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Hello! Here on the AdjunctWorld blog, we seem to ping pong back and forth between brief articles about finding online teaching work and those regarding honing one’s craft as an online instructor. This week, we will focus on the latter. Even if you aren’t teaching online yet, when you do land an interview ideas such as this one will provide you with some direction when asked questions such as “What is your approach to teaching in the online classroom?” or “What are some of the online teaching best practices you align yourself with?”

Bill Pelz in his article titled “Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy” published in the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks outlines two distinctly different but necessary components of an effective online teacher’s classroom presence: Facilitating the Discussion and Direct Instruction.

According to Pelz, components of Facilitating the Discussion include:

  1. Identifying areas of agreement and disagreement
  2. Seeking to reach a consensus/identify the big picture
  3. Encouraging, acknowledging and reinforcing student contributions
  4. Drawing in participants and prompting discussion among students
  5. Assessing the efficacy of the process

Components of Direct Instruction include:

  1. Presenting content and questions
  2. Focusing the discussion on that week’s learning objective
  3. Summarizing the discussion to hone in on the objective
  4. Confirming understanding
  5. Diagnosing misperceptions (i.e. politely redirecting students who don’t have it quite right)
  6. Responding to technical concerns

While some authors tout the superiority of the facilitating side of things, one cannot be an appropriate facilitator without also providing important direct instruction. The direct instruction focuses the class so that specific objectives are met and so that students are set up to succeed on their other assignments (essays, quizzes, tests, etc.).  They are both sides of the same online teaching coin and – indeed – two sides of the same coin no matter what modality you teach in, face to face or online, really. Especially when it comes to teaching adult learners (see our blog post titled 5 Things Effective Online Instructors Know for more information on the adult learner population).

Here, I’ll list some specific strategies for performing both of these tasks in the online classroom discussion forum.

Examples of Facilitative Statements:

  1. Wow, you certainly feel strongly about the use of medications in the treatment of ADHD in the very young, Sam. You make some excellent points and many in the professional community would agree with you. Sarah and I were just talking about this same idea above. Join us – what do you think of the short video Sarah posted illustrating your alls point? – Drawing in participation and prompting discussion among students
  2. What thorough research, Mark! Thanks for taking the time to briefly review the recent literature on the effectiveness of Applied Behavior Therapy on autism spectrum disorders. The Jones et al (2013) article was particularly intriguing. What did you think about their finding that… – Encouraging, acknowledging, and reinforcing student contributions
  3. We have discussed several psychotherapy approaches that have been shown to effectively treat a variety of psychiatric disorders. Why, in general, are these approaches effective? What are the commonalities – the common factors as some folks call them? What is the essential ingredient that they all share? – Seeking to identify the big picture


Examples of Direct Instruction

  1. Mary, you seem to fall down on the nature side of things when it comes to understanding personality development. There certainly is a great deal of evidence that supports this notion. Several of your classmates agree with you. Some of you seem to be more convinced by the evidence that personality is largely influenced by nurture (i.e. environment) – of which there is also a great deal. So, what can we conclude from this?  – Summarizing the discussion to hone in on the objective (it also facilitates, as it points out areas of agreement/disagreement and seeks to reach a consensus)
  2. In your reading this week, you’ll learn about the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. While the positive symptoms are quite commonly understood, many people are unfamiliar with the negative symptoms of the disorder, which include apathy, anhedonia, social skill deficit, and affective flattening. Many patients and family members agree that it is these negative symptoms which cause the most functional impairment. After reading about the negative symptoms, why do you think patients and family members see the negative symptoms as more debilitating than the positive symptoms of the condition (i.e. hallucinations and delusions)? – Presenting content and questions
  3. Thanks for your contribution to our discussion, Sam. You provided some excellent examples of classical conditioning at work in the home. A lot of people confuse the term “negative reinforcement” to mean punishment. But I want to mention here that negative reinforcement and punishment are two different things.  Recall that reinforcement encourages the behavior to occur again… – Diagnosing misperceptions

You see how nicely the two approaches compliment each other to encourage participation yet streamline the discussion to tackle the objective-of-the-week. What are some facilitative strategies you use in your teaching methods (whether online or off)? What are some examples of direct instruction? Please share by commenting below!

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