Best Practices in eLearning Teaching and Designing

Online learning has the potential to become a productive and far reaching method for sharing and acquiring knowledge. However, criteria and practices for successful online teaching and learning must be founded on solid learning theory (Haythornthwaite, 2011). Technology alone cannot meet the needs of a learner (Kingwee & Kidd, 2010). Teachers cannot merely upload content from their bricks and mortar classroom and expect success. Superb online learning will require a collaboration of theorists, teachers, and technologists (Koohang, Riley, & Smith, 2009). The process of learning is integrated and complex, often debated by those who want to establish a clear route for creating knowledge (Wang, 2012). Yet, one learning theory does not adequately address the needs of all learners, and thus behaviorist, cognitivist and constructionist learning theories all have a place in defining good practices for online learning (Haythornthwaite, 2011).

Andragogy, as proposed by Malcolm Knowles, is considered the scholarly view of adult learning that embraces the theory and practice that adults are self-directed learners and that teachers and adult learners are more equal (Knowles, et al., 2005).  Teachers do not passively administer information, but more aptly facilitate learning (Miller, 2011). This strategy aligns well with constructivist learning theory, in that adult learners are building upon knowledge they have already acquired (Koohang, Riley, & Smith, 2009). Adult learners usually know what they need to learn and are motivated to understand concepts that help them in real world situations (Knowles, et al., 2005).

Effective practices in online learning --

1. Establish and maintain presence and connectedness between instructor and learners.
2. Communicate clear goals and high expectations
3. Establish community and collaboration among students
4. Encourage active learning with varied activities to meet andragogy frameworks
5. Give consistent and prompt feedback
6. Acknowledge diverse talents and experience

 Establish and Maintain Online Presence to Promote Connectedness

One of the obstacles in online teaching is the lack of presence (Ravenscroft, 2011). Teachers and students cannot interact in the same way as in the traditional classroom. If constructivist learning is to be applied to online learning, there must be a flow of information between mentor and learner (Sung & Mayer, 2012). The instructor is the guide that provides resources and direction. Students want to know that the instructor knows what he/she is talking about and has experience that is valuable and accessible (Knowles, They want a real instructor online with disclosure, feedback, a feeling of relationship, and even humor (Reupert, Mayberry, Patrick, Chittleborough, 2009). Student surveys reveal that they want teachers who are engaging, approachable, patient, and understanding (Reupert, e. al., 2009).

The theory of transactional distance is applicable to online learning, in that the student and instructor are separated by time and space, which must be circumvented in order to achieve presence and learning (Falloon, 2011). One of the initial contacts that an instructor makes is with a welcome letter or video. Although a written communication reveals pertinent data and even character through voice, a video captures more real life mannerisms and bridges the transactional distance (Reupert, et. al, 2009).

In many MOOCs, the instructor video is the introduction to the course and the selling point for enrolling. Professor Donald Dingwell, from the University of Munich uses collaborative dialogue, "join me, as we try to figure out what makes volcanoes work."

Professor Kretschmer uses connectivist language when he says that "we will look at .."

Professor Cramer introduces himself by his first and last name -- "My name is Chris Cramer..." which supports the strategy of andragogy by approaching the learners more as equals (Knowles, et al., 2005). He also uses similar inclusive language, "we.. did this" and then uses a visual demonstration to explain the goals of the course. The instructor sets out the plan of study in a friendly tone thereby shortening the transactional distance between himself and his learners.

Although technology provides the delivery of online courses, instructors need to understand that andragogy, not technology that will determine the success (Shieh, Gummer, & Niess, 2008). Instructors can utilize asynchronous online discussions, emails, and live synchronous webcasts to connect with students establish their role as facilitators and mentors (Knowles, et al., 2005). If learning is to be constructive, then all parties in the model need to have a presence in the course, but instructors are the ones instigate and maintain this presence (Keengwe & Kidd, 2010). Online instructors need to facilitate discourse and share responsibility by reading and commenting on posts, thus sustaining the social presence needed to reinforce learning (Keengwe & Kidd, 2010).

