Educational Technology & Society 4(2) 2001
ISSN 1436-4522

Practical Strategies for Teaching Computer-Mediated Classes

Moderator & Summarizer:
Brent Muirhead

Faculty, University of Phoenix Online, USA
Tel: +1 770-751-1783

Discussion Schedule
Discussion: 15-27 January 2001
Summing up: 28-29 January 2001

Pre-discussion paper


The rapid growth of computer-mediated schools has created a need for more teachers. Often, the new teachers enjoy taking on new challenges and bring a “pioneer” attitude with them. It helps to be a visionary when tackling new educational problems such as creating lectures that have substance and are interesting for students to read. A real problem is that the literature on teaching online is just developing and sometimes people are forced to speculate on particular teaching and learning problems due to the absence of research studies.

Yet, contemporary learners often have legitimate instructional needs and vary greatly in their academic abilities. Hannafin, Land, and Hill (1997) related concerns that most learners lack the substantial self-monitoring skills that distance education requires. They recommended that students need more academic support from their peers and teachers. Learners must be empowered through thoughtful interaction to acquire the necessary skills to effectively work in an open-ended environment. Distance education places fewer restrictions on learners (e.g. often no set time to learn), and learners must take greater responsibility for their educational experiences. Frequently, learners are under major time constraints with work and family obligations and being efficient with their graduate studies is an important issue.

My discussion will begin with a brief overview of several important philosophical principles that offer a foundation for the online teaching and learning process. Then, the discussion will focus on strategies and principles that will help online teachers to be creative and effective teachers.


Distance Education: Some Philosophical Observations on the Teacher’s Role

Teachers realize that computer-mediated education requires developing a new contemporary vision of learning. Adult educators such as Sherry (1996) affirm a new teaching and learning model that stresses student-centered instruction. Ultimately, it will demand changing the traditional role of teachers from information transmitters to guides who arrange meaningful learner-centered experiences (Salomon, 1992). The term education describes a teaching and learning concept that transcends just merely sharing factual information. It assumes that a capable teacher will know where he or she is going (goal-oriented). The wise teacher seeks to guide his/her students toward greater maturity, preparing them to effectively adapt to a rapidly changing world (Cantor, 1996).

As educators refine their philosophy of distance learning, they are concerned about sustaining interactivity in their educational process. Today’s adult learning theories are built upon the premise that teachers will assist their students to become self-directed and independent. Learners must assume responsibility for their educational experiences, but independent study has natural limitations. If learners do not receive adequate teacher feedback and reinforcement, students will not always know whether they possess an accurate knowledge of their subject matter. A primary goal of adult education is to promote self-directed attitudes and behavior while discouraging excessive dependency upon the instructor (Milheim, 1993).

The facilitator model is based on rigorous academic standards and expectations, requiring educators who are capable of equipping students to be independent learners. Teachers are still considered knowledge experts who have a clear understanding of their subject matter. Yet, their new role involves promoting more self-directed learning activities that cultivate achieving knowledge objectives through personal study. Teachers are challenged to carefully design instructional activities that guide their students into on-line learning situations that promote personal acquisition of knowledge. Teachers strive to encourage positive learning habits that foster both self-directed learning styles and genuine collaboration with other classmates. It requires planning creative on-line instructional assignments that intellectually stretch their students but does not confuse or overwhelm them. For instance, teachers should not consider sharing a lecture transcript unless there were specific questions and class discussion that supported the reading of their lecture material. Mason and Kaye (1990) stated “that information should be designed for a particular medium to best exploit its unique advantage (p. 16).”

Distance educators view computer-mediated education as an excellent format to encourage a variety of adult learning styles while serving an ethnically diverse student population. Genuine interactivity (communication, participation and feedback) should empower learners to cultivate both self-directed instructional skills and develop enriching dialog with other students. The issue of interactivity is a vital issue for teachers as they seek to create class work that promotes lively academic dialog and cultivates critical thinking skills. My interactivity research (Muirhead 1999) highlighted the fact that the quality of interactivity varies among distance education classes. A major problem involved students not receiving adequate feedback from their teachers. In fact, today’s distance educators are developing a new set of terms to describe the learning problems in virtual classes. The word cyberia refers to “a place to which online students feel they have been regulated when they receive no feedback from their instructor (Jargon Monitor, 2000, p. A51).”


