How Not To Teach Online…

Digital pedagogy is not a dancing monkey. It won’t do tricks on command. It won’t come obediently when called. Nobody can show us how to do it or make it happen like magic on our computer screens. There isn’t a 90-minute how-to webinar, and we can’t outsource it.

Jesse Stommel

Surfing this morning, in between the sea of data entry postings which seems to be my lot these days I came upon an interesting article on the net about how not to teach online course work. The story was posted in the journal ‘Hybrid Pedagogy’ ( ) an online digital journal which examines issues of interest in the new digital age teaching discipline.

The reason this particular subject came to mind was a vagrant thought connected to a conversation I had with a colleague late last week. A co-worker is in the midst of a Masters program at the moment. She had asked me: “What pedagogy is your online course using and how do you use technology?”  to which I replied that the course was asynchronous, based in constructivist theory, using reflective writing and contributory message forums encouraging collaboration as scaffolding techniques to create a positive learning environment with a Moodle shell in the background as the LMS (or VLE if you will).

The more I thought about this though the more I felt that, while succinct, it didn’t give a completely correct description and I started wondering what actually made up my own understanding of what the pedagogy of the course work I am planning to develop actually was or is…  and whether or not there was an actual term which defines ‘online pedagogy’ which could be used effectively to describe the online learning experience, the online learning environment and it’s eventual outcomes for students and the way they learn. Do we have to seek a new definition of pedagogy or re-work an old one to fit new paradigms? How much reliance should one place on technology in relation to the new paradigm which occurs as a result of new awareness?  We are  taught that there are numerous ways to teach online course material, but seldom do we focus on what not to do… something which I thought needed examination.

Pedagogy defined is: ‘the art or science of teaching’ and ‘ preparatory training or instruction.’ (The Free Online Dictionary, We know from both EDUC 4150 and 4151 that the online learning environment is very different  to the traditional face-to-face classroom. The learners are diverse as to age, culture, location, motivation, and educational background. Their technological capabilities and expectations of the educational system, especially the online versions, are manifestly different from earlier generations and the model of the instructor as the: ‘sage on the stage’ is being supplanted by ‘the guide on the side’ as more teachers and designers learn to change their approaches to better realize both empathy with and for their student’s aspirations  and drives. Online pedagogy may be better defined  as the application of tools,  processes and mechanisms which are  part of the course design and enable  the student to think, learn and synthesize information related to the course materials on a meta-cognitive level.

It stands to reason that this wide range of diversity means that we must  re-think the use of some of the tools which underpin our course design process, with a view to the 21st century and beyond. This laying out of the future education is a subtle  gift which we pass on An excellent 5 part video presentation supports and underscores the point and is available at YouTube: ‘Thinking Creatively, Teachers as Designers of Content, Technology and Pedagogy’, (1) –, (2)-,  (3) – , (4) – and (5) –

As noted above eLearning is manifestly different from traditional course offerings. Students are diverse and multifaceted: young and old, male and female, of all educational and cultural backgrounds; above all else self motivated. How do we give our students the best chance at positive outcomes without standing in the way and but still encourage positive learning? Three straight-forward principles are set out by Pelz in  the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks which seem to encompass best practices in relation to positive student outcomes and are as follows:

Let the students do most of the work themselves, (or,  I am a LAZY teacher…)

An important lesson in any adult education program, this is really the cornerstone of most practice: adults want a sense of ownership and/or engagement in their education . As teachers this is our obligation and something we tend to forget quickly and to the detriment of both student and instructor.

Interactivity is the heart and soul of any effective asynchronous learning activity ( or even though we are supposed be alone in the digital divide there are people out here…)

People are social creatures by nature and inclination. Unfortunately the online environment lends itself well to separation as we are no longer in the face-to-face environment which makes up the standard issue classroom. Having students interact provides several immediate benefits in that it provides social contact, promotes the learning environment and creates an atmosphere of shared purpose.

Strive for presence: social, cognitive and teaching (or, now you see me, now you don’t…)

The teacher infuses the course with life, with a sense of purpose which is not always seen. A gifted instructor will imbue the online course with his or her particular identity, while at the same time encouraging the students and giving them the room to grow and learn.

Some re-thinking must be structured around the way in which we present material, the way in which we approach the theoretical aspect of imparting knowledge,  as today’s attendees are much more inclined to want to participate and to be involved in the educational process which they feel is theirs to own and contribute to. To quote the video presentations (and Victor Hugo) …” the dominant idea of each generation would in future, be embodied in a new material…” These are three straight-forward guidelines which seem simple enough to elucidate yet are amazingly complex and far reaching in their scope.  (Pelz 2004)

We can interpret this to mean that teachers will be the catalyst for future change through design practices which take into account the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s changing student demands and expectations in the here and now. This means new learning for the teacher, overcoming old habits and predispositions in favour of new, more creative ways of designing and developing course materials for the student in the online course environment. Creativity on both the part of the teacher as facilitator and student as participant must be fostered through interaction and exchange. Group work (both large and small), the use of innovative thinking tools, Web 2.0 tools and applications, new theoretical bases and quality assurance guidelines; all must be integrated into new teaching forms which will force teachers to learn and grow as much as their students.

We must also invest the course with a sense of “Why should I take this?” among our students. As Bonnie Stewart points out so succinctly there are times, unfortunately, when we get so caught up in the whirl of technology that we forget the necessity for human presence  coupled with direction and  the idea that the course work is actually relevant to the students aspirations and educational needs.  (Stewart 2013)

Technology in one form or another reflects a society or civilization’s (there’s a difference) ability to utilize known concepts, devise new ones, formulate new knowledge from the differences and integrate the two into applied devices or techniques. This new knowledge is in turn used to the benefit of members of the parent society and may take the form of  tools or ideas. An excellent video provides a thumbnail sketch of the progression of educational technology and can be found by following this link: This is by no means exhaustive but does illustrate how the development has changed and accelerated as our ability to wield , change and produce technology has changed, especially over the past 100 or so years of the post-industrial revolution era.

With the advent of advanced technology comes increased awareness and a larger  pool of available knowledge. For students this means greater access to more material with attendant better outcomes.Teachers cannot forget that the immediacy of access to information which is the backdrop against which our online material is presented  must be tempered with a healthy dose of reality and the implicit underlying idea that, for the student there is relevance to their educational goals. Teachers must remember not to place too much reliance on the technological aspects of the course construct and remember that the online environment must have a human side.


The Free Online Dictionary,

Stewart, B, ‘How Not To Teach Online’, as published in: HYBRID PEDAGOGY , A Digital Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Technology,  April 11, 2013,

Pelz, B, ‘(My) Three Principles of Online Pedagogy’, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, June 2004, Vol. 8, issue 3,


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