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Culture and Online Learning: Global Perspectives and Research
Date Reviewed: September 7, 2016
This helpful collection of seventeen essays addresses two important concerns within religious and theological studies: culture and online learning. Scholars of religion are giving increasing consideration to culture. (A search of Amazon for books on “religion and culture” yielded a hundred pages of “hits.” The first four books were simply entitled Religion and Culture.) Furthermore, more and more courses in religion and theology are offered online. Surprisingly, little research has been done in culture and online learning, and this book seeks to address this lack.
Authors in this collection hail from Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia. (Unfortunately, none are from Africa.) The book appears as the third in a series, Online Learning and Distance Education. Editors Jung (from Japan) and Gunawardena (from Sri Lanka, teaching in the U.S.) write solely or collaboratively in eleven of the seven essays. The essays are grouped around eight themes: (1) learners, learning, and learner support, (2) non-native speakers, (3) facilitating learning, mentoring, and professional development, (4) learning design, identity, gender, and technology, (5) visual culture, (6) leadership, (7) quality, and (8) research.
Many of the authors wrestle with a definition of culture. In the first essay, “Perspectives on Culture and Online Learning,” the editors write, “Culture impacts every facet of online learning, from course to interface design, to communication in a socio-cultural space, and to the negotiation of meaning and social construction of knowledge; thus a definition of culture that is flexible, dynamic, and negotiable is more appropriate to understand the online learning context” (1).
Interesting insights are scattered through this collection. In “Online Identity and Interaction,” Gunawardena notes that students from Sri Lanka and Morocco “look to the online medium as a liberating environment that equalizes status differences” (35). In “Emerging Visual Culture in Online Learning Environments,” Ilju Rha (South Korea) urges online educators to integrate more visuals in their online courses. In “Accounting for Culture in Instructional Design,” Gunawardena, Casey Frechette (US), and Lumila Layne (Venezuela) introduce the Wisdom Communities instructional design model (WisCom), which “was developed to inform the design of collaborative online learning experiences” (57). (For more about WisCom, see https://prezi.com/1unppl6dh2a-/new-model-new-strategiesinstructional-design-for-buildingonline-wisdom-communities/.)
In “Transformative Learning through Cultural Exchanges in Online Foreign Language Teaching,” Kerrin Ann Barrett (US) includes tips for instructors, such as “remember to breathe,” and tips for learners, such as “show your creative side in activities (asynchronous and synchronous)” (146). In “International Interpretations of Icons and Images Used in North American Academic Websites,” Eliot Knight (US), Gunawardena, Elena Barberà (Spain), and Cengiz Hakan Aydin (Turkey) write, “Many of the images and icons used in online environments depend on the meanings, concepts, metaphors, objects, and so on that are bound to the particular cultural context in which they were designed” (149).
Just as neither religion nor culture is monolithic, neither is online learning. This stimulating collection from around the world will help online teachers to negotiate better the various cultural divides and thus offer our students better online learning experiences.
Character Formation in Online Education: A Guide for Instructors, Administrators, and Accrediting Agencies
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Joanne Jung’s overview of character formation in online education serves as an introductory resource for the topic. It is primarily intended to be a practical and accessible guide for faculty and administrators at religious institutions that offer online courses. Throughout the book Jung tackles the “skepticism among educators about character formation in online education” (15). The book examines various aspects of online learning and how it contributes to character formation.
In the beginning section, Jung addresses the purpose of online education alongside best practices for online pedagogy. She provides an overview of Learning Management Systems, which house online classes, as well as an overview of the course design process, which involves working as a team with a curriculum and instruction expert. The second section discusses best practices of pedagogy within online courses, focusing on a holistic view of human personhood that drives one’s approach to character formation. Jung discusses practical means for using discussion forums, hybrid classroom formats, and social media toward the end of character formation, including an important chapter on integrating faith and learning. The final section addresses assessment and improvements that administrators and faculty can make to online courses in order to achieve learning outcomes for character formation more consistently. Jung also includes an accessible and informative glossary of terms relevant to online education.