Create a Detailed Class Syllabus

Distance educators can promote student interaction by developing a detailed syllabus for their classes. It will provide clear instructions for their online students while offering them a time management device to integrate school work into their busy daily lives. Also, the syllabus plays a vital role in helping students understand the teacher’s expectations and establishes a foundation for positive learning experiences. Fullmer-Umari (2000) a faculty member at the University of Phoenix recommends that teachers should consider using seven key elements in their syllabus:

  1. Course description and overview of subjects covered during the class
  2. Teacher’ biographical sketch that highlights both professional and personal experiences
  3. Teacher contact information  (e-mail addresses and telephone numbers)
  4. Assignment schedule for each week of the course (papers, readings, etc.)
  5. Review of university/class policies for attendance, grading, participation, late assignments, tests and specific details on academic honesty.
  6. Request for student biographical sketches to be e-mailed to a class online newsgroup
  7. Discuss frequently asked questions about assignments and computer problems.

The syllabus does help bring structure and sets the tone to the online educational setting. Adult learners appreciate having a detailed syllabus because it gives them a sense of security and enables them to direct their studies. Livengood (1987) has stressed that online classes should give the learner the opportunity to have enough control to influence the educational process. Obviously, the degree of personal control varies in every learning situation. Teachers give students instructional influence based on factors such as their knowledge of the subject matter and the type of learning assignment. Computer-mediated education is self-paced and learners are given various opportunities to create relevant and interesting work. The distance education format challenges teachers to develop a learning environment that places more responsibility on the student to accomplish academic tasks with minimal teacher assistance. Students are treated as adults who are capable of effectively learning new ideas and academic disciplines (Kasworm & Bing, 1992). It requires having teachers who design relevant lesson plans and are willing to experiment with innovative educational methods (i.e. on-line quizzes). It is an open-ended learning model that will bring some anxious moments to the best online teachers.


Moderating Online Discussions

Educators who are used to having a tightly controlled classroom might feel somewhat uncomfortable monitoring online discussion forums. The discussion format has an unpredictable dimension that makes student-centered learning dynamic but less easy to control. Teachers appreciate the lively debates that characterize most online classes. Frequently, learners offer thought-provoking dialogue because they have time to reflect on the posted comments before sharing their thoughts (Lewis, Treves, & Shaindlin, 1997).

Instructor-guided interaction during the course provides tutors with useful student information that can help instructors get a clear picture of learner needs. The first week of the on-line course is a good time for learners to share with their classmates and teacher their personal and professional backgrounds. Teachers can use the data to refine their learning objectives, assignments, and discussion forums questions to better meet adult learning needs (Rowntree, 1995).

Educators need to be creative in moderating online discussions because every class contains a unique set of individuals who respond differently to the operating in the online environment. For instance, how do you handle lurkers? Sometimes, writers have been somewhat critical of lurkers because of their apparent lack of involvement. In reality, lurkers are learning from the online classes just by reading online postings and communicating privately with other students. Still, it can be frustrating for distance educators to have several people who are not taking full advantage of their learning opportunities. Salmon (2000) offers superb insights from her action research studies on Computer Mediated Conferencing (CMC) at the Open University (United Kingdom). Her findings were based on a combination of content analysis of online communication of students and teachers, focused group work and testing and evaluation of a new teaching and learning model. Solmon provides seven relevant suggestions for helping teachers working with lurkers:

  1. Check that all participants know how to post and ‘reply’ to messages.
  2. Give participants plenty of time to become used to the online environment before insisting that they post their responses.
  3. Check that you have a free-flowing or social conferencing area.
  4. Try some humor rather than anger (e.g. don’t be a lurker – be a worker)
  5. Check whether one or two individuals are dominating the conference – deal tactfully with them to create a more open and equal environment.
  6. Provide a structured evaluation questionnaire or an area for reflections and/or comments (some lurkers prefer safety in structure).
  7. Allocate active participants to lurkers as mentors (pp. 136-137).


Authentic Assessment

Authentic evaluation requires serious reflection that views the teaching and learning process as being dynamic and somewhat fluid. If educators are serious about promoting self-directed learning, then their assessment philosophy should reinforce the importance of giving students opportunities to influence evaluation. A comprehensive picture of evaluation must include student perceptions because they can provide insights into individual testing instruments, term papers, and online class discussions. Learner observations are valuable for gaining a good perspective on the total educational experience. Educators can use a variety of evaluation formats (formative and summative) that offer opportunities to improve the teaching and learning process. Instructors can use telephone calls and e-mail messages to individual learners as excellent ways to cultivate informal feedback that can be used to make immediate course changes. Interactivity is enhanced when teachers ask students open-ended questions that enable learners to share their perspectives about the quality of their educational experiences (Wellspring, 1999). For instance, students might have concerns about the length of discussion posting and what constitutes mastery of the subject matter (Nunn, 1998).