Instructors also need to set a time of availability for conferencing with students -- similar to having office hours. This is especially true since online courses tend to be available at any time of the day or night. The current generation is used to immediate answers, facilitated through the advances in technology. A students expectations of how and when he/she can converse with the instructor should be part of establishing an online presence (Sung & Mayer, 2012).

Communicate Clear Goals and Expectations and Acknowledge Diverse Learners

Andragogy specifies that adult learners need to understand the purpose of their learning (Knowles, et al., 2005). Goals and expectations can be emphasized in the beginning of the course through video and written dialogue. But it is essential for instructors to establish agreed-upon learning objectives so that students have a clear picture of their goals (Nkonge & Gueldenzoph, 2006). Online learning is an interaction between students, teachers, content, and technology to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge for a needed purpose (Nkonge & Gueldenzoph, 2006). Students also appreciate expectations about time needed per week for study and what to do when questions arise (Boettcher, 2011).

Examples for communicating goals in online courses can be drawn from MOOCs such as Coursera.org and Canvas.net. These items are available to potential students along with the video introduction of the instructors. For example, this course, called Creativity, Innovation, and Change, offered from Penn State University, is introduced with all the material that meets andragogy strategy: how the course will empower learners, recommended background, format, and a frequently asked questions section. The instructors clearly state that they expect you to create, but that they will "guide" you there, indicating an experiential learning format (Hirumi, 2011). Also within this list of goals and expectations, the instructors identify their understanding of their students varied interests and commitments to learning, as they define three groups that might be taking the course: Adventurers, explorers, and tourists. This is not a common inclusion in traditional brick and mortar classrooms, where all students are commonly treated on the same level. Constructivist learning theory and andragogy is clearly exemplified in recognizing and including these diverse learners which may be better served in online courses (Falloon, 2011).

Establish Community and Collaboration Among Students and Yourself

Online instructors need to provide methods where students will become part of a community of learning where academic discourse can take place (Nkonge & Gueldenzoph, 2006).  Constructivist learning theory requires opportunities for students to build upon their knowledge. According to students, teacher feedback is vital to a successful online learning experience (Getzalf, Perry, Toffner, Lamarche, & Edwards, 2009).  While this may, at first seem unsettling to instructors who are used to lecturing in person, and taking note of their students’ involvement, online feedback has the potential to be just as effective if not more so. Online instructors must respond to students' questions about assignments and course materials, but this direct method also gives them space and time to comment on progress and give further direction (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008).  Asynchronous learning such as email, discussion boards, and voice mail are opportunities to make successful connections while conforming to sound theories of online learning (Espasa & Meneses, 2009).  The concept of "presence" in an online course, feeds into the theory of connectivism and collaboration as instructors take opportunities to establish community. Moore's theory of transactional distance addresses the need for instructors to provide ways to shorten that distance and open the space for cognitive and constructive learning (Falloon, 2011). Although there seems to be some interest in setting up small groups of students for online discussion and collaboration, the successes have not been fully documented (Boettcher, 2011). In one online course, the instructor had attempted to organize the students into small groups, only to find out that class size had become too much to handle for the structure chosen.

One strategy is to set up an introduction discussion forum, where the instructor first introduces himself, and then asks specific questions for each of the students to answer in a type of introduction (Palloff & Pratt, 2007). A good example where an instructor encourages community discussion is in the following Canvas.net course on "Game Elements for Learning":

Canvas.net, Game Elements for Learning, 2013

Encourage Active Learning with Varied Activities to Address Adult Learning Strategies of Andragogy

Learning activities should meet the course objectives and outcomes (Boettcher, 2011). Even though adult students are usually intrinsically motivated, active learning should include a variety of activities (Knowles, et al., 2007). Teachers can use asynchronous and synchronous activities, written as well as visual formats, reading and listening and watching provide multiple learning opportunities that cover a broad range of preferences (Gueldenzoph & Nkonge, 2006). Activities can be more collaborative in nature, where students set-up meeting times and spaces to discus ideas (Brindley & Walti, 2009). Students need to move from passive learning to active learning and then reflective learning, with activities in each of the categories (Horton, 2006);

