Lessons from the Virtual Classroom Chapter 4: The tools of online teaching

Following on from an earlier post on the first three chapters of this book, here are some thoughts from Chapter four:

This chapter considers in detail the available options for teaching an online or blended course, noting that since the first edition of the book, mobile and smaller devices are replacing larger desktops and laptops, and open source learning platforms are overtaking expensive commercial ones. The authors remind us of the very important caveat from Don Foshe: Good teaching is good teaching and bad teaching is even worse in a technology-based environment. Additionally, concern is expressed that teachers are not given enough CPD time to hone their skills with online teaching tools.

I have learned from Olcott (1999) the five I’s of effective distance teaching: interaction. introspection, innovation, integration and information. Great! I plan to bear these in mind when creating future courses.

I was also impressed to see several pages devoted to mobile technology. Although I am not a fan of learning from a mobile – I prefer to sit at a keyboard and read a large monitor rather than screw my eyes up at a mini screen- I can see the point that Mobile technology is one bridge that can aid individuals in becoming informal, and thus, lifelong learners (Frohberg, 2006) And I can also see the benefits despite my preferences. I have an app on my phone called Duolingo which enables me to practise my Russian on the go,anywhere – very handy when bored on a train or at an airport. My own organisation, Moodle has significantly increased funding and staffing for its dedicated Moodle mobile app in the last two years, recognising the changing market. New versions of the app are now released with every new version of Moodle, and students can submit assignments, do quizzes, SCORM activities and many more directly from the app. However, the authors also caution against the use of mobile technology – such as BYOD –  without a guidelines. My daughter, a high school teacher, works in a school with a very strict policy regarding use of devices in class because of potential cyberbullying. Mobile learning is here to stay though: Mobile learning is the harbinger of the future of learning (Keegan 2002)

Later on in the chapter, accessibility is discussed, and this is something I am learning more about each day in terms of online course design. Coombs (2010) notes that while teachers should not have to be experts in assistive technologies, they should be familiar with the principles of universal design, and  we are referred to The Center for Universal Design, a site I will explore carefully. I feel that designing mobile-friendly courses is also very important; indeed, our chief mobile developer often runs a workshop on this at MoodleMoots around the world, but sadly I am never able to attend because I have to run my own workshop!

One final aspect of the chapter which appealed was the sound advice about choosing technology wisely – consulting with teacher and students and ensuring you are actually thinking about the learning outcomes, rather than simply wanting to play with a new toy. The authors relate the tale of the instiution which purchased iPads for the whole faculty and then wondered what to do with them- this tale has doubtless several iterations around the world, including schools in my own experience. I myself was guilty of experimenting in the early days of Moodle, of trying new features out on students so I could see how they worked, rather than considering how the students would benefit. As the authors say It’s enticing to incorporate all of the new technologies into a course to increase the level of engagement and excitement […] too many bells and whistles however can overwhelm and confuse the students. Thus the online teacher needs a balance between using the best tools for the job and the learners concerned but also keeping in mind from Olcott’s five I’s that Innovation in use of technology, when done wisely, can provide various opportunities for students to learn.


Palloff, R. (2013). Lessons from the virtual classroom : the realities of online teaching. 2nd ed. Chapter 4

Ncsu.edu. (2017). Center for Universal Design NCSU – Home. [online] Available at: https://www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/ [Accessed 11 Feb. 2017].

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