synchronous & asynchronous availability of (Gronseth & Bauder, 2022):
|Pedagogical objective||Course design element||Course activities||Digital tools|
|Multiple means of engagement||Communication of:
• Discussion structures
• Timeline of discussion
• Expectations for participation
• Expectations for assessment
|• Cloud file sharing (Google Docs, Dropbox, Onedrive)
• Scheduling (Doodle, Calendly, Google Calendar)
|Multiple means of representation||• Multimedia-based discussion tools||• Videoconferencing (Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams)
• Discussion tools (Mentimeter, Miro, Kahoot)
• Content delivery (Youtube, Trello, Microsoft Teams, Twitter)
|Multiple means of action & expression||• Discussion formats||Discussion tools: LMS bulletin & discussion boards, mind mapping, group chats (Whatsapp, Zoom, Mentimeter, Miro, Twitter)|
|• Shared knowledge
|Peer teaching||• Collaborative learning through problem-solving||–|
ECHO, Center for Diversity Policy