The best strategies address andragogy and learning theories that cover a broad spectrum of learning preferences as exemplified in this online course at Canvas.net, called Game Elements and Learning. Activities include readings, video, questions, discussions, polls, and synchronous meetings (Canvas.net, 2013)

Most of the videos presented in these MOOCs are broken up into seven to ten minute sessions with an embedded quiz to follow, supporting cognitive theory of memory (Miller, 2011). Learning is spread out over a variety of activities which can be accessed over variable times and spaces, encouraging long term memory (Miller, 2011).

Give Consistent and Prompt Feedback to Your Learners

According to students, teacher feedback is vital to a successful online learning experience (Getzalf, Perry, Toffner, Lamarche, & Edwards, 2009).  While this may, at first seem unsettling to instructors who are used to lecturing in person, and taking note of their students’ involvement, online feedback has the potential to be just as effective if not more so. Online instructors must respond to students' questions about assignments and course materials, but this direct method also gives them space and time to comment on progress and give further direction (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008).  Asynchronous learning such as email, discussion boards, and voice mail are opportunities to make successful connections while conforming to sound theories of online learning (Espasa & Meneses, 2009).  

Teachers should always strive to give personalized feedback to their students, though this may be difficult in large MOOCs. It has been shown that students do better academically when they receive personalized feedback (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008). Students also report more satisfaction when the instructor responds in a timely manner than the feedback received on assignments (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008). Positive feedback motivates learners and keeps them connected, as well as guiding them along constructive learning theory (Keengwe & Kidd, 2010).

Feedback was examined for content and process to reveal five themes (Getzalf, Perry, Toffner, Lamarche, & Edwards, 2009):

Student Involvement and Individuation
Effective feedback is a mutual process involving both student and instructor.
Being Positively Constructive
Effective feedback provides constructive guidance that builds confidence
Gentle Guidance
Effective feedback guides through explicit expectations and ongoing coaching
Timelines for effective feedback are mutually established and met.
Future Orientation
Effective feedback is applicable to future situations

Online learning presents problems but also opportunities to advance learning (Haythornthwaite & Andrews, 2011).  It is critical that the efforts to design online courses include more than content and technology (Boettcher, 2011). Learning does not just center around the teacher as the giver of knowledge, nor around the content to be passively delivered (Boettcher, 2011). Constructivist learning theory employs collaboration, cognitivism, transformation, and connectivism as a means to design and provide online courses based on a strategy of andragogy and pedagogy (Keengwe & Kidd, 2010). Students are being encouraged to contribute as collaborators in learning through online discussions and activities (Boettcher, 2011). The best eLearning practices are those that are fluid and embody a transparency where instructors, technologists, and learners share what works and what does not work as education pushes outward from the traditional brick and mortar classroom, student, and teacher.


Boettcher, J. V. (2011).  Ten best practices for teaching online: Quick guide for new online faculty.  Retrieved from

Brindley, J., Walti, C., & Blaschke, L. (2009).  Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, (10) 3.

Canvas.net. (2013). Retrieved from http://canvas.net

Chittleborough, P., Maybery, D., Patrick, K., & Reupert, A. (2009). The importance of being human:     instructors' personal presence in distance programs.  International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, 21(1), 47-56.

Coursera.org. (2013). Retrieved from http://coursera.org

Espasa, A., & Meneses, J. (2010). Analysing feedback processes in an online teaching and learning environment: An exploratory study. Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning, 59(3), 277-292. Retrieved from

Falloon, G. (2011).  Making the connection: Moore’s theory of transactional distance and its relevance to the use of a virtual classroom in postgraduate online teacher education. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, (43), 187-211.

