Converting vs. Transforming: From Face-to-Face to Online

Prompt: Palloff & Pratt (2001) argue: "The shift to online learning poses enormous challenges to instructors and their institutions. As we noted earlier, many believe that the cyberspace classroom is no different from the face-to-face classroom and that approaches used face-to-face will surely work online. Many further believe that all they need to do to teach online successfully is to “convert” the course material by placing content on a website. We believe, however, that when the only connection we have to our students is through words on a screen, we must pay attention to many issues that we take for granted in the face-to-face classroom. It is our best practices that must follow us into the cyberspace classroom, and those practices are the basis for what we term electronic pedagogy, or the art of teaching online" (p. 26).

In light of this, put yourself in the role as the course's instructor and discuss the following:

  1. What are your thoughts regarding the challenges to instructors?

  2. What are your thoughts regarding challenges to the institution?

  3. How do you see the instructors "converting" their face to face material to the online environment?

I have to admit before I even begin that I love this conversation about moving from a face-to-face environment to an online environment.  I think it is rich in philosophical issues and debates that can truly get to the heart of good teaching and learning practices.

I think that the primary challenge for instructors is just what is mentioned in the quote - that many believe they will simply be able to "convert" existing content into some online format.  Unfortunately, online learning (IMO) is doomed to failure when this is the case.  Technology changes things - from how students relate to the content to how they communicate with each other and the instructor.  The premise behind many F2F assignments depends on any number of assumptions about a "traditional" classroom environment that are just not so online.

While I'm at it - the word convert kind of irks me.  I'd prefer a stronger verb there ... maybe "transform".  Converting implies tweaking here and there what already exists.  I'd argue that transformation, a complete makeover (if you will) is in order.

Challenges for institutions are much more broad.  I would place things like support (in all forms) and an agreement to embrace a new view of teaching online - which is much easier to type than to actually have happen.  The Gellman-Danley & Fetzner article really helped me to wrap my mind around some of these larger challenges: transferability, how much will courses cost, and providing student support services.

There is a paragraph on p. 17 of the Conrad & Donaldson text that I wish would have been expanded to an entire chapter.
As instructional technology tools were developing, the level of technology sometimes drove the learning experience.  However, it is the learning outcome that must be the focus of the activity, not the technological tool used to implement the activity.  Thus, designing online activities is very simliar to designing classroom-based activities.

Other than the fact that I would argue that somewhere in there the student should be considered, this is the critical point of this entire conversation for me.  Technology cannot drive learning.  It can support it, possibly enhance it, but it cannot be the sole force.  The second chapter gives a good overview of the available tools and when/where they might be appropriate to use, but I think this could be expanded even further.  For example, considering that the book was published in the first part of the 2000s, I would want to explore ways to use Web 2.0 technologies as additional ways to support instruction and community within an online course.

Palloff, R. M. & Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the Cyberspace Classroom. San Fransico, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Originally posted on September 8, 2010 per the requirements of EAC 539: Teaching in the Online Environment at NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.


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