Archive for Online Teaching

Teaching Online – Biology

One of the exciting things I am doing this year is teaching a senior Biology class online. My school NBCS has developed and implemented the HSC Online as part of Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL). This year I am teaching to both a group of students face to face and to another group of student online. Although this is the first time I have acted as an online teacher, my previous experience of online learning has been as a student completing a Masters degree. The HSC Online students are made up of students from my school and others from a range of different schools from across the state (NSW, Australia). Students taking Biology online who attend my school as regular students fall into two groups. Students that are currently in stage 6, year 11 who have a timetable clash or students from  stage 5, year 10 who are being accelerated, allowing students to study online increases their choices. Conversations I have had with students studying online suggest they prefer the flexibility of completing their work when they want to.

The online course is hosted within Moodle and is divided into its different units on a weekly basis.  Each week contains a power point presentation, and some activities to complete. Such as multiple choice quizzes with instant feedback and more in-depth questions which students upload and I make comments on. I also include learning objects from sources such as Scootle (The Le@rning Federation) and other web-based interactive resources. Students have access to relevant videos and or podcasts as the weeks work dictates. HSC Online has been established for a couple of years and thus the online Biology course was originally set up by another teacher and has been run by others before I have taken over.  As a result I have been slowly adding, removing and adapting things to improve the students’ experience.  One thing I have started to utilize is Elluminate, where I can meet students in a virtual room online to talk through the week’s power point and other activities.  One of the best features I utilize in Elluminate is that it’s ability to show other applications and programs running on my desktop.  I have used this to demonstrate the learning objects, or interactive web pages that explain key concepts. Elluminate allows for the session to be record and accessed at a later date via an online link that students who can’t make it in real-time or those doing some revision find invaluable.

Of course there are all the mandatory practical investigations to get through and these happen the first day of every term (traditionally a student free day) where students studying online come in to complete hands on Biology while their peers enjoy one more day of holidays.  These days are exhausting for both the students and the teacher, but the advantage over the traditional mode is the concentrated amount of time spend immersed in hands on biology that enables deeper connections to the theory and concepts that are covered.

There are two areas that have surprised me teaching online.  One is that although students are very attuned to using the online environment and social media, they are very shy in the discussion boards   and in the Elluminate virtual space where they have the option to speak using microphones but so far, all have chosen the safer option of typing comments and questions in the instant text feature.  My own personal experience of completing courses online is that there is a fear of looking (and sounding) stupid to be overcome. Developing a trusting and cooperative online learning community has become one of my highest priorities. Secondly, students completing Biology online are doing better than those I see face to face.  Others had told me this was the case and I had attributed it to better students opting to take online courses.  But it appears when comparing equal ability students the online ones do better.  These observations are still far from statistically sound, but I think there is something in it that deserves some careful investigation.  This apparent distortion in results has caused me to reassess what I am doing face to face.   I can see my teaching being shifted by how students are learning online.

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