Gallien, T., & Oomen-Early, J. (2008). Personalized versus collective instructor feedback in the online courseroom: Does type of feedback affect student satisfaction, academic performance and perceived connectedness with the instructor? International Journal on E-Learning, 7(3), 463-476. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=ehh&AN=33019006&site=eds-live

Getzlaf, B., Perry, B., Toffner, G., Lamarche, K., & Edwards, M. (2009). Effective instructor feedback: Perceptions of online graduate students. Journal of Educators Online, 6(2)  Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ904070&site=eds-live

Gueldenzoph, L. E., & Nkonge, B.  (2006). Best practices in online education: Implications for policy and practice. Business education digest, (15), 42-53.  Retrieved from

Horton, W. (2006). E-Learning by Design. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Hirumi, A. (2012). The design and sequencing of online and blended learning interactions: A framework for grounded design. Canadian Learning Journal, 16(2), 21-25. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=79461798&site=eds-live

Keengwe, J. & Kidd, T. (2010). Towards best practices in online learning and teaching in higher education. Merlot Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (6), 533-541.

Koohang, A., & Palisszkiewicz, J. (2013). Knowledge construction in E-learning: An empirical validation of an active learning model. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 53(3), 109-114. Retrieved from

Knowles, M. S., Holton III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2005).  The Adult Leaner.  The Definitive Classic in Adult education and Human Resource Development.  Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

Miller, M. D. (2011). What college teachers should know about memory: A perspective from cognitive psychology. College Teaching, 59(3), 117-122. doi:10.1080/87567555.2011.580636

Nkonge, B., & Gueldenzoph, L. (2006).  Best practices in online education:  Implications for policy and practice. Business Education Digest, (25), 42-53.

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K.  (2007).  Building online learning communities: effective strategies for the virtual classroom.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sung, E. and Mayer, R.E., 2012. Five facets of social presence in online distance education. Computers in Human Behavior, 8(5), 1738-1747.

Wang, V. (2012). Understanding and promoting learning theories. International Forum of Teaching & Studies, 8(2), 5-11. Retrieved from