The student-centered model of learning encourages teachers to view their students as academic partners who work together to produce relevant and meaningful learning experiences. It requires professors who are willing to change their standard teaching methods. Boud (1995) related that “they will need to become researchers of student perceptions, designers of multifaceted assessment strategies, managers of assessment processes and consultants assisting students in the interpretation of rich information about their learning” (p. 42).

A holistic emphasis on evaluation challenges teachers to become more flexible in their instructional plans and to consider alternative evaluation methods. Educators need to take a fresh look at instructional procedures that help them “approach non-traditional problems in nontraditional ways” (Willis, 1998, p. 58). Unfortunately, some educators are complacent about their professional growth or resist making instructional changes. Yet, teachers do have a professional responsibility to implement innovative assessment techniques into their teaching practices (Dalin, Rolff, & Kleekamp, 1993).

The student-centered learning model challenges teachers to carefully use descriptive language in their written and verbal comments (phone conversations) to students. Teachers must develop dialogues with their students that foster personal and professional growth. Unfortunately, some professors, through attitude and verbal and written comments, treat their students as subordinates (Hawley, 1993). Obviously, the language of assessment must be caring and honest while providing constructive feedback that helps the learner have a clear picture of their academic work.

Teachers are challenged by the task of evaluating on-line learner responses that are personally relevant and affirm course learning objectives. Interactivity should promote effective instructional feedback that helps learners be informed about the quality of their work (Wagner, 1994). Educators recommend that tutors offer a diversity of feedback comments that are both informational (e.g. quality of performance) and motivational for students. Educators must integrate social interaction during their class actives that affirms active participation and self-directed learning (Milheim, 1995; Wagner, 1997).

Distance education literature reveals that instructors are just beginning to develop new assessment procedures. The absence of formal evaluation guidelines places greater responsibility on each teacher to create their own authentic assessment instruments. Students expect personal and informative feedback on their online discussion comments and term papers (Hodges & Hodges, 1998; Kearsley, 1998).

In my online teaching, students have related that they appreciate having my grading rubric before doing their group projects and individual papers. The following is an example of a basic rubric:

Title Page (title of paper, complete name of student, name of course, teachers’ name & date submitted) Introduction (sets up discussion for reader) & Conclusion (provides summary & closure)

Reference Page (complete bibliographic information using APA style guide & use APA format within paper)

Vary sentence length /correct spelling of terms

Demonstrates a clear focus (organization) 

Demonstrates critical analysis of subject matter

Demonstrates relevance to profession


Cultivating Critical Thinking Skills

A major challenge to distance educators is to create assignments and online discussions that foster critical thinking skills. Contemporary educators are sometimes concerned that distance education is a poor substitute for the traditional classroom. Obviously, online degree programs should uphold high academic standards and one way to do this is to promote critical thinking skills.

Lipman (1995) relates that “... critical thinking is skillful, responsible thinking that facilitates good judgment because it (1) relies upon criteria, (2) is self-correcting, and (3) is sensitive to context” (p. 146). It is one of the best definitions on critical thinking because Lipman integrates the concepts of standards (criteria to measure achievement), skills (especially cognitive) and personal judgment (making wise choices) into a comprehensive educational package. Lipman argues for a holistic instructional approach that acknowledges the importance of both teachers and learners fulfilling their respective roles in the educational process. Teachers must consistently affirm the independence and autonomy of their learners by enabling them to freely pursue authentic learning objectives. Yet, the idea of independence does not mean being totally separate or isolated from other learners and teachers. Rather, a balanced perspective would highlight giving learners the power to assume greater responsibility for their educational experiences while actively working with the teacher and other students (Sammons, 1990). Therefore, the context of learning critical thinking skills is interactive and built upon taking individual responsibility for academic achievements. Genuine reflective thinking requires being dedicated to improving individual academic performance by continuously enhancing cognitive skills.

Unfortunately, the concept of critical thinking has been confused with being something quite abstract from daily living. In reality, adults utilize critical thinking skills in a host of situations: individuals raising questions about their behavior in an relationship, employees who explore the rationale behind their work assignments, managers experimenting with new forms of group work, citizens posing difficult questions to their political leaders, and families discussing the merits of various television shows (Brookfield, 1987).

Brookfield (1987) outlines five characteristics of critical thinking:

  1. Critical thinking is a productive and positive activity.
  2. Critical thinking is a process, not an outcome.
  3. Manifestations of critical thinking vary according to the contexts in which it occurs.
  4. Critical thinking is triggered by positive as well as negative events.
  5. Critical thinking is emotive as well as rational (pp. 5-7).

