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CHAPTER 9

Online Teaching Strategies

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Henny Breen and Melissa Robinson

 

“Online discussions have more depth and meaning. In the current political climate, people are so

divided and don’t care why others might have a different attitude about something. Since students

are able to share the experiences that have shaped and molded them, we can respect each other

and maybe even challenge our own thought processes to incorporate the new ideas into our current

belief systems.”

 

Overview

This chapter begins with a brief discussion about the requirements for faculty to be prepared to

teach online. A more thorough discussion of faculty preparation, from the perspective of faculty

professional development, is found in Chapter 13. This chapter addresses the role of faculty in a

learner-centered online classroom that is built on constructivist pedagogy and adult learning

principles. Strategies for teaching are provided, along with examples.

Faculty Preparation for Teaching Online

Within nursing, there is a beginning acknowledgment that having content and clinical expertise is

not enough to teach effectively. Education and nursing are two unique disciplines, and expertise in

one does not result in expertise in the other. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing

(AACN) and the National League of Nursing (NLN) both acknowledge that graduate-level evidence-

based curriculum design and teaching methods are needed to form the foundation for academic

practice. The NLN establishes nursing education as a specialty area of practice through its certified

nurse educator (CNE) credentialing program recognizing academic nurse educators as an advanced

practice role (Booth, Emerson, Hackney, & Souter, 2016). We concur with Booth et al. in advocating

for pedagogical preparation for academic nurse educators.

 

For faculty teaching online, we believe this pedagogical preparation is essential for developing and

teaching a rigorous, quality online class. Faculty members who want to transition from face-to-face

teaching to quality online teaching need to have a solid foundation in education theory that is

learner centered. We believe that online teaching is a specialty within the advanced practice role of

academic nurse educators that requires further preparation in how to apply constructivist pedagogy

to the online learning environment. Engaging in ongoing self-reflection prior to and during the

teaching process is critical for faculty to develop expertise in online teaching. Palloff and Pratt (2007)

challenge online instructors to engage in a transformative process of reflection, just as they would

require of their students. Chapter 13 addresses the process of self-reflection. Reflective questions

that we continually ask ourselves related to teaching online are found in Table 9-1

 

 

 

Much has been written about teaching strategies that facilitate learner-centered teaching. However,

less has been written about the skills needed by faculty to make the transition to learner-centered

teaching—and even less as it applies to online teaching. The following section addresses that need in

addition to providing several examples of teaching strategies that we have found effective in

facilitating a learner-centered online classroom for nursing students.

 

Learner-Centered Teaching

Learner-centered teaching is based on constructivist theory, in that learners discover and transform

complex information to make it their own. It is an inquiry-based approach that involves active,

collaborative, and cooperative learning. Faculty guide and facilitate learning, with more of the focus

on learning and less on teaching (Weimer, 2013). This requires a different set of skills that may be

difficult to develop because they may not be as intuitive when making the transition to online

teaching. It is also important to note that not all faculty want or need to make the transition and

may not be suited for online teaching (Smith, 2005).

 

Faculty who do not have a solid belief in the tenets of constructivism will likely struggle with trusting

the process of active learning. Faculty who use lectures, whether in the face-to-face classroom or

online through narration as their primary mode of teaching, demonstrate a belief in passive learning,

in which students need to acquire new knowledge based on the expertise of the teacher passing on

knowledge. However, constructivist faculty believe that information may be received passively, but

understanding cannot be. Understanding comes from active learning in which the students make

connections between prior knowledge, new knowledge, and the processes involved in learning

(Candela, 2020; Harasim, 2017). At the same time, we do not endorse a radical approach to

constructivism in which no teaching instruction takes place.

 

Concept-Based and Competency-Based Teaching

Nursing faculty who have made the transition to conceptual teaching may have an easier time

making the transition to learner-centered teaching. Inherent within conceptual teaching is letting go

of the need to “cover everything” and, rather, facilitate new learning while building on previous

learning. Faculty choose concepts related to nursing practice from which students discover common

principles that can be generalized to various contexts, along with discovering the relationship

between concepts. Conceptual teaching facilitates the process of conceptual learning by linking new

information to past learning, which in turn deepens and expands conceptual understanding. Given

the continuous advances in health care, it is clear that nurses need to be skilled in conceptual

thinking and clinical reasoning to adapt to these changes (Giddens, 2020). Conceptual teaching

requires an understanding of constructivist pedagogy.

 

 

 

Faculty may also be concerned about competencies, given that many organizations, such as the ANA

and Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN), have developed competencies. These

competencies are represented through concepts or domains that reflect concepts (Giddens, 2020).

To clear up confusion between what it means to be concept based versus competency based,

Giddens (2020) provides a clear distinction while acknowledging that they share the same origin. The

differences lie in the application and the outcome. Competencies describe the intended outcome,

whereas concepts refer to the learning process because they are used as the framework to build

knowledge. Competencies are observable and measurable skills that integrate knowledge, values,

and beliefs that are assessed over time.

The Faculty Role in Constructivist Teaching

The faculty role is to provide a safe and organized environment for learning in which key principles

or values of constructivist learning pedagogy are applied.

 

Scaffolded Teaching

Scaffolded learning is also known as the zone of proximal development (ZPD), a concept created by

Vygotsky (1978/1997). The ZPD “is the distance between the actual developmental level as

determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential problem-solving under adult

guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978/1997, p. 8). Faculty are

responsible for guiding the learner through the zone by designing learning opportunities (scaffolds)

that guide the student through the scaffolds in a way that provides context, motivation, and the

foundation from which the new understanding can occur. These scaffolds are gradually removed as

the student progresses and is able to demonstrate comprehension and skill independently (Harasim,

2017). At that point, the student may take on the role of a mentor or a “more capable peer” in the

teaching process.

 

Active Learning and Teaching

Active learning refers to students being engaged in a way that promotes analysis, synthesis, and

evaluation of course content (Harasim, 2017). This requires faculty to be highly skilled in

encouraging and guiding students to participate in a way that promotes reflecting on course content

and how it fits with their current knowledge, evaluating new information, and transforming that

information and applying it to their practice as appropriate.

 

A study examining the types of interactions that are most predictive of students’ sense of

community included introduction, collaborative group projects, sharing personal experiences, entire

class discussions, and exchanging resources (Shackelford & Maxwell, 2012). The students’ sense of

connectedness and learning were enhanced by faculty drawing in participants, creating an accepting

climate for learning, keeping students on track, diagnosing students’ misperceptions, looking for

areas of consensus when there is disagreement, reinforcing student contributions, and injecting

their own knowledge and confirming student understanding (Shea, 2006). Some of the instrumental

requirements include setting time parameters, due dates, deadlines, clear course topics and

instructions, and guidelines on how to effectively and appropriately participate in and contribute to

the discussion.

 

 

 

It is not uncommon for faculty new to online teaching to engage in passive teaching strategies

without being aware they are doing so. For example, they provide narrated PowerPoint

presentations or some other form of video lecture for students. We have found that a faculty

reliance on textbooks and lectures often leads to knowledge-based questions that inhibit students

from moving through the inquiry process. This is not to say that these kinds of passive activities are

never done, but all learning tasks need to be carefully considered, keeping in mind the educational

purpose. For example, a 10-minute lecture may be required when introducing a new or complex

concept, which is then used to promote discussion.

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