Collaboration in a Flipped Classroom

Teachers in higher education have traditionally used their classroom time for presenting information in the form of lectures to students (Michel, Cater III, & Varela, 2009).  During the one- to three-hour class time, students are expected to absorb information that will be required in other learning and testing (Herreid, & Schiller, 2013).  The passive nature of this didactic teaching method does not always engage students in active learning – a critical component of learning (Michel, et. al., 2009). Some of the drawbacks for students include lack of time to take accurate notes, distractions, fear of interrupting to ask questions, inability to follow the lecturer, lack of interest in the subject, and poor presentation by the teacher.  Some students have resorted to recording lectures to ensure that they are not missing vital information. Any information presented via a white board or projector, is absent in such audible recordings.  The time spent with a professor is thus during a passive learning period.  In fact, labs that are part of a course are often taught by Teaching Assistants instead of the professor. The lab or workshop and even homework are where active learning is supposed to be taking place and yet the teacher is usually absent.  Teacher and student collaboration need to be examined from the viewpoint of where and when it happens and what type of classroom encourages active learning.  Where is teacher and peer collaboration most effective during the learning process?
With the explosion of technology and mobile devices, teachers have the ability to rethink the delivery of information via the traditional classroom lecture.  The flipped classroom has been shown to provide teachers with more time in the lab workshop section of their courses, where active learning can occur (Forsey, Low, & Glance, 2013).  Although many professors have embraced the use of technology in the form of Power Point in their lectures, they commonly do so in a didactic classroom setting (Strayer, 2012).  Teachers may find a better integration of technology and learning in the classroom, through the implementation of the flipped classroom. The lecture part of the class would be available online and the classroom part of the class would become the laboratory of active learning through collaboration between teacher and students.  Flipping a classroom involves engaging the students with course materials online through short videos and readings and then having them come to class workshops where they practice applying the knowledge by creating and completing various tasks (Forsey, et. al., 2013).
The comparison of active learning to passive learning has previously been studied, but there is minimal research on the flipped classroom.  Experiential learning has been studied, where business students were placed into groups of learning and assigned a project to complete and then compared to business students who attended a traditional passive lecture (Michel, Cater III, & Varela, 2009).  This study found that students benefit from both lectures and active learning – using methods of absorbing information to actively using that information, and that the teacher is integral in that success.  The active group showed improved cognitive outcomes, but both groups were comparable in overall mastery of the subject (Michel, et. al., 2009).  By moving lectures from a face-to-face format to a rich  technological interface, students and teachers will have more time for active learning in workshops and labs.
The flipped classroom has been studied in various subjects, from sociology to the sciences, with varying methods of delivery, teacher capability, and success.  One study flipped a basic statistics course at a university and compared it to a traditional basic statistics course at the same university, with the same instructor (Strayer, 2012).  Students in the flipped classroom felt less satisfied, reporting that there was not enough structure in the classroom portion and that the teacher seemed unorganized (Strayer, 2012).  However, they collaborated more and had more innovative ideas during the classroom workshops (Strayer, 2012).  There were several problems with this study in making an accurate comparison.  The teacher had used a statistics program on the Internet for the lecture portion of his class, called ALEKS, which differed from the way that he explained problems in the workshop sessions.  This cognitive overload for many of the students made it difficult for them to make the connection between the two methods of solving problems.  Also, the students were not fully engaged in the subject matter, deeming it a necessary course only for the completion of a degree, and having no interest in learning statistics (Strayer, 2012).  Obviously, the teacher must provide content that is engaging and specific to his course for the online portion of the flipped classroom.  Missing in this study is more passion for the process – the teacher could have integrated his lesson plans with an effective online portion.
Martin Forsey, a university sociology teacher flipped his classroom when he developed a course for a massive open online course or MOOC as they have come to be called (Forsey, Low, & Glance, 2013).  While the MOOCs are not usually for-credit courses, university professors teach them.  In this case study, Forsey used the material that he developed for the MOOC as the online portion of his traditional sociology course at the university (Forsey, et. al., 2013).  The students were asked to engage in the online activities of the MOOC in preparation for in-class tutorial/workshops.  Forsey found that his face-to-face time in the workshops with the students was more productive, where he was devoted to helping students research and write sociological biographies (Forsey, et. al., 2013).  Students reported that they appreciated the new format because it was more flexible, the content was richer, and they had become more productive (Forsey, et. al., 2013).  The teacher had actively embraced the challenge to create a new teaching method, favoring the constructivist learning theory of MOOCs and applying that to a flipped classroom environment.  
In reviewing the literature on the effectiveness of teacher and peer collaboration in traditional classrooms versus the flipped classroom, it appears that there are variable results based on differences in teaching abilities, preparation of the online materials, and enthusiasm of the participants.  However, as more research is added to the field of flipping classrooms, teachers may begin to evaluate their own classrooms and pedagogy.  The idea of flipping a classroom may become more palatable after the explosion of MOOCs and positive feedback from students and instructors. However,  more research is needed in comparing the traditional classroom with the flipped classroom to evaluate where teacher and peer collaboration are most effective in learning. 
I would propose a test-control situation between two identical classes, where the causal mechanism is the only variation – one class flipped and the other traditional.  The study is feasible within the time frame of a one-semester course, where I would have access to the participants and site.  Hopefully, the results would provide more incentive to teachers desiring to improve student collaboration and learning.  The need for further research is apparent, considering that many instructors are skeptical of online education (Allen & Seaman, 2013).

