Online Grammar Course


Discussion Questions            
  What if the instructor is wrong or if information is outdated? Will trying to impose an objective reality stifle students' creativity?
                Professor Dale of UCLA writes: " I remember a professor once told me twenty years ago when I was going through teacher training at UCLA, "If a student answers a question incorrectly, there are no wrong answers, he’s just thinking differently than you!" I suppose that was typical 70’s big-lapel-polyester talk then, but the lesson I learned was that my student’s perception of and response to my question was more important than a particular item spit back. For example, on the one hand, I want students in my math class to understand that 8 times 7 is 56. On the other hand, I must respond to an answer of 63 beyond, "No, that’s incorrect."
                The goal of the instructor is to produce students who are greater than their teacher. Students should learn how to teach themselves, to solve their own problems, to become lifelong learners.  The point is that "while some declarative knowledge is absolute, there is no absolute manner of teaching it to others or eliciting it from them. "
                The pressure on the instructor is not to transmit knowledge, but to enhance students’ learning abilities so that they decide for themselves what they want to learn. If, as the instructor, I take on the role of information officer and my students perceive me as their only resource, then I do run the risk of being "wrong or outdated" and doing them a disservice. I’d better be sure I know what I’m talking about.
 Constructivism is primarily concerned with students constructing their own understandings; what they actually construct is a second, albeit an important, priority. However, in generative learning the student is an active participant with the instructor. There are two foci – students link together new items of information and then link them back to older items in previous stored knowledge. WHAT students actually construct is just as important as the fact that THEY are generating relationships within and without them.
                If the generative teacher is doing her job correctly, her students should be able to identify when she’s incorrect or outdated and make the necessary adjustments. How else can good students still learn from poor teachers? They’re probably good at generating meaningful knowledge from other sources (e.g., the textbook, classmates, TAs) and find ways to work around the teacher.                
                Remember that discovery learning is at right angles to the various learning styles from behaviorism to generative learning. In generative learning, it doesn’t matter if students discover new knowledge or are handed it, as long as they generate meaningful connections between new items and between new and old items. The critical difference between constructivism and generative learning is the extensive guidance provided by the instructor in generative learning. That guidance can take on many forms and may appear to be very hands-off or hands-on, but what they learn is just as important as how they learn.         
  Discussion concerning online students’ perceptions: 
        (a) If online students feel overwhelmed or frustrated, what should be done?
                I constantly find the necessity to modify my online courses and the requirements to accommodate students, their perception and their abilities.    This issue probably demands a different set of responses from the online instructor than from the face-to-face teacher. In a face-to-face classroom,  two relevant differences emerge.
                First, the face-to-face instructor is more likely to be aware at an earlier time that students are not pleased or are experiencing a little too much "cognitive dissonance" for their own good. Unless the teacher is lecturing to an auditorium of several hundred students, leaves immediately before and after the lecture through the side door, and doesn’t see anyone during office hours, a face-to-face instructor ought to have some idea that things aren’t proceeding too smoothly. Online, however, it may be a while before a student finally posts a note outlining her concerns.
                Second, when those notes do arrive, students comment much more openly and freely online, particularly when expressing some sort of dissatisfaction. In the face-to-face environment, students may not feel ready to voice their concerns in front of the entire class or even to the instructor directly, unless they feel that they must or that others share their concerns. That’s not to imply that online instructors do not receive any positive feedback.  It’s just that it’s easy for the online student to send off a note when something’s not quite right, no matter how crucial. 

   So how do we respond when students feel overwhelmed or frustrated?