Faculty who are unfamiliar with teaching online courses will find this book a valuable help in beginning to teach and form character in online modalities. Administrators and accrediting agencies will find many sections useful for their purposes as well, especially chapter three on course design teams, chapter seven on the integration of faith and learning, and chapter nine on assessment. As Jung writes, her purpose in the book is to give “practical ideas for customizing your online courses and improving your pedagogical methodology, irrespective of your discipline” (9).
One concern with the text is its basic, introductory approach. For faculty and administration who are experienced with online education, the book will be primarily review, albeit with a clear focus on character formation. Chapter seven on the integration of faith and learning and chapter nine on assessment are important exceptions, and they present insights for any institution concerned with character formation in education. Additional studies could help supplement and add insight to some of the essential points that Jung makes, particularly studies that focus on the creation, delivery, and assessment of learning outcomes specifically designed for the purpose of character formation. Such studies could engage resources on moral or character education and focus on the application of character formation research to online modalities. If one is looking for an introductory guide to forming character in the world of online education, this book provides resourceful and insightful suggestions toward best practices.
In order to delve deeper into character formation for online education, there remains a need for further pedagogical study regarding the application of character formation research in general to online education in particular and regarding the means of facilitating character growth in the learning environments of online education.
Online Teaching in Education, Health and Human Services 1st Edition
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The challenge of teaching an online course brings a measure of trepidation into the heart and mind of even the most experienced classroom instructor. The authors provide a resource for the online instructor to understand who online students are, how they learn, and how to help them achieve their educational goals online (vi). While they accomplish this objective in some senses, the constant repetition of themes detracts from its overall contribution and makes it difficult to recommend.
The opening chapter explains the pros and cons of traditional versus online learning, as well as differences and myths of online instruction. The second chapter covers critical issues in online education and then offers success strategies and best practices for instructors. A short explanation of synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid models and the pros and cons of each strategy, including the type of content best taught by each method, forms the third chapter. At this point, the reader is prepared to start delving into actual practices for online teaching but instead the authors repeat the content of the previous three chapters. Arguably they offer additional perspectives about online teaching and learning in the ensuing chapters, yet the material is so repetitious, one cannot remember the new focus because the text reads like a perpetual review of content. This practice continues for the next five chapters. The one exception is found in chapter 7 where the authors are more focused on specifics necessary for instructors to successfully begin a course with students – including examples of pre-course and early communication (130-131).
Chapter 9 continues the specific and valuable contribution chapter 7 begins by looking at specific activities and skills online instructors need for developing critical thinking skills in students, including teamwork practices, and how to assess such learning. The final chapter identifies various strategies that help instructors to manage time well when engaging the demands of teaching online courses. Though partially redundant, the addition of specific tactics and illustrations make the book a helpful contribution.
Overall, some helpful principles emerge clearly from the book to help a novice online instructor plan and prepare for a course. The samples provided are beneficial, though an experienced instructor may have been able to develop these on their own from the principles discussed. Unfortunately, in a few instances an example was given that was contrary to the summative advice given. For example, one of the communication tips, to avoid the use of all caps (135), was followed by sample messages to students that included all caps. While appreciating some concepts presented in this volume, this reader will continue to look for a better-organized and more step-by-step book for assisting online instructors.
Teaching Online: A Guide to Theory, Research, and Practice
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Some higher education faculty might still be ambivalent about the long term impact on educational culture by the technological takeover, especially that this shift has taken place in a relatively short period of time. Few though would doubt the fact that we are in the midst of an innovative, technology driven, instructional change. Teaching Online’s main goal is to help us navigate this change. Based on ample research, the book argues that the change has reached a tipping point and is expanding. This is hardly surprising news. Taking some courses online during their program has become a common expectation of the current generation of students at seminaries and graduate schools of theology, not to mention the large increase in distance learning programs and enrollment.