The five characteristics highlight the dynamic nature of critical thinking and help people realize that life is filled with an enormous variety of opportunities to engage in thoughtful analysis and action. Ultimately, it involves a careful investigation of our personal assumptions about ourselves, our world and our relationships to one another. Critical thinkers tend to look beyond the surface of situations by exploring alternative perspectives. Yet, it is not a purely rational process because people are emotional creatures and any description of their thinking must include feelings.

Peirce (2000) shares eight strategies for teaching thinking in the online setting:

  1. Design self-testing and tutorials on basic chapter content.
  2. Apply the concepts of the textbook chapters to cases or issues every week.
  3. Pose well-designed questions for asynchronous discussion.
  4. Ask students to reflect on their responses to the course content and on their learning processes in private journals.
  5. Create cognitive dissonance: provoke discomfort, unsettle confirmed notions, uncover misconceptions, inspire curiosity, pose problems.
  6. Conduct opinion polls/surveys as pre-reading activities before assigned readings and to arouse interest in issues or topics.
  7. Present activities that require considering opposing views.
  8. Assign a mediatory argument promoting a resolution acceptable to both sides (p.1).



Today’s distance educators face unique challenges that require a willingness to experiment with different teaching strategies. Our discussion on teaching strategies will involve an assortment of issues:

  1. What is considered “reasonable” student access to online faculty members?
  2. What criteria should be used when conducting online peer reviews of faculty teaching?
  3. What type of instructional strategies can online teachers use to humanize the educational process?


  • Boud, D. (1995). Assessment and learning: Contradictory or complimentary? In P. Knight (Ed.) Assessment for learning in higher education, London: Kogan Page, 35-48.
  • Brookfield, S. D. (1987). Developing Critical thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Cantor, J. A. (1995). Experiential learning in higher education: Linking classroom and community,
  • Dalin, P., Rolff, H., & Kleekamp, (1993). Changing the school culture, London: Cassell.
  • Fullmer-Umari, M. (2000). Getting ready: The syllabus and other online indispensables. In K.W. White & B. H. Weight (Eds.) Online teaching guide: A handbook of attitudes, strategies, and techniques for the virtual classroom, Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Hannafin, M. J., Hill, J. R. & Land, S. M. (1997). Student-centered learning and interactive multimedia: Status, issues, and implications. Contemporary Education, 68, 2, 94-99.
  • Hawley, P. (1993). Being bright is not enough: The unwritten rules of doctoral study, Springfield, ILL: Charles Thomas Publisher.
  • Hodges, L. & Hodges, R. (1998). On-line learning and authentic assessment. In Y. Cano, F. W. Wood, & J. C. Simmons (Eds.) Creating high functioning schools: Practice and research, Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 185-191.
  • Jargon Monitor (2000). The Chronicle of Higher Education, 57, 13, A51.
  • Kasworm, C. E. & Bing, Y. (1992). The development of adult learner autonomy and self-directedness in distance education, Report No. CE 063 391, Springfield, VA: DYNEDRS (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 355 453).
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  • Lewis, D. C., Treves, J. A. & Shaindlin, A. B. (1997). Making sense of academic cyberspace: Case study of and electronic classroom. College Teaching, 45, 3, 96-100.
  • Lipman, M. (1995). Critical thinking - what can it be? In A. L. Ornstein & L. S. Behar (Eds.) Contemporary Issues in Curriculum, Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 145-152.
  • Livengood, M. D. (1987). Interactivity: Buzzword or instructional technique? Performance & Instruction, October, 28-29.
  • Mason, R. & Kaye, T. (1990). Toward a new paradigm for distance education. In L. M. Harasim (Ed.) Online education: Perspectives on a new environment, New York: Praeger, 15-30.
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  • Muirhead, B. (1999). Attitudes toward interactivity in a graduate distance education program: A qualitative analysis, Parkland, FL:
  • Nunn, D. (1998). Delivering general education subjects electronically: Part One & Two,
  • Peirce, W. (2000). Teaching thinking online: Strategies for promoting disciplinary reasoning, intellectual growth, and critical consciousness. 6th International Conference on Asychronous Learning Networks, November 3-5, Adelphia, MD,
  • Rowntress, D. (1995). Teaching and learning online: A correspondence education for the 21st century? British Journal of Educational Technology, 26 (3), 205-215.
  • Salmon, G. (2000). E-Moderating: The key to teaching and learning online, London: Kogan Page.
  • Salomon, P. C. (1992). The changing role of the teacher: From information transmitter to orchestrator of learning. In F. K. Oser, A. Dick, & J. Petry (Eds.) Effective and responsibleteaching: The new synthesis, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 35-49.
  • Sammons, M. (1990). An epistemological justification for the role of teaching in distance education. In M C. Moore (Ed.) Contemporary issues in American distance education, New York: Pergamon Press, 151-162.
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  • Wagner, E. D. (1997). Interactivity: From agents to outcomes. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 71, 19-26.
  • Wagner, E. D. (1994). In support of a functional definition of interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education, 8 (2), 6-29.
  • Willis, B. (1998). Effective distance education planning: Lessons learned. Educational Technology, 38 (1), 57-59.