 Remember, there are no wrong answers! In other words, if students PERCEIVE feelings of being overwhelmed or frustrated, then that’s their reality. Whether or not you think it’s justified is not an issue. Online students are customers.  We must come to them; they may not be able or willing to come to us.
                That probably means you’ll have to be very flexible and change your course on the fly if your students are struggling. You may not make all of your original educational goals and may reach others you never dreamed were part of your course. I will address this more completely with the set of questions under #4 that follows.
               (b) If the assumption is that confident learners are better learners, then do you always want your learners to be comfortable? Is overconfidence a danger here?
                Yes, the comfort and confidence that better learners feel when learning something new. They can sense that they're going to get it. Perhaps it starts with trust in the instructor and/or textbook, but somehow they begin to gain momentum in their learning. And so eventually, they develop a stronger sense of self-efficacy.
                Some students may not be feeling this level of confidence and it's the job of the instructor/facilitator to encourage them to articulate their thought processes as they struggle with the material to be learned. You'll be able to separate the students who know what they need from those who need additional help from you.
                Professor Dale of UCLA writes: "Overconfidence is rarely a problem here, since you can always overwhelm them with new material and new challenges at any time. Since you're the resident content expert in this cyber-classroom, you can always pull the rug out from under them any time you think it's necessary to shake them up a bit."
                So your goal is to help your students become self-regulated learners. Help them to monitor their own progress, i.e., to know what they know and what they still need to learn and to find positive ways of accomplishing their learning goals.
                Making mistakes is not the issue here.  For a while. A lot of good learning can occur while students wrestle with the material. If things aren't going too well for them, you may need to step in and offer suggestions.
                Dr. Dale: "There's nothing more exciting for a student than the feeling of knowing. (Not surprisingly, someone in the research field has already tabbed this phenomenon with a new name in the jargon race – it's called FOK) When a student senses that she's on the right path and getting better at a particular skill, she's going to develop a stronger sense of self-efficacy, particularly if she's been actively involved in the learning. Ultimately, you'll put yourself out of a job and they'll thank you for it. But don't worry, there are always more students out there for you to assist."
  How to adjust course requirements and why: 
 (a) What input is most salient in switching/canceling course assignments?
                As outlined in the previous question, an online instructor knows that s/he will hear concerns from some students and probably not hear from others who feel everything is fine.   Though perhaps an instructor may not be fully convinced that expectations are too high, s/he may decide that student perceptions in this case are more important. Students are customers – their learning must continue. If student comments indicate learning may be breaking down, then the teacher has to make changes, even if that means that students will not learn what is initially  intended. 
 (b) What else should online instructors monitor besides cognitive outcomes and
      what kind of feedback should be provided?
                Communication is obviously critical. The more you know how they’re doing and feeling, the better off you’ll be. For the affective outcomes, you may want to solicit brief wrap-up comments from your students following lectures, assignments, tests, discussions, collaborative work, etc. Examples include: How long did it take you to complete this work? Did you enjoy it? Did it meet your expectations, (if you had any)? Would you change any way it was conducted?
                Your job is to be empathic. You must try and view everything in your online course from the student’s point of view. You must consider how your students are feeling and when you receive such information, I think your first job is to thank them for responding honestly, (even if they do it in such a way that bruises you). They may not be professionals, but you are.
                How you respond can be one of the joys of teaching! It’s a puzzle that must be solved: how to incorporate this comment into improving the course that will make me a better teacher? Whether or not they intended their comment to be used that way doesn’t matter; they may have just been blowing off steam or felt completely different 30 seconds later when they finally found your downloaded lecture already in their files. You for your part are going to make the best of their comment for their classmates and yourself. (
 (c) Will I redesign this course next time it’s offered?
                Each time I teach a course, I examine its design anew. Things constantly change – students, content, course goals, course length, etc. – everything except the jokes.
 (d) If a longer course is condensed, do you squeeze the material or omit some?
                Neither. Cover in depth what is essential and belongs in the short course. Allow for tangential learning to occur in the areas that cannot be covered in depth, i.e., introduce and summarize the material and challenge the interested students to pursue it further on their own.
               By squeezing the material, nothing gets covered at the desired depth, unless of course you’re only offering an introductory course designed to give an overview of a lot of territory.  If you decide to omit some material, you’d better be very sure you’re cutting out the unnecessary stuff. If it’s really relevant, you’re doing your students a disservice.           

  Will the teachers in 2020 be computers?

Human instructors will never become obsolete. They may have to learn how to take on more facilitative roles and let their students access information from non-human sources.

Education will just become more and more interactive as technology advances – students with students, students with teachers, students and teachers with technology, etc.  The technology is still just a tool to be used correctly in the right hands and my job will be to help others learn how to use their tools.

  Concerning the role of the computer in learning:  Will reading still be necessary?
                Yes, definitely! Educational psychologists are still not completely sure how people learn to read nor are they very sure what exactly is happening when people comprehend (or fail to comprehend) a passage when reading. I think there’s a whole lot more going on cerebrally than they’ve identified at this point.
                No matter how much we incorporate technological advances into education, (e.g., the use of graphics and sound to replace text), I think the brain work that is done when reading is part of the same set of skills involved in critical thinking, (i.e., problem solving, analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, etc.). I think we’ll always be teaching people how to read.