Allen, I. & Seaman, J. (2013).  Changing Course:  Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. The Sloan Consortium.  Retrieved from http://www.onnlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/changingcourse.pdf
Forsey, M., Low, M., & Glance, D. (2013). Flipping the sociology classroom: Towards a practice of online pedagogy. Journal of Sociology, 49(4), 471. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=91934408&site=eds-live
Herreid, & Schiller, N. A. 3. (2013). Case studies and the flipped classroom. Journal of College Science Teaching, 42(5), 62-66. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=86988365&site=eds-live
Michel, N., Cater III, J., & Varela, O. (2009). Active versus passive teaching styles: An empirical study of student learning outcomes. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 20(4), 397-418. doi:10.1002/hrdq.20025
Strayer, J. (2012). How learning in an inverted classroom influences cooperation, innovation and task orientation. Learning Environments Research, 15(2), 171-193. doi:10.1007/s10984-012-9108-4


Meeting the needs of English language learners through online learning

For this assignment, you should develop a 30-minute lesson plan on the subject of your choice to meet the needs of English Language Learners as well as others in your class. Include the following:

1) Objectives
2) State Standards
3) Methods for meeting student needs
4) Specific activities
5) An assessment (formal or informal) to evaluate content mastery

Length: 30-minute lesson


Lesson:  How to Use Verbs in Your Writing -- This lesson requires an understanding of the English language, but is adaptable for ESL students. The lesson meets the writing needs of college students. ESL students may have grammar needs that English speakers have already acquired, but the lesson includes adjustments for ESL learners.

Objectives: The objective of this lesson is to help students recognize the importance of the subject and verb in a sentence and how choices of verbs and the placement of them affects clarity. This lesson is focused on only one aspect of writing. The entire course addresses other mistakes that students make in writing and how to correct those. It is appropriate for ESL students as well as others. Higher educaiton students often need to write with more clarity, having picked up academic writing styles that are not that well-written (Zinsser, 2006).

State Standards:  This is a lesson for higher education levels. However, the course meets the following Common Core Standards:  (1) Reading and writing grounded in evidence from the text, (2) Regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary (California Department of Education, 2013).

Methods for meeting students’ needs:  This lesson provides examples and assessments of basic writing and grammar for all students. The online nature of this lesson provides methods for meeting the needs of ESL students.

The specific activities for this lesson are based on Boom's Taxonomy (Overbaugh, n.d.) and Horton's (2012) e-learning designs.

Bloom's taxonomy is illustrated in the pyramid on the left and a revised pyramid is on the right, which shows strong verbs in place of nouns. Bloom's taxonomy aligns with Horton's "absorb," "do", and "connect" activities, providing a successful scaffold for building an e-learning lesson (Overbaugh, n.d. & Horton, 2012).

Absorb -- Do -- Connect

Absorb activities
Absorb relay information (Horton, 2012).  The most common types of absorb activities include presentations, readings, stories by a teacher, and field trips (Horton, 2012). Some of these may be characterized as passive learning, especially if students are watching a slide presentation or listening to a story. Absorb activities prepare students to do something or provide short “upgrades” from previous learning (Horton, 2012). These activities are good at explaining and demonstrating a sequence of events (Horton, 2012).  Absorb activities can be pre-recorded, an advantage for many instructors and learners. Students can access information at anytime, and stop the presentation if needed, which meets the needs of ESL students. Absorb activities are the foundation in Bloom's taxonomy of "remembering" and "understanding" (Overbaugh, n.d.).

The video for this lesson gives the learner control over the speed of the presentation as well as three forms of absorbing the information:  hearing, reading the text, and watching graphics (Horton, 2012). This helps meet the needs for various learning styles, levels of learning, and ESL students (Herrington, n.d.). Learners grasp new ideas by seeing, hearing, and reading the examples (Horton, 2012). To keep the presentations interesting, they should be short and involve the students in "do" activities immediately (Horton, 2012).  In fact, it is important to give students a "Do" activity early in the presentations, before it gets boring (Horton, 2012). Students need to apply the newly learned information to real-life situations by practicing problem (Guy, 2009). ESL students can slow the presentation down, or go back to the beginning to understand the message.

Do Activities 
"Do" activities require learners to do something with the information they have acquired from an absorb activity (Horton, 2012). For this lesson, the "do" activity would be embedded in the video presentation. Students would be given a sentence to correct, and the answer would be immediately following, reinforce the learning. "Do" activities can also be presented before an absorb activity to provide a basis of knowledge or a starting point so the student realizes what he/she needs to learn (Horton, 2012).  This lesson plan follows Bloom's taxonomy of learning -- remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating (Overbaugh, n.d.).