Post-discussion summary


The discussion of the preceding paper occurred on the IFETS discussion list from January 15, 2001, to January 29, 2001.



Muhammad Betz. Muhammad explored the issue of fear and learning in online education. “Brent has stated in his introductory paper, `educators should reduce negative learning experiences by controlling (e.g. censuring their remarks) those who interfere with class dialogue.’ This statement is made while reviewing the results of a research study conducted by Burge (1994). Brent also mentions later in the introductory paper that some instructors face a problem of declining student involvement as on-line courses progress. Is the reduction in student involvement due to fear of censure? This could be so. If the on-line instructor distributes rules for discourse at the outset of the course, the need for censure should be reduced, which in turn could reduce student fear and/or intimidation and lead to the sustaining of student participation throughout the course. End result: more learning. Additionally, online peer reviews might consider the presence of clear directions and rules for participation in discussions at the beginning of the course as a positive characteristic and the presence of intimidating censure during the course as a negative characteristic.”



Charles Adamson. Charlesdid voice a concern for Muhammad Betz’s statement ”if the on-line instructor distributes rules for discourse at the outset of the course, the need for censure should be reduced, which in turn could reduce student fear and/or intimidation and lead to the sustaining of student participation throughout the course. End result: more learning.”

Charles notes that the situation a little more complicated than a simple "more participation equals more learning"? He relates that “many students learn many things better by observing or listening rather than discussing. Instead of a blanket statement that more participation means more learning, I think that we need to consider both the content of the course and the goals. For example, consider a course in computer programming. Some students will benefit from discussions, but others, the majority in my experience, will not find this to be an efficient way of learning. They will benefit most from reading (or listening to lectures) and then doing it themselves. The only discussion necessary would be an occasional question. On the other hand, a course where the teacher does not have all the answers, a literature appreciation course, for example, would require a large amount of interaction between students as they explored various ideas. Thus, we seem to have a continuum with one extreme requiring participation for more learning, but at the other extreme no participation at all.”

Charles states that “I am not arguing against participation or efforts to increase it. I am only saying that we should be sure that it is necessary before trying to increase it. It could be possible that decreasing student participation is simply an indication that the students are changing to a more effective teaching.”


Brent Muirhead.  Brent relates that it is important to establish communication guidelines for students. His students learn that there are five major purposes for online study of groups.

  1. Enhance your self-confidence as you learn to strengthen your problem-solving skills.
  2. Learn to make decisions that will distribute the work equally and effectively among group members.
  3. Help you process the knowledge and workload of the class.
  4. Learn how to work under the pressure of deadlines and time constraints.
  5. Learn how to interact and cooperate with your peers.

Brent reminds his students that it is important to interact with other classmates online by reflecting on their observations and ideas. Their online comments should make a significant contribution to the discussion and that can be demonstrated in one or more of the following ways:

  • suggest alternative solutions,
  • identify potential or real problems,
  • explore new theories,
  • offer sound rationale from textbooks or articles when disagreeing when someone's comments, and
  • share relevant work and research experiences/knowledge during the weekly discussions.



Muhammad Betz. Muhammad reflected on Charles Adamson’s comment "Instead of a blanket statement that more participation means more learning, I think that we need to consider both the content of the course and the goals."  Muhammad acknowledges that Charles makes a true point here, but his statement is taken somewhat out of context. He made the statement in reference to Brent's paper, decried declining participation in "on-line discussions," as courses progressed. Logically, if participation in on-line discussions decreased, the learning that was to derive from structured discussions would likewise decrease.


Brent Muirhead. Brent commented about the need for adult learners to establish a study routine to successfully manage their course work. Students often struggle with learning problems such as perfectionism and procrastination. The students will sometimes complain about "open ended" written assignments because it forces them to move out of their comfort zones. Yet, students learn to handle their fears about term papers as they establish realistic writing goals. Ultimately, students gain the confidence to take some academic risks with their ideas and they take another step towards becoming a self-directed learner (Gobbo & Shmulsky, 1999).


Gobbo, K. & Shumlsky, S. (1999). Helping students manage perfectionism and procrastination. College Teaching, 47 (4), 148.


