Humanizing Online learning environments

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A short essay which presents some issues of online learning environments and possible ways to overcome them.

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  • Humanizing an online learning environment: issues and strategies.

    New Learning Environments 4/1/2012

    Josefina Quintero Universidad de la Sabana

  • Humanizing an Online Learning Environment: Issues and Strategies

    Technology has been influencing and changing in many aspects our educational

    field that sometimes teachers and a large community around it have felt things may start

    to get out of control or turn into a different thing than being useful. In some cases

    teachers have misunderstood the relevance of migrating the course content to the Web.

    In some others, students have not taken advantage of the presence of personal,

    networked devices for the academic benefit. In this short reflection I would talk about

    some issues and some strategies both teachers and learners can change for better

    professional development and life-long learning.

    As Ken Graetz (2006) states in his article The psychology of learning

    environments technology has appeared to change the learning environments directly or

    indirectly. Therefore, educational institutions should take care at the moment of taking

    decisions to implement a new design for their curricular programs with the benefits or

    distractions technology comes with. It is not that technology is bad in itself, however, its

    use in the different scenarios of learning. Nowadays it is not hard to find courses and

    lessons taught online. They have been adopted by many institutions with the purpose of

    distance or F2F teaching and learning. One of the possible misunderstandings with the

    presence of wireless laptops and cellular phones in the classroom is that some teachers do

    not know what to do with them or have not worked on the idea of turning them into their

    friends.

    Since then, students and teachers have been suffering because of lack of ability to

    use them for their good. In some situations these

    electronic devices were taken as distractors and

    objects which dehumanize understanding and

    relationships among normal people. Due to other

    perspectives social life started to experiment with

    the new generation. They seem to be less open

    when being face to face than when sending instant

    messages and texting their friends. In order to

    humanized online education many considerations

    were put into practice as teachers commenced to use

    networked devices in meaningful and engaging

    activities related to students own learning. At that time virtual learning started to make

    sense and build a new community which had the necessity to establish ties by combining

    the traditional classroom with other learning spaces.

  • To illustrate a little what I want to say in the previous paragraph, I would like to

    take some situations of mine as examples of understanding and bringing into context the

    incredible potential technology may have in my own teaching. First of all, I realized I was

    not aware of who a digital gener was and what it meant in traditional education. Devices

    in their hands were just part of their isolation and absenteeism from society, brains wired

    and called to be unsuccessful people. Fortunately, my perspectives and knowledge about

    this new generation were tuned in the right way and time to be a facilitator more than the

    provider of content I used to be.

    Another issue that seems to dehumanize online learning environments is the poor

    value some teachers could have given to the classwork itself. While some teachers were

    complaining about the negative results wireless devices had in the classroom, there were

    some others who started to unveil the real academic purposes by using them. Instead of

    making the mere migration of course content to the Web, teachers understood how to

    design their classes to facilitate learning and students engagement. It was just a matter of

    perception: from a teacher-controlled class to a more class-related discussion and

    collaborative work ( Graetz, 2006). Also, it was just a matter of training teachers and

    administrators for a better use of management systems and other tools easily found and

    explained on the Internet. That is to say, inexperience with virtual worlds had been the

    cause for ineffective and unsuccessful teaching. Solutions such as the correct use of

    platforms brought different

    views of what technology

    was for. In addition, the

    problem of boring classes

    has also been tackled when

    students found a sense of

    mystery and enchantment

    in what they were doing in

    any of the two learning

    environments they pass

    most of their time: brick-

    and-mortar and bits-and-

    bytes as Ken Graetz called

    them.

    Michael Brown (2005) refers to those learning environments as they can happen in

    real time or asynchronously. The difficulty here points at which one becomes in more or

    less degree an advantage toward collaboration and real contact with the human side of a

    person. Once more social aspects seem to worry the normal development of relationships

  • among participants in a virtual environment. Nonetheless studies have shown that

    cooperation and collaboration can take place in both types of delivery of knowledge. The

    issue here is to provide students with tools to connect what is happening in face to face

    sessions with what happens in virtual spaces. Also, the agreement between the

    institutions objectives and teachers and learners goals might be thought as if one or at

    least strongly related to achieve their purposes.

    Furthermore, the way we understand the transference of content and instruction

    into online environments might assure us succeed or failure of our learners (LaBonte, R.,

    et al., 2003). One aspect this author explains when working with students in virtual or

    physical spaces is that both have to keep the social interaction in order to continue

    favoring the human side of learning and working together.

    Finally, students need to take responsibility of their own learning process.

    Meaning that the teacher can act as a facilitator, but if the learner does not bring their

    part to build knowledge, not many positive and enriched outcomes can come out from

    that relationship (LaBonte, R., et al., 2003). Succeed in learning and teaching depends on

    both parts. Technology alone is not enough to experiment succeed. It is important and

    imperative that education be planned and directed to the engagement and enchantment

    of all members of the educative field.

  • References

    Brown, M. (2005). Learning spaces. Chapter 12. In Oblinger, D., & Oblinger, J.

    (Eds.) 2005. Educating the Net generation. Available electronically at

    www.educase.edu/learningspaces

    LaBonte, R., Crichton, S. & Allison, D. (2003). Moderating Tips for Synchronous

    Learning Using Virtual Classroom Technologies. Odyssey Learning Systems Inc. Retrieved

    from http://odysseylearn.com/Resrce/text/e-Moderating%20tips.pdf [Available as an E

    resource]

    Ken A. Graetz. The psychology of learning environments. Chapter 6. In Oblinger, D.

    G. (Ed.) (2006). Learning spaces. Available electronically at

    www.educase.edu/learningspaces