How I’ve adjusted my teaching, or not, for online learning…

“How I’ve adjusted my teaching, or not, for online learning…”

Glenda Baker Bio Pic

Glenda Baker, American School in Japan

Guest blogpost by Glenda Baker

Designing learning experiences for students in an online setting has kept me pondering a handful of questions. Here are my favorite four:

How can I make the learning sticky?

By “sticky” I am thinking of what David Perkins talks about in his book Making Learning Whole: the art of revisiting, connecting, and drawing the big ideas together in practice. Perkins calls it “learning by whole.” To make learning “stick,” we need just the right amount of struggle to keep it interesting, we need enough mental energy to stay engaged, and we need enough of the right kind of choices to make it personally meaningful.

At first, this seemed tricky to do online. I realized that after teaching face-to-face for so long, I had the luxury of improvisation; it’s easy to do when we are all in the same space. The challenge in an online environment is to be more pre-emptive and to provide tools to give and gather feedback. I am interested in seeing how I can use a Google+ Community and regular Hangouts, among other tools, to help with this.

How can I build choice into the learning?

I think that Dan Pink’s ideas about motivation apply as much to learning as they do to work. He says people thrive when given opportunities to experience autonomy, purpose, and mastery. Building choice into an online learning experience is one way of tackling this. I want to include choice where it leverages the learning and is meaningful. I was fascinated by research experiments that suggest making too many choices can fatigue us. Since I want students to invest their energy in the core concerns of the subject, I need to make sure the choices I build into my course support my learning intentions and are not just about making things fun. Some choices I have included: three or four prompts on how students might respond to readings; three suggestions of tools to use for a task and letting students pick; allowing student collaboration in generating ideas from which they choose one to develop further. I think working in an online environment, as opposed to a brick-and-mortar one, has actually enhanced my ability to be thoughtful about choices like these.

How can we move beyond ‘personal opinion’ to ‘critical thinking’?

A colleague and I noticed during a series of socratic seminars that many of our students would revert to personal opinion by default. When we raised this with the students, one said, “Well, it’s just easier to defend your own idea rather than someone else’s.” Teaching students Question Formation Techniques is one way to address this issue. In an online environment, working asynchronously allows students more time to ponder and reflect. My goal is to make my course’s Google+ community a venue for critical thinking and quality questioning.

How will the learning reflect the ‘real thing’?

I want students to discover key concepts by immersing themselves in the process of design. Case studies and projects seem to offer more opportunity to engage students in messy problems that can’t be resolved with a single answer. Because of time, I’ve settled on “chunking”: getting students to focus on a part of the process as the course unfolds. This process gives them the opportunity to flex and practice aspects of the design process in different situations. I have always taught this way, so the adjustment to an online environment is more to do with providing enough scaffolding and models so students have a clear sense of the terrain they will cover.

So, how have I adjusted?

The biggest adjustment has actually occurred in me! I am more intentional and creative as I think about the opportunities and limitations that this new environment affords. Designing meaningful choices, expecting students to go beyond opinion to critical thinking, and putting ideas into their context, all have a part in making learning “sticky.” These ideas apply equally to my work in a brick-and-mortar classroom as they do to online teaching. Teaching online has made me more thoughtful about teaching as a whole.

About Glenda Baker: Glenda is an Instructional Technology and Curriculum Coach at the American School in Japan. She will be teaching GOA’s first Graphic Design course in the Spring of 2014. Follow her on Twitter @glendab.

*Glenda will be teaching a GOA Professional Development Course in Fall 2013; Introduction to the Online Learning Environment. 

Adjusting to Online Learning - Glenda Baker

Adjusting to Online Learning – Glenda Baker


Perkins, David. Making Learning Whole. 1st Ed. san Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Print. <>.

“RSA Animate- Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.” RSA Events. RSA, 01 04 2010. Web. 31 Jul 2013. <>.

Vohs, Kathleen, and Roy Baumeister. “Too Many Choices – Good or Bad – can be Mentally Exhausting.” American Psychological Association. APA, 01 05 2008. Web. 31 Jul 2013. <>.

Rothstein, Dan, and Luz Santana. “Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions.” Harvard Education Letter. Harvard Graducate School of Education, n.d. Web. 31 Jul 2013. <>.