1-18- 2001

Brent Muirhead. Brent highlighted Randall E. Stross’ attack online education in the January 15, 2001 issue of U.S. News & World Reports. Stross' article was titled "The New Mailbox U.----Discarding standards in pursuit of a buck." He attacks the University of Phoenix and other online schools for being developed as for-profit business operations. The article plays on a variety of fear-based themes involving the interaction of technology and the business world. He assumes that the business community will greatly diminish the quality of online education while eliminating the need for traditional schools and teachers. Unfortunately, the author appears to stress negative educational scenarios without having any reliable information about the online institutions that he freely attacks in his article.


1- 20- 2001

Diane Ehlrich. Diane talks about her efforts to help students have constructive online dialog. “I also create specific `tasks’ for students to do or issues for them to solve and find that is also fairly effective. I am currently using a web board for discussion in the advanced instructional design class I teach and find that students are reluctant to participate at first. Then they seem to make on-connected comments and then they `grow into’ a dialogue.”

She sees a real need for students who are risk takers and timely teacher interventions into the class discussions.  “The class is project based and I am trying to create a virtual team as student’s work together to solve problems and although it doesn't always work, I do think it does need risk takers to start it off. There also seems to be a fine line when I enter the discussion of wanting to direct their comments to me, so I tend to `lurk’ more than contribute. I do feel that it is necessary to carefully craft each topic and engage students (almost like a TV program where they want to `tune in’ so they can catch up).”


1- 22- 2001

Bill Eckersley. Bill is responsible for teaching an online course called Leading and Managing Change. The course is part of the Postgraduate Studies in Leadership and Management program at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Bill notes that he has “used many of the strategies that Dr. Muirhead described in stimulating online discussions. I have found a number of my students have delayed their first contributions until they have read others. I have emphasized the importance of students reading and reacting to each others contributions and at the same time forcing myself to remain in the background in order to encourage student-to student dialogue.”


1- 25-2001

The dialog took a different focus after Brent Muirhead posed two new questions to the discussion forum.

  1. What landmark technologies might alter the future of computer-mediated education?
  2. What additional skills will future online teachers need with the advent of major changes in the technological landscape?


Joan Cushin. Joan discusses the promise and challenges of future online technologies “I think the most exciting potential for on-line education is the use of the on-line technologies to find the best pedagogical learning for all students. The solution will be different for different students depending on access, distance, the skills or discipline being learnt and the learning style of that particular learner. On-line education can provide many solutions, but what the teachers need is enough knowledge and confidence to use the technologies to provide a range of educationally sound solutions for all learners.”

Joan believes that a highly interactive online curriculum will provide excellent learning opportunities but still not meet the educational needs of some students. For instance, there will be students who need face-to-face assistance because they are not as intentional about meeting their learning needs.


Art Recesso. Art related that “one of the technologies that will change the face of online learning is the multiconferencing unit (MCU). Using this server-based system, you are able to interact 'live' with multiple people through video and audio. The system is multi-conferencing and supports multi-points-of-presence. Multiple people in multiple remote locations are able to interact synchronously. The technology allows us to come full-circle, enabling synchronous-learning. While the technology does show promise, we have found several issues to be limiting the widespread use of MCU for online learning.” Art related that cost, bandwidth and firewalls are three issues that are currently limiting MCU. Yet, his optimistic that “as the technology matures we will overcome many of these issues.”


Tom Cantu. Tomoutlines an instructional vision that must face the problem of “distributing high end multimedia instruction over the web. There is so much more one can do to immerse students in learning by using the multimedia capabilities of CBT… Imagine if you could combine the features of multimedia CBT with virtual reality with the best of Electronic Performance Support Systems. Augmented Reality is one name for it. Here is an example: Imagine a virtual reality wizard that can coach a learner through a lab experiment with the same level of guidance an instructor could provide.”


Dennis Nelson. Dennis addresses the issue raised by Brent Muirhead that “ultimately, the public could become disillusioned with online education if they fail to deliver their promises for quality and personalized instruction. Dennis discusses how computer-mediated education (CME) is already gaining ground on ensuring universal access. Currently, CME work being done by the military will eventually influence American society. He highlights the skills that future online teachers will need as follows: “skills include: handling multiple projects, concise communication, Internet research, extensive networking, extrapolation, empathy, self-discipline. As with the technological issue, the better teachers already have been highly skilled in these areas. The better teachers just lacked the Internet as a stimulus / tool to become better in those skills or accomplish the tasks, experiences associated with that skill development.”


Deirdre Bonnycastle. Deirdre shared two relevant learning web sites that might hold promise for future curriculum development projects.