In addition to offering a comprehensive guide to the theory and practice of online teaching, Teaching Online also includes substantial chapters on developments in the theories and philosophy of education. This, in addition to situating teaching online within a long trajectory of change to instructional culture are among the key contributions of the book. Faculty views on learning change when they teach online, argues the chapter on “Views of Learning.” Higher education systems are facing new and significant challenges. “For hundreds of years, educators labored under the assumption that learning happened by way of an individual’s consumption of information and ideas.” Many philosophers of education, long before the time of online learning, starting with Paulo Freire in the 1960s, have challenged this view. However, the recent and widespread experience in online learning, which has now become mainstream, has clearly moved education beyond the traditional static concept. The difference is that this time the move to learner-centered educational systems is caused by technology. Online learning is offering the possibility of constructing ecosystems “in which each person is spreading his or her understanding among the pieces of information available in that ecosystem.” Students are becoming active agents in what one contributor to the book calls a “rhizomatic” learning process that has no fixed beginning or end, and is rather an ongoing experimentation and transformation (65-67). This is a great metaphor for theological education! Equally challenged by the spread of online learning are not only traditional philosophy and pedagogies, but also academic institutions themselves that might be losing control of the learning process (257). Teaching Online helps teachers tackle these changes and challenges. Furthermore, the chapters of Teaching Online offer valuable practical help in several key areas such as course structure and planning, the teacher’s persona in the online course, communication, student engagement and community of learning, and much more.
One minor annoyance in the book is the format of the chapters. Most chapters include five or six page-long testimonies of professors sharing their experience on the topic of the chapter. While these are somewhat interesting and add information and liveliness to the book, because of the way they are inserted, they can be distracting and interrupt the flow of the chapter. One feels lost at times in trying to follow the flow of the chapter; perhaps the book is trying to implement the rhizomatic approach mentioned above!
I was attracted to this book mainly because I am preparing to teach a totally online course for the first time, in the next academic year. I am glad I read it, and I strongly recommend it.
eService-Learning: Creating Experiential Learning and Civic Engagement Through Online and Hybrid Courses
Date Reviewed: March 13, 2016
This bookadvocates civic engagement and service learning in higher education to provide students with transformative learning experiences. Linking service learning with online learning the authors present eService-Learning – a high-impact modality of learning for the twenty-first century. Contributors to the volume present research on teaching and learning as it relates to eService-Learning and provide best practices on how to incorporate eService-Learning experiences in courses and curricula.
Divided into three parts, the first part of the book consists of four chapters setting forth “Essentials, Components, and Nuts and Bolts of eService-Learning.” Contributors present a rationale for civic engagement and service learning in higher education (7-19) and provide theoretical foundations for service and experiential learning, coupling both theory and practice to the emerging field of online learning (20-39). Authors guide readers in creating syllabi and learning experiences that facilitate the development of aptitudes and skills for service in online courses (40-57) and address the technology requirements for implementing eService-Learning (58-66).
The second part, “Models for eService-Learning,” introduces readers to five different models for implementing eService-Learning as illustrated by universities that have implemented it at course or program levels. Models described leverage online and on-site learning in the following ways: (1) instruction online, service-learning on-site (69-88); (2) e-portfolio and reflection online, instruction and collaboration with service partners in class (89-104); (3) instruction and service partially on-site and online (105-118); (4) instruction and service conducted online (119-129); and (5) a mixed hybrid of models (130-143). Research in part two provides a critique and analysis of these five models of eService-Learning and step-by-step guidance for implementing each model.
The third part, “Next Steps And Future Directions” provides advice to administrators and faculty interested in implementing eService-Learning at the course or program level. The first of two chapters describes the challenges that universities face if they question the relevance of higher education. The author skillfully argues that eService-Learning can reassert the relevance and worth of higher education in the twenty-first century (149-163). The final chapter expands the horizons of eService-Learning beyond the borders of higher education, suggesting possible applications for K-12 education, workplace training, learners with disabilities, and senior adults (164-166).
This book is to be commended for articulating a rationale for including outcomes related to civic engagement and service-learning in higher education and best practices for using online technologies to implement eService-Learning in courses and curricula. A conspicuous strength is the description of various eService-Learning models. As such, the volume is particularly valuable for faculty and administrators in higher education.