Plants, animals, and people are all woven together in
the web of life. The Internet is also a web. It's a web
of communication connecting people with information,
ideas, knowledge, and sometimes even wisdom. The Internet
is not woven with information. The web is spun by people
who are willing to reach out and communicate their ideas
Although there are many technologies that can be
integrated into distance learning programs, Internet may
have the greatest impact. By combining text, graphics,
video, and audio elements, students and their teachers
are able share information around the world.
For the past decade, people have been talking about
the "information age." Information is growing at a
staggering rate and the Internet contains an endless
supply. Unfortunately, only a handful of these
information resources are used effectively. Why? The
problem is not information, but communication. Web
development requires skills in the art of communication.
How can you organize and present your information in a
meaningful way so your ideas can be easily accessed and
understood by others?
This book explores teaching and learning at a
distance. It is intended to help teachers develop
effective learning environments for their students using
a variety of technology resources ranging from email and
web pages to videoconferencing. Whether you're a first
grade teacher or a college professor, this book will help
you design and develop effective, efficient, and
appealing distance learning environments.
The Audience for the Book
This book will guide you through the process of
exploring and creating your own distance learning
projects. Whether you're interested in creating a
cyberschool, developing an online course, or simply
building a classroom project, we'll guide you through the
The project possibilities are endless. Consider what
you teach. What could you do better, more effectively, or
with more appeal? How could students communicate their
ideas in new ways? We'll use the tools of technology to
help you build your resources, but the focus should be on
learning, not technology.
The Internet is a reflection of our society, both good
and bad. It's also a reflection of our web of life. We
have the opportunity to build a strong web that reflects
universal cooperation, but we must each play a role.
We're consumers, contributors, collaborators, and
Consumers. You're probably already a
consumer of technology resources. You explore web sites,
communicate with others, watch videos, use software,
evaluate materials, and apply your findings to your
projects. Good consumers are critical thinkers and make
the most of what the technology has to offer.
Contributors. Once you've seen what's
available, you're ready to become a contributor. What
information, insights, or inspiration can you provide
others? Can you find "threads" on the web that you could
weave together? You could add to a web page that someone
else has created or develop a set of links that help
students organize their thinking.
Collaborators. Whether you're working
with a group of students or collaborating with teachers
around the world, your products come alive when you
involve a diverse group of people and their ideas.
Creators. Without creators, there would
be no television, no books, and no web. Internet is woven
by people who have ideas they are willing to share with
others. What do you have to share?
We'll assume that you're already a consumer and
possibly a contributor to the ever growing
technology-rich learning resources available. This book
will help you become a collaborator and a creator of
virtual learning environments.
Using the Book
Carefully reading the information provided on each
page is important in your success as a distance learning
developer. You'll find web addresses, activities, and
questions throughout the text. You should explore the
sites, complete the activities, and answer the questions
to gain the skills you need for project development.
Throughout the text you'll find a sandcastle in the
sidebar. These notes will provide web addresses and well
as reminders and lists of key ideas.
At the end of each chapter, you'll find Build Your
Castle activities that will help you explore topics,
practice new skills, and reflect on your readings.
If the text or activity says Read, you should
read the article listed because it's important for
understanding the concepts being discussed.
If it says Skim, you don't need to read the
entire online article. Look for those aspects that you
think are useful in elaborating on what is being
If it says Examine or Explore, you
should go to the site and conduct your own analysis. Look
at the way the page is constructed, analyze the content,
think about the usefulness and practically of the site.
Be an observer. Be a thinker. Reflect on your experiences
as a teacher and apply this insight to the site.
Pay particular attention to the Real World
Considerations sections, these practical observations
and discussions will help you in applying the concepts
discussed in each section.
As you read and explore, keep in mind the purpose of
teaching and learning at a distance. Virtual learning
environments allow students the flexibility to learn when
they have the time, where they need to be, and how they
In some cases, the "when" is within a traditional
period of the school day, but it may be late at night or
on weekends. The "where" might be in a school, but it
could also be at home, at work, in a cafe, or at a
hospital. Finally, the "how" could relate to the
technology, the learning style, or the interests of the
With the wide range of possibilities now available,
you can build exciting virtual sandcastles that fit the
needs and interests of you and your students.
Ten Things You Should Know
Even experienced teachers with Internet skills will
find developing and delivering web-based courses a
challenge. Each learning environment has unique problems
and frustrations. Although your classroom experience will
be extremely valuable, you'll need to adjust how you
think about student-teacher communication, class
preparation, and many other things you may take for
granted in your traditional classroom.