1. Roger Schank's Goal Based Scenario's,

2. Interactive Children's software such as Jumpstart


Alejandro Pisanty. Alejandro discussed the near revolution that has occurred in videoconferencing and MCU due to major increases in bandwidth. Also, the need for teachers to have a vision beyond our current PC/Web model. Pisanty states that “even without wireless services, portable devices such as PDAs, WAP enabled mobile phones, and the fusions and convergences we will see in the market in the coming years, are fast becoming a useful and appreciated possession for students (yes, even in Mexico...). Designing for these devices requires new insights and also affords interesting new approaches.”


1- 26- 2001

Muhammad Betz. Muhammad responded to Don Smith’s question about the role of teachers, “sounds like you are advocating public education without teachers. Is that so?” Muhammad states that “the intention of the State of Oklahoma is to equalize educational opportunity by means of the VISION effort. Oklahoma is a big state in land size, but has such a small human The Internet curriculum would provide isolated students higher quality instruction in all areas of the curriculum. Interactive Educational Television is currently used throughout the state at the high school level. One such project makes use of a rare Spanish teacher at one locale who broadcasts his Spanish class to several remote locations, in interactive manner.”

Muhammad believes that Internet-based curriculum will not replace teachers but their roles will change. “I do envision that an on-line curriculum would lead to more home schooling, which is a phenomenon that is popular in this region. And…should it not? What is all this technology for, if it does not have an anthropological payoff for our society? What is that payoff (?): perhaps a significant reduction of the need for physically traveling to and fro to work, learn, and live.”


1-27- 2001

Martin Owen. Martin tackles questions about technology using a sociological analysis. Martin states that “this has resonances for me for the work I have been doing looking at the post Vygotsyan and post Batesonian ways of looking at the socio cultural formulation of our use of technology. The use of the device is extremely interesting.

a) it is a major tool for coordination for sub communities, they facilitate the formulation of communities of practice

b) it is a tool they use for instant counselling and problem solving

c) Text messaging is as popular as voice, thus as the range/capability of devices increases. I imagine so will the styles of usage.”

Martin does reflect on change in the 21st century. “our old structures will not be able to cope with this istantaneousness, especially as we (certainly in the UK) have had layers of managerialism and spurious quality control mechanisms placed upon us. By the time the documentation and bureaucracy is in place, the game has moved on. And this game thrives on lack of extrinsic control.”


Brent Muirhead. Brent shared an article found in January 2001 issue on The Futurist, a book reviewed by Lane Jennings. Inayatullah, S. & Gidley, J. (Eds.). (2000). The University in Transformation: Global Perspectives on the Futures of the University Bergin & Garvey.

Lane (2001) states that author's concerns that "the Internet University poses dangers, too. For example, a line of franchised courseware, produced by a few superstar teachers, marketed under the brand name of a famous institution, and heavily advertised, might eventually come to dominate the global education market, warns sociology professor Peter Manicas of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Besides enforcing a rigidly standardized curriculum, such a `college education in a box' could undersell the offerings of many traditional brick and mortar institutions, effectively driving them out of business, and throwing thousands of career academics out of work, note Australian communications professors David Rooney and Greg Hearn (p. 58)."

Inayatullah and Gidley (2000) do admit that global connectivity could resist or counter a variety of academic dangers such as excessive uniformity in course content within the virtual higher education community. The book describes three new roles for university faculty members: brokers, mentors and meaning-makers that will transform the teaching and learning process in higher education.


Jennings, L. (2001). Alternative visions for the future university. The Futurist, 58 (1), 58-59,


1-28- 2001

Sandra Bargery. Sandra relates that “mobile phones won’t be around for ever, but the implication for a device that is smaller, more portable and less likely to be anchored in a traditional classroom should be seriously considered. Which then brings along a lot of other interesting ideas of what really constitutes a 'classroom'?” Bargery continues with the issue of life long learning. “How about flexibility and life long learning <groan> I know its been done to death, but it hasn’t actually impacted on those institutions called schools! They use it in their school mottos and logos but it hasn’t actually crossed the classroom floor yet!”

Eric Flescher. Eric remarks highlighted the need for students to be challenged to monitor their thinking skills while learning online. “I think it is really important for students to extend their metacognitive thinking as they interact with simulations and internet etc. what would be good is

(1) interactive separate windows or screens that pop to elicit information from the students about where they are going, what they are doing and why. (2) another console that takes their thoughts and stores them about what they are doing.”


