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Published May 5, 2008 | Multidisciplinary

The Human Side of APOP's Online Teaching

Most of us consider that an important part of human communication is nonverbal and depends on the social environment in which it takes place. As teachers, we are aware that successful two-way exchanges in the classroom require factors that extend beyond the mere content of the information that is being presented. Attitudes, basic values, emotions, sentiments, and skills are all part of the mix when two people interact to discuss cognitive elements such as concepts and ideas as well as the metacognitive issues involved in taking charge of your own process of learning.

Is face-to-face communication indispensable for communication that extends beyond words? What does one lose without it? And, more importantly, what does one gain? Can group work for projects or particularly for learning IT in education take place in the kind of continuing education that is being offered by APOP online?

Digital environments have been designed to reflect many of the elements of the physical classroom.

  • Students in both classes can read documents, alone or in groups. 
  • Both environments feature whiteboards, but on-line students have the option to cut and paste into them.
  • Information can be projected onto a screen, but on-line students can share this workspace.
  • Students can consult the web individually and collectively in both environments as well.

VIA videoconference

The virtual classroom enables students to perform the same tasks and communicative activities that they have become accustomed to in physical learning environments. These elements include:

  • Listening individually or in groups,
  • Observing and listening to presentations,
  • Making both written and oral presentations,
  • Speaking and
  • Writing.

Furthermore, in a virtual environment many of these activities can be done simultaneously without creating a disturbance in the classroom. In effect, the virtual environment facilitates two-way and group communication, fostering social-constructive teaching by making students more independent and responsible for their own learning.

The humour online in APOP courses is an excellent illustration of this phenomenon.

Online tools facilitating contact between participants such as videos transmit social cues like body language and tone of voice as well as physical surroundings. All of these factors work to build an online relationship which can rival the spontaneity, degree of formality and the give and take that exists face-to-face. Any lacks can be made up using chat and other media.

Once the on-line learner masters this environment, the barriers to complex exchange vanish. Participants grow to understand protocols to receive the messages being communicated. The decoding is probably giving rise to new forms of communication which are likely to change what symbols we use to transmit meaning.

As participants take charge of their electronic environment, interactions become more structured, more to the point and more significant. Students become expressive in the media that are available and take charge of their own process of education, managing content and interacting with others. The humour online in APOP courses is an excellent illustration of this phenomenon.

Although comparing on-line and face-to-face environments is tempting, at this stage of development it is perhaps more advantageous to look at exploring the advantages of on-line communication without trying to reproduce the physical classroom. Participating in this process should bring our human creativity, adaptability and flexibility to the fore based on a need to communicate rather than to imitate.

At APOP we have become adept at getting authentic communication out of the resources at our disposal. We look forward to getting the most out of new synchronous communication developments as they occur. This upcoming year presents a wonderful opportunity for the anglophone network to get to know APOP's on-line environment. The Canada-Quebec Entente will be subsidizing tuition in APOP's courses in English next year. How can APOP's on-line courses serve your needs? Use the Reader Response feature to discuss what skills you would like to acquire.

We would like to credit Lucie Audet who made a presentation to resource people at APOP this April 12 for the inspiration behind much of the material in this column.

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