Whether you're planning a technology course for
teachers or a business management course for MBA
students, your mission is the same. You want to develop a
course where all students will be successful regardless
of their prior experiences with distance learning
The following ten tips review things you already know
about teaching, but may not have considered as you plan
for your web-based course.
Number 1. Students are Individuals
Each student and each class is
unique. Never is this more apparent than in a distance
learning environment. Each student brings a different
level of preparedness for the class and you must be
prepared for each individual.
There will be variations in technology experience,
content entry skills, and preparedness for the unique
characteristics of the distance learning environment.
Some students will enter your course with few technology
skills, while others will be webmasters, ready to expand
their knowledge. As such, students who might excel in a
traditional classroom may find themselves disoriented
among web page readings and frustrated with online
Keep your web-based materials simple and easy-to-read.
Figure 4-13a (http://cyberschool.4j.lane.edu/people/faculty/jaggera/aps1/aps.html)
shows a screen from a high school American Politics
course. An overview of the course is provided, along with
easy-to-use links to course materials such as lessons and
the calendar. Lesson 2 of this course involves learning
how to browse information found on the Internet (see
It's important to provide students with assistance in
learning to deal with this new class environment. For
example, during an initial face-to-face meeting, you
might guide students through the online syllabus,
calendar, requirements, and assignments. Demonstrate how
they can use the calendar to access readings and
requirements. Discuss strategies for exploring, skimming,
and reading in a web environment.
Consider using a "textbook" like format for your web
pages. This familiar format may help students who are
just getting started in the Internet environment. The
economics course shown in Figure 4-14 (http://ingrimayne.saintjoe.edu/econ/TitlePage.html)
is organized like a textbook with a table of contents and
chapters. Students can click on "hot words" in the text
to explore additional information. These key ideas are
also shown in a sidebar in each chapter. Graphs, charts,
and photographs help a student understand the key
Talk with your students about the differences between
live discussions and listserv interactions. A reassuring
face-to-face meeting the first week of the semester can
go a long way in making students feel comfortable.
Although most students have little difficulty getting
used to this new method of learning, the adjustment
period may be much longer for some students. The
instructor must be ready to identify potential problems
and respond quickly with appropriate, effective help. You
may encounter a student who needs almost daily email
support and encouragement, while others may work
independently the entire course.
Be prepared to do some remedial work with students who
lag behind right from the outset. Like all classrooms,
there will be variations in the preparedness of the
students to deal with the content of the course. These
variations are magnified in the distance learning
environment because one-on-one, face-to-face help
sessions are not available. Consider a help listserv or
web page where students can post and assist each other
Number 2. Technologies Change and Evolve
Be prepared to deal with a
variety of technologies that are constantly changing.
During any particular semester, new web browsers will
appear, alternative versions of systems will be
available, and advanced presentation formats may evolve.
Although you may be tempted to jump on each new
technology as it comes along, consider your students,
their skills, and access to technology. Make sure you and
your students are confident in a new product before
making a commitment half-way through a course.
Distance learning can take place using many different
technologies. While the course may start out as a
video-based course, it is likely one or more additional
technologies will be available by the next time you teach
it. You might add a web element and later a threaded
discussion page or a live chat. There will often be
pressure to use new technology, whatever it might be. You
must make an informed decision about whether the new
technology really contributes to the course and is worth
the learn time, development time, and expense for you and
your students. The best way to "Be Prepared" is to
continuously monitor your learning environment to be
aware of which new technology would be the most
Number 3. Technology Fails
Be prepared for failure. Whether
it's your net connection, printer cartridge, or a video
projector, it will be down, out, or just plain dead at
the most unexpected and inconvenient time.
Distance learning requires contingency planning. Think
through what you will do when disaster strikes your
class. This may be as simple as having a spare bulb
handy, carrying a zip drive with a backup disk, or being
prepared to postpone a due date if the server goes down.
Another approach is to have an alternative plan, perhaps
backup technology. Transparencies of a PowerPoint
presentation, a print copy of your outline, or a fax
machine are possibilities.
This type of planning is especially important for
courses that are dependent on a particular technology.
What will you do if the server is down for an extended
time? For instance, keep a backup copy of your web class
pages on another server or a hard drive. Figure 4-14b
shows a link to a "backup copy" of the course materials
located on a different web server.
Number 4. Planning Shows
Careful instructional design and
development is critical for an effective distance
learning course. The better the planning, the more
successful the implementation.