Cameron Nichol. Cameron offered insights on distance education that were based on working developing online education in Victoria (Australia) involving the Vocational Education and Training sector. Nichol noted that “in terms on developing good content the importance of experienced Instructional Designers in the central role cannot be over-emphasised. This is a specialised skill and unfortunately being a damned good classroom teacher or academic of high standing does not really equip you with the range of skills required.”

Cameron has genuine concerns about teachers becoming online instructors, “many good classroom teachers with excellent face to face skill seem to be seduced into developing `web sites’ rather than learning environments.”

Cameron provides a series of questions that can be used to help teachers adjust their thinking and planning strategies for being an online instructor:

  • How do you keep your class on track?
  • How do you handle your class when a valuable question that is off the specific current topic is asked?
  • How you handle situations when a valuable side track discussion arises?
  • What do you do to keep the student involved eg `ok, give me 5 reasons why this might occur’, `has anybody seem a different way to do this?’ `that reminds me of joke…’
  • What homework do you give out?
  • Now how are you going to do that online?”

Cameron has offers nine practical tips for instructional software developers:

  1. In terms of explaining the relative virtues of online learning, refer to flexible learning and learning strategies that increase options. If possible try to avoid referring to online learning.
  2. Get in first with the limitations on online learning (`there are a lot things you can't do on a computer…’), then introduce the relative advantages of your strategy e.g. hybrid classroom/online courses.
  3. Develop a good working knowledge of the existing organisational and political culture. Align the "product" with the organisational goals (or biases).
  4. Take a long-term view. Consider from the outset what level of compromise is acceptable.
  5. People want to see examples.
  6. 2 pages of pictures and arrows is worth more than a 10 page description (and if done well will take you longer to do).
  7. The best project in the world is useless if your boss `doesn't get it’. Have an implementation / marketing plan for senior management.
  8. Be prepared to take advantage of `lucky breaks’ (‘the harder I work the luckier I get’)
  9. It's not the end of the world when your boss says `no, I don't like it’.”


1-29- 2001

Ian Reid. Ian shared with the discussion forum an online evaluation system developed by University of South Australia,

Faculty members can create evaluation instruments that give teachers quick student feedback with statistical data. Reid generously offered to respond to any further questions about the evaluation system.


Diane Ehrlich. Diane shares concerns about the criteria used in selecting instructional media. Diane notes that  “certainly some of the programs suggested are seductive, but media selection also has to be evaluated as to cost effectiveness and suitability. I think Joan Cashion's points about educating teachers to use technology and also giving them the confidence to use the technology are key ingredients to successful teacher education or professional development today.”

Diane believes it is wise to use syllabi and other organizational tools to help students adapt to the online environment. Then, the teacher can help move the their students “to a more sophisticated way of processing information, but it would be unwise to think that students do so instinctively. I always hoped mine would, but have found out differently.” Diane is involved in a research project and she relates that “the ‘set-up’ and orientation seem to be key to a student's comfort level and desire to work with the technology.” She closes her comments by stressing the importance of having class structure for new students. “I also find that how the course is framed and helps defining the course requirements and navigation guidelines for discussion, assessment, etc.have contributed to an almost audible sigh of relief as students transition from a traditional classroom structure to an on-line environment.”


 Steve Mahaley. Steve discusses insights gleaned from recently talking with American middle school teachers. The teachers related stories about the stress on high stakes testing and excessive daily nonacademic duties (ex. monitor lunchrooms). Steve argues that the American public must demonstrate more respect for teacher’s time before there will be any real integration of technology into the classrooms. “When we make a monetary commitment to improving the tech base at our public schools, when we provide ample planning time and eliminate many of the low-end administrative duties, when we encourage creativity and a real application of proven teaching methodologies, that's when we will see flexibility and life-long learning benefiting our children.”


Des Wilsmore. Des reflects on his extensive research into Australian schools. “My early conclusions suggest that where they were being used effectively (and appeared to have a great deal of motivational impact), the lessons and uses focussed on interactive use of the technology, not just students sitting in front of computers. The uses of the technologies were also often tied in and not separate from the learning outcomes that the teachers/educators were trying to achieve.”

He notes that “education in many areas does not appear to be keeping up with the advances in technology. As my friend John Patterson from Wollongong University (Australia) explained to me. Many schools and universities had merely changed a horizontal page to a vertical one.”


Concluding Remarks

The discussion highlighted the challenges and promise of computer-mediated education. Today’s teachers who are making the transition into distance education are finding that schools need to develop professional training programs. Additionally, discussion participants stressed the importance of instructional designers working closely with teachers to create relevant online courses (subject content & methodology). Ultimately, teachers will continue striving to implement creative online instructional strategies that foster student learning opportunities and encourage personal and professional growth.


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