Thoughts on’Lessons from the Virtual Classroom’ (part 1)

At the start of this semester I bought a print copy of this book, along with Essentials of Online course design, which I reviewed here. There is quite a lot to the book, so I am reviewinlessonsvirtualclassroomg it in parts.

At first sight, the book seems less attractive than the Essentials volume: the paper is much thinner, less white, the typeface is the same throughout the book and the chapters and sections are set out in a more traditional manner with very few graphics, highlighted boxes and so on.

But if ever there were a case of ‘Never judge a book by its cover’* this is it! So far, I much prefer this book.

Why? In another world, I am learning Russian, pretty much on my own. I have been comparing various books and online offerings. I was reminded of those reviews here. Essentials of Online Course design is a bit like an imaginary ‘Learn Russian basics in 3 months’ book , whereas Lessons from the Virtual Classroom is more of a ‘Comprehensive Russian grammar’. Both books have their merits – you might even want to graduate frome the first to the second, but while the first will give you the enthusiasm to get started, the second will ultimately satisfy you  more. That’s what I am finding with this book. I whizzed through the pages of Essentials, highlighting key points here and there. With Lessons from the VC, I feel obliged to read every sentence and find I want to underline nearly every sentence too.To change analogies from books to food – if Essentials is a healthy appetiser, Lesssons from the VC is a ‘fuller for longer’ main course.

Chapters 1 – 4

These chapters form part of the section ‘Rethinking Education for an online world’. This first section gives a useful historical background to why online teaching methods have developed as they have, and it made me think less dismissively of older research (‘older’ meaning over ten years old) because it is apparent much of the early findings were very prescient and coloured how we teach today. I’m glad to see several references being made to the increasing importance of mobile learning, and equally how, despite the prevalence of LMS and other online teaching tools,

One of the main issues continues to be adequate faculty training to construct and deliver high-quality courses.

They make a very good point that the techology is the tool to aid the teaching, not the end in itself.

Instructors should be trained not only to use technology but also to shift the ways in which they organise and deliver material […] it is not the technology itself, but rather how to use it in the design and delivery of online courses.

Just as when we undergo face to face teacher training we learn (in the best courses) about how students learn and how we can engage them, along with how to work the photocopier and visualiser, so in online teaching, the focus should be on how students learn best online and how the LMS tools can be used optimally to help us help students to succeed.

This first section also gives a broad overview of administrative issues such  as making the transition to online teaching, program planning and development, support and training. I  appreciated these as I have only really seen things from an online teacher point of view, and to have an understanding of concerns and decisions further up the managment scale is very enlightening.

Now I am off to read chapter 4, The tools of online teaching!

*Actually, its cover is quite appealing.


Palloff, R. (2013). Lessons from the virtual classroom : the realities of online teaching. 2nd ed.


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