How often have you been just one week in front of your
students? Do you remember developing course materials the
night before class? Have you ever run to the copy center
five minutes before class to pick up handouts? This type
of procrastination doesn't work in a distance learning
environment. All details of the course should be fully
planned and prepared before the course starts.
The distance learning environment tends to exaggerate
both the positive and the negative aspects of all the
elements of instruction. Anything left to chance will
become a major pitfall. Any lack of planning will be
exposed. Adhering to the basics of instructional design
is essential to success in distance learning.
In an Internet-based course, it is essential to have
the completed web pages including activities, projects,
readings, and links in a final form from the beginning.
Although in some courses the pages and projects may
evolve and build as students make contributions, the
skeleton must be ready to go from the beginning. In this
case, an active announcement, discussion, or chat
arrangement is essential in communicating changes,
updates, and evolution of the site. If your site will be
evolving, build in a mechanism to be certain that
students are constantly working with the materials. We've
found that some students will print out pages and not
check the electronic bulletin board or announcements as
often as we would like. Figure 4-15 (http://www.cyberschool.k12.or.us/people/faculty/u/ulen/Shakespeare1/welcome.html)
shows the core page of a high school course on
Shakespeare. Notice that all of the components of the
course are well-organized and listed on a sidebar for
Good students will appreciate your planning. They like
to be able to see the "big picture" before the course
begins including all the assignments, projects, and
requirements. The course will run smoothly and students
will complete assignments on time with little
Number 5. Students
Establish deadlines for each
project and activity ahead of time. You can always waive
or alter deadlines, but it's difficult to add
It's probably not surprising that a disturbingly large
number of students will not do assignments until they are
under pressure from a firm due date. Again, this
situation is exaggerated in the distance learning
environment. Because you are not able to see students
regularly, look them in the eye, and remind them to get
the work done on time, even good students wait until the
last minute. E-mail reminders do not have the same
impact, even if you take the time to send them on a
timely basis. Also, students will not always read your
messages when you expect them to.
Use a course calendar as the core page of your course
and include reading and requirement links as well as
specific due dates. Encourage students to turn in
projects early rather than on the due dates. Use guilt
and competition to your advantage by praising good work
on your discussion list. When students do good work,
include a quote or sample of their work in an online
discussion. Encourage students to conduct peer reviews
and share their experiences. This type of interaction
encourages students to get their work in on time.
Although a web-based course is a great opportunity for
a truly self-paced individualized learning environment,
we've found that very few students have the
self-discipline to set their own deadlines and complete a
course in a reasonable amount of time. This is
particularly true when they are taking other courses that
contain firm due dates and requirements. It's easy to put
the "flexible" course on the back burner and it never
seems to get promoted to the front burner.
Number 6. Track Them or Lose Them
Monitor each student's progress
regularly. Because you do not see each student in person,
it is essential that a planned process be established to
monitor students at some specified interval.
If you do not receive an assignment on time, you will
have an additional reason to check on the student, to be
sure they are still there and doing okay. Students will
"disappear" for a variety of reasons. Illness, personal
difficulties, and work schedules are common problems. A
student might even move and not notify you of the change.
The more regular your contacts, the more likely you are
to hear from the student in these unusual situations. In
addition, it is helpful to have multiple ways to contact
each student. At the beginning of the class, be sure to
get their phone numbers and a mailing addresses.
Consider using electronic post cards as a way to
maintain contact with students (see Figure 4-16).
Greeting cards companies like Blue Mountain (http://www.bluemountain.com/),
authors such as Jan Brett (http://www.janbrett.com),
and companies such as Troll (http://www.troll.com/cardworks/index.html)
provide this free service that can brighten a student's
day and encourage them to stay on track.
Number 7. Students Appreciate Feedback
It's a student's responsibility
to get assignments in on time. In return, it's your
responsibility as the instructor to provide prompt,
A process for quick response and appropriate feedback
should be planned into the course. This lets students
know that you are concerned about their progress and
pleased to get their assignments on time. This
communication may be through email, fax, snail mail,
phone, or posted on a web page.
If students are posting their projects on web pages,
you could remote open a student's web page and provide
feedback right on their page. You could even highlight
ideas in red or green text. Some instructors like to post
general feedback for the class to see. For example, you
might indicate that Susan has cool clip art on her page
that everyone should check out or that David's article
review contains some important points that everyone
There are at least three common options for
communicating with students through email about their
progress. One approach is to respond to student input and
inquiry as soon as it is possible and practical. This
option applies the time management strategy of dealing
with paper immediately rather than letting it stack up.