Connect Activities -- Assessment
Many times the student is left to make a connection with the newly learned information (Horton, 2012). Connect activities link new knowledge with old knowledge, which applies constructivist learning theory (Haythornthwaite, 2011). Connect activities are also ways to evaluate if students have learned to apply new knowledge (Horton, 20120). Bloom's taxonomy describes these as "analyzing" and "evaluating" activities, built on "remembering" and "understanding" (Overbaugh, n.d.).  When learners create original work, they connect activities from the initial steps of remembering and understanding, to applying and creating (Horton, 2012 & Oberbaugh, n.d.).

The examples will use sentences from peer-reviewed journals. Practice activities will give students a chance to participate in a “Do” activity -- editing sentences. The course will be available at any time and through any mobile device, making it easy for students to access the material (Herrington, n.d.). The final connect activity requires students to edit a 300-word writing sample.

Writers in academia often use nouns instead of strong verbs, making the writing less effective, according to Sainani (2013).  The students will be absorbing through a slide presentation, examples, and then "do" activities to engage them in applying the new information, and "connect" activities to further use the acquired knowledge (Horton, 2012). The second part of the lesson gives examples of when the verb is buried in a sentence, making the reading cumbersome. Students will have the opportunity to see this in examples from peer-reviewed journals, and be given activities to correct passages of writing. Once again, the final activity requires students to edit a 300-word essay.

The following table describes two learning activities, describing the elements of each as "absorbing", "doing", and "connecting". The learning objectives and state Common Core Standards are also included. I would use an online learning platform for this lesson.

Learning Activity

“Do” Activities
“Connect” Assessment Activities
Learning Objectives
State Common Core Standards
Write with Strong Verbs
Slide presentation with voice-over. ESL:  First a review of nouns and verbs.  Next examples of nouns that should be verbs: “obtain estimates versus “estimate.”
Ten sentences with needed corrections, students correct them, answers follow.
 Correct a 300-word essay.

Learn to write with more emphasis on action by using verbs.
Practice with complex text and academic vocabulary
Keep Subject and Verb Near Each Other
Slide presentation shows the placement of the subject of the sentence near the verb which improves readability
Ten sentences where the verb is hard to find. Studnets sill move the verb to the subject.
Correct a 300-word essay.
Learn to improve readability by keeping the subject and verb close in the sentence structure
Practice with comple   text and academic vocabulary

This is an example of the "do" video activity (Sainani, 2012).

This is based on an open online course offered from Stanford University. It is an example from Sainani (2013):


California Department of Education (2013). Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from:  http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cc/

Guy, R. (2009).  The Evolution of Mobile Teaching and Learning. Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science PressHerrington A., & Herrington, H. Authentic mobile learning in higher education. Retrieved from http://www.aare.edu.au/07pap/her07131.pdf

Haythornthwaite, C., & Andrews, R. (2011).  E-Learning Theory & Practice. London, England: Sage.
           Lave, Jean (1988). Cognition in practice: mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Herrington A., & Herrington, H. Authentic mobile learning in higher education. Retrieved from http://www.aare.edu.au/07pap/her07131.pdf

Horton, W. (2012). E-Learning by Design. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer

Overbaugh, R. & Schultz, L. (n.d.). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved from http://ww2.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.htm

Sainani, K. (2013). Writing in the Sciences. Stanford University. Retrieved from: https://class.stanford.edu/courses/Medicine/SciWrite/Fall2013/about

Sainani, K. (2012). Tips on Scientific Writing Part 2. ACS Webinars. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-NZFSrqHB0

Zinsser, W. (2006). Writing Well. New York, NY: Harper Collins


Personal experiences in cultural relativism

CV High School, La Crescenta

I was raised in Glendale, a southern California town, in the county of Los Angeles during the 1950s to early 70s where I attended public school in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains, in a small town called, La Crescenta. Settled by Don Jose Verdugo in 1784, it was originally home to the Tongva Indians. In the 1880s, Dr. Benjamin Briggs, a physician from Indiana found the location as a healthy climate and established health clinics and a school shortly thereafter.  Rockhaven Sanitarium was established as a healthy retreat and became the choice for prominent people from Hollywood.  Marilyn Monroe’s mother was a patient there.

Rockhaven built in 1924

Rockhaven Sanitarium

Although the area was chosen as a healthy climate, I remember the effects of smog. On certain days, the air was so contaminated with smog that if I breathed deeply, my lungs would hurt. I can still recall the feeling.  In later years, the Los Angeles Air Quality Management District would set higher standards, so that today, when I visit, I never feel that pain in breathing.
My parents were familiar with the area, as my mother was a native Californian, and my father had been living in nearby Burbank. The school I attended for elementary education was established in 1924 and named Lincoln School after President Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln School, 1924

Lincoln School

Demographically speaking, La Crescenta was mainly Caucasian; many residents came from German ancestry.  As a child, I was unaware of any cultural relativism.  But, this may be due to the fact that there were few racial groups. Everyone was white. Our community was the same as what was broadcast on television – Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, My Three Sons – this is what my culture looked like.  In fact, Burbank, home to the television studios was my neighboring town.

Hiddenburg Park, German ancestry

From the viewpoint of my community, everyone went to public school, obeyed the teachers, and attended some denomination of church service. In kindergarten, we were taught to be nice to others, raise our hands, and take naps on a special little napping pad brought from home.  Parents were only active in their children’s education by paying dues to the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), which was considered good and proper.  Parents did not volunteer to help in the classroom on a regular basis, and one mom, called the room-mother, was in charge of class parties to be held on the holidays.  Christmas was celebrated and we made Christmas art projects and sang Christmas songs.  If there were Jewish kids in our class, I have no memory of such.  There were no Jewish Synagogues in the town, only Christian churches, the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and the Masonic Temple.

La Crescenta, California

My schools – elementary, junior high, and high school were made up of the same Anglo-Saxon, white Christian families.  We walked to school, car-pooled, rode the school bus, or drove ourselves (high school).  While there were no fences to keep us in, or others out, we had strict rules to remain on campus.  The girls wore dresses, the boys wore pants, and on occasion we might have a special “pants day” for girls.  In high school, there was a small crowd of boys who smoked tobacco, back behind the school, on “tobacco road”.  Long hair was not permitted, and some of the boys wore wigs to hide their long tresses.  I only knew of a few boys who smoked marijuana.
In junior high school, we were tested academically and placed in classes based on our test scores.  If you tested high, the teachers seemed to like you better.  I was pulled out for more testing, along with some other students.  We had tested within the top two percent, and acknowledged as being worthy to be placed in advanced math and English courses.  We were encouraged to go to the school library and read extra books – one being Catcher in the Rye, which was not allowed in the regular classroom.  I responded well to the extra attention, and set my goals to be the best, score the highest.  While this was a worthy accomplishment by my parents and teachers standards, I found that my fellow students would occasionally make fun of me for getting good grades.  I was not part of any clique, but more on the fringe.  From my perspective, this was partly due to my strict Mormon beliefs.  I did not go to parties, I did not drink, I did not smoke, and sex was only for the married (Christensen, 1960).  For the most part, my teachers and classmates accepted me even though my culture of Mormonism had set “truths.”   The general beliefs of white Christians (the dominant culture) were similar to the truths I had been taught to follow, therefore I was not aware of any cultural relativism. The schools remained firm in the truths of a strict policy of dress codes, homework, grades, and Christian ethics.  I graduated valedictorian, and went to college in 1972.

During my college years at Occidental College, in Los Angeles, California, I was more cognizant of my surroundings, and looking back I can check for cultural relativism.  But first, what is cultural relativism?  Initially an anthropological term, it is a way of explