My Takeaways from Tony Bates’s ‘Nine Steps’

I’ve been teaching online college composition courses for many years, so my takeaways may not be the same as yours. I also have pedagogical preferences that have influenced my choices. As expected, much of the information pertains to both online and onground environments. I’ve made an effort to zero in on those that are relevant to online. For your reference, I’ve included the titles of the nine steps plus the intro and “Designing online learning for the 21st century” as clickable links. According to Bates, the nine steps are for beginners and “Designing” is for experienced online teachers. I’ve omitted quotations, but keep in mind that all the statements are direct quotes.

Nine steps to quality online learning: Introduction

Step 1: Decide how you want to teach online 

  • Moving your course online opens up a range of possibilities for teaching that may not be possible in the confines of a scheduled three credit weekly semester of lectures.
  • It is important to design online teaching in such a way that it best suits online learners…. A key requirement for most online learners [is] flexibility…. Online students need to feel that the instructor is ‘present’ online, i.e. interacting with students in discussion forums, directing them to recent relevant articles or events, and responding promptly to questions.
  • Synchronous tools tend to be instructor-dominated (delivering lectures and controlling the discussion)…. asynchronous tools such as an LMS provide online learners with more flexibility than synchronous tools, and enable them to work more independently.
  • Top universities such as MIT, Stanford, Princeton and Yale have made available recordings of their classroom lectures , etc., while distance teaching organizations such as the UK Open University [and Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learn Initiative] have made all their online teaching materials available for free use. Much of this material can be found at Apple’s iTunesU.

Step 2: Decide on what kind of online course

  • Online learning, particularly fully online, requires good self-discipline and good generic study skills.
  • Developing skills online can be more of a challenge…. This would mean identifying the skills needed, working out how to develop such skills (including opportunities for practice) online, and how to assess such skills online.

Step 3: Work in a Team

  • Good course design is essential to achieve quality.
  • Particular attention has to be paid to providing appropriate online activities for students, and to structuring content in ways that facilitate learning in an asynchronous online environment.
  • Good course design not only enables students to learn better but also controls faculty workload. Courses look better with good graphic and web design.

Step 4: Build on existing resources

  • Cut down on ‘conversion time’ by using existing online resources…. specifically developed for online teaching.

Step 5: Master the technology

Step 6: Set appropriate learning goals

  • In terms of online learning design [teach students how to use] the Internet increasingly as a major resource for learning.
  • Students now need to be able to communicate in a variety of ways in the 21st century. Writing and speaking skills remain critical, but increasingly the ability to communicate through modern media such as social media, YouTube, blogs and wikis are particularly important.
  • Online learning, by its nature, requires students to take increasing responsibility for managing their learning.
  •  A key learning goal may be for every student to leave the course competent in the selection and use of relevant digital tools.
  • One great characteristic of teaching online is the opportunity to bring in the world to your teaching.
  • Assessment drives student behaviour. If they are not to be assessed on 21st century skills, they won’t make the effort to develop them. The main challenge may not be in setting appropriate goals for online learning, but ensuring that you have the tools and means to assess whether students have achieved those goals.
  • It is necessary to communicate very clearly to students these new learning goals and how they will be assessed.
  • In some ways, with the Internet (as with other media), the medium is the message. Knowledge is not completely neutral…. Each medium brings another way of knowing. We can either fight the medium, and try to force old content into new bottles, or we can shape the content to the form of the medium.

Step 7: Design course structure and learning activities

  • In a strong teaching structure, students know exactly what they need to learn, what they are supposed to do to learn this, and when and where they are supposed to do it.
  • I [Bates] much prefer asynchronous communication for two reasons. Students are often working and have busy lives; asynchronous messages are more convenient for them. They are permanent and can be accessed at any time. Also, they are much more convenient for me as an instructor.
  • [My] synchronous ‘lectures’ are always optional as there will always be some students who cannot be present (although they can be made available in recorded format).
  • It is a mistake for the instructor to respond immediately to every comment. This prevents other students from making their own contribution; they will wait until they see your reaction.

Step 8: Communicate, communicate, communicate

  • Research has clearly indicated that ‘perceived instructor presence’ is a critical factor for online student success and satisfaction.
  • Research indicates that students who do not respond to set activities in the first week are at high risk of non-completion. I always follow up with a phone call or e-mail to non-respondents in this first week, and ensure that each student is following the guidelines.

Step 9: Evaluate and innovate

  • There is a range of resources you can draw on to [evaluate factors contributing to or inhibiting learning on an online course], much more in fact than for evaluating classroom courses, because online learning leaves a traceable digital trail of evidence.

Designing online learning for the 21st century.

  • 21st century skills… a handy way of describing the kind of skills that need to be embedded within a discipline area, if learners are to function effectively in 21st century society.
  • Despite these changes [development of a knowledge-based society; rapid technological development and adoption outside the academy] though our campus-based teaching has changed very little, mainly adding new technologies such as lecture capture to the traditional model of teaching, thus increasing costs: we’ve added GPS and stereo sound to a horse and cart, but it’s still a horse and cart.
  • The core 21st century skill is knowledge management, the ability to find, evaluate, analyse and apply information, although almost as important is independent learning. These are skills that can be taught, or perhaps more accurately, facilitated.
  • Changes in technologies…. WordPress, blogs, wikis and e-portfolios for learner-generated content; video and audio to help learners move between the concrete and abstract and back again; open educational resources, which challenge our conception of curriculum and ownership of content
  • A new paradigm for learning…. Stephen Downes’ articulation of e-learning 2.0: learning managed by the learner[;] peer-to-peer collaboration[;] access to open content[;] learning demonstrated by online multimedia assignments (e.g. e-portfolios)[;] development of 21st century skills.
  • We know how to teach well online; follow best practice[;] however, we also need to innovate: incrementally and evaluate…. innovation in teaching needs to be rewarded more.
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8 Responses to My Takeaways from Tony Bates’s ‘Nine Steps’

  1. Excellent review! These are the ones that I found to be particularly poignant:

    – It is a mistake for the instructor to respond immediately to every comment. This prevents other students from making their own contribution; they will wait until they see your reaction.

    – Research indicates that students who do not respond to set activities in the first week are at high risk of non-completion. I always follow up with a phone call or e-mail to non-respondents in this first week, and ensure that each student is following the guidelines.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Anonymous says:

      You’re welcome, Dawn. Interesting how these two jumped out at me, too.

      Re “It is a mistake for the instructor to respond immediately to every comment. This prevents other students from making their own contribution; they will wait until they see your reaction.”

      I remember a time, years ago before online courses, when an administrator observed one of my classes. The students rose to the occasion and made sure we had a great discussion. After it was over, in our postmortem, the admin shook his head and said he was disappointed that I couldn’t answer some of the questions the students raised. I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t respond.

      As part of my discussion strategy, my goal was to gradually “disappear” in class discussions, and in my mind the best were the ones where the students took over the discussion and I became an unobtrusive spectator. Some of the students looked at me, waiting to see if I would regain control. When they saw that I was absorbed by the discussion, they either thought I’d lost it or decided that it was OK to join the talk.

      This approach has followed me into my online classes. In discussion forums, I amplify excerpts from student comments by tweeting them to the entire class, but I omit my own comments in both the discussions and tweets.

      This approach seems to turn the spotlight from me to the students, and the outcome is, I think, stronger voices in their papers.

      I wish I could take credit for this, but it’s an approach I’ve stolen from some of my favorite teachers.

      Re “Research indicates that students who do not respond to set activities in the first week are at high risk of non-completion. I always follow up with a phone call or e-mail to non-respondents in this first week, and ensure that each student is following the guidelines.”

      These are the kinds of gems in Bates’s rambling style that tell me he’s one of us, a teacher with his boots in the trenches. I’ve been doing this, too — emailing students when they fail to post in the first or second discussion. I wouldn’t advise phoning, however. In every class, there always seems to be a student who needs confirmation on every step in the course. “Is this what you want?” “Am I doing this correctly?” Many of the questions are about what’s implied and not explicitly stated. For example, if the guideline is for 750-1000 words, s/he’ll ask, “Is it OK if my paper has only 600 words?”

      Once this student has your phone number, he’ll be calling you 24/7.

      Part of my task as an online teacher, I believe, is to empower students as learners. Instead of enabling them, I turn their questions back to them with comments like: “Take a moment to figure out where, in our course resources, the answer could be found.” Most get it right away and accept the fact that they’ll have to actually look at the schedule and read the guidelines. For others, after a guess or two that’s not even close, I point in the general direction of the info, e.g., “Review the guidelines for that activity.” The guidelines are in the schedule as hot links, and if they ask “Where are the guidelines?” I don’t respond.

      I get mixed reactions from students (and some colleagues, too) re this approach, but I feel it’s a form of tough love. I should add, though, that there are exceptions when it’s obvious that students with strong independent learning skills are really lost and need guidance. For me, the tip off is when they preface their question with a qualifier such as: “I reread the guidelines for the activity and scanned the info on the course site but couldn’t find the answer.” I give them the answer immediately and immediately review the guidelines. This is how I learn to update guidelines, and I follow up with an eblast to the class re the update.

      I also make it a point to review guidelines whenever any student raises a question. I often find that my instructions could have been clearer, and I make the necessary adjustments. -Jim S

  2. Veronica says:

    Have a very similar approach to not jumping in too soon to sort out questions students have, Jim. . I tell them at the start of a course that they are there to help each other, learn from each other, that they are a learning community, a community of practice. And that I should be a kind of last resort, the guide on the side! The second point is interesting and something I’m going to monitor more closely when my next courses start. I find that lots of encouragement usually helps the reticent ones to get going. And once they get people responding to their posts, they begin to feel more involved and become more active. However, I still get a few who, for what ever reason, choose not to do online tasks – forum, wiki contributions. Their participation grade is lower obviously, but I feel it’s their decision and one which I should respect. Just like some students speak more, some less in F2F classes. That’s life!

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi, Veronica. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      Re “I still get a few who, for what ever reason, choose not to do online tasks – forum, wiki contributions. Their participation grade is lower obviously, but I feel it’s their decision and one which I should respect.”

      I used to feel this way, too, but I’ve gradually moved to the position that, for fully online courses, participation in forum discussions is the equivalent of “attendance” in onground courses. If a student remains silent in a forum, s/he is absent. I make this clear in the course info.

      I also require individual blogs, which serve as publishing platforms for sharing drafts. I provide instructions on how to set the privacy level to discourage search engines. This is made clear up front.

      However, I don’t require Twitter accounts since tweets are fed into the course blog.

      My thought behind this is that online, as an interactive instructional medium, is different from onground, and the rules for onground don’t necessarily carry over to online. To succeed in the online environment, students must learn how to establish their identity and express their ideas. This how is part of the “content” and skills set of an online course. -Jim S

  3. Veronica says:

    Re If a student remains silent in a forum, s/he is absent. I make this clear in the course info. Yes, I
    can see where you’re coming from, Jim, and I think if my classes were purely online (and not blended) I’d do the same. Re Twitter feeding straight into the class blog – I’m impressed! I wouldn’t know how to do this so another thing to learn And tweeting still feels a bit strange – feels a bit like shouting. Maybe I just need to do it more often!

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Veronica. I didn’t see Twitter as a useful tool for the things I need to do as an online teacher until I learned that I could create separate Twitter accounts for different purposes. (Duh!) I created one for all my writing classes. I tweet reminders about deadlines, updates, etc. I also tweet thoughtful comments from the student forums. I preface tweets with the course number (e.g., “225 John: xxx” for English 225) to alert specific groups and to add the student’s first name if I’m quoting someone.

      If you’re using WordPress — to feed tweets into a blog, simply select the Twitter feed widget and position it in one of the sidebars. The provided directions are very simple. Voila, all the tweets are live streaming in the sidebar. Students can use the scroll bar to view more. BTW, there are two Twitter widgets so be sure to select the one that feeds.

      Yes, it does feel “a bit like shouting.” LOL!

      It seems to be working wonders in class discussions. Students can quickly see capsule gems from classmates and it doesn’t hurt to see their own brilliance in the tweetlight. They seem to be more inspired to post comments that show off their critical thinking ability. My tweets also serves as a “silent” reminder that I’m “there” and really listening to what they’re saying.

      It also helps as a reminder, but I go back and forth in my own head as to whether I ought to nag them and make them less responsible for keeping up with the schedule on their own. -Jim S

  4. Pingback: Responses to Veronica, Ida, Sara: 9/13/13 | Jim's iFacilitate Blog

  5. Pingback: My Takeaways from Tony Bates's 'Nine Steps' | l...

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