In other words, when an email assignment arrives, grade
it on the fly, reply immediately, record the grade, and
delete the message. You only have to deal with the
message once and it's gone. Some instructors find this
difficult because they need to get in a particular frame
of mind to "grade." Others find it difficult to mix
tasks. In other words, personal, professional, work,
play, and class email is all mixed together. It may be
hard to move from reading a forwarded joke to grading a
Another approach is to set a particular time each week
to respond to all accumulated student input and
inquiries. For example, you might find that Sunday night
is a good time to quietly go through and respond to all
student assignments. The problem with this approach is
that it lacks timeliness. A student may have to wait for
six days for a response to a simple question. Instead of
one day, you may choose three days such as Monday,
Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 9AM. If students are
aware of your "virtual" hours, they can plan for feedback
during these times.
A third option is to use a separate e-mail account or
folder for student assignments. This way you can grade
projects as they come in, but they aren't mixed in with
You must decide which approach best meets the needs of
your students and yourself during each term. The
important thing is to set a standard for each class,
communicate it to the students early, and follow through
during the course. This way, the students will have
realistic expectations regarding feedback.
Number 8. Technology Takes Time
Whether it's developing the
course, reading a web-based article, doing an assignment,
or grading a project, it will take you twice as long as
you think. Although there are many times when technology
can be time-saving, at least in the beginning, technology
can be a time drainer.
Students can get bogged down with reading off the
screen. They complain about "all the reading", when the
articles are actually no longer than traditional paper
reading. Prepare students by discussing the differences
between web and paper reading.
Distance learning students seem to lose a lot of time
trying to solve problems that could be answered
immediately in a regular classroom situation. Provide
students with time-saving strategies. For example, some
students don't realize that they can have the web and a
word processor open at the same time for taking notes. If
they're having trouble it may not occur to them to email
another student for help. Encourage students to develop a
cohort group and coordinate weekly online study
Number 9. Active Learning Is Critical
Active involvement, student
interaction, and varied activities are important for all
types of learning, but they are essential in working with
students at a distance.
Active involvement is critical in learning. Rather
than just assigning a reading, get students to do
something with the information they've read. One option
is to provide web pages that contain study guides, web
quests, and other activities that use class
Figure 4-17 (http://CyberSchool.4j.lane.edu/People/Faculty/Belonger/
shows a high school course in Marine Ecosystems that
requires students to read an online article from the
Sierra Club site, then write a short response related to
the kelp forest community. The student's writing is then
emailed to the instructor for evaluation.
Rather than requiring each assignment to be graded by
the teacher, use self evaluation, peer evaluation, or
selective grading. For example, students might complete
ten "idea exploration" activities, but only be required
to submit their favorite five activities for a grade.
Keep students interacting through the use of a class
listserv, threaded discussion, or other communication
tool. Figure 4-18 (http://library.advanced.org/2888/)
shows a discussion board for students studying
Try to get students to choose to participate rather
than requiring participation. In other words, if the
discussions are helpful to their assignments, projects,
or learning, they will participate without an assignment
that requires them to "send at least three message to the
listserv." Start with nonthreatening discussions that
help students get to know each other. Consider developing
a web page(s) that contains the names and pictures of
students so that visual learners can "see" their
classmates. Another way to encourage interaction is
through the use of peer evaluation, help sessions, and
Vary your class activities. Email messages, a listserv
discussion, a threaded web discussion, web page
development, and a PowerPoint presentation may all be
assignments within a business management course. Each
assignment would focus on a different aspect of the
course. The listserv and threaded discussions might be
used to synthesize the course reading materials and the
web page and PowerPoint projects would be used to focus
in on a particular topic of interest.
Number 10. Students Have Great Ideas
Listen to students. They have
great ideas for your course. Encourage them to constantly
evaluate the course and provide suggestions. For example,
an activity might take twice the time that you planned.
Why? Ask your students. Be prepared to trim one
assignment, expand another, or cut an activity entirely
later in the course to meet their needs.
Let students take a leadership role in the class. When
things are going well, encourage them to go in expanded
directions. If the course is getting off-track, ask
students to help refocus activities or assignments.
You'll be surprised at how motivated they'll be when they
see that you care enough to involve them in
offers a series of short courses for health
professionals. At the end of each module, students are
asked to complete a short evaluation. The results of this
feedback can be used in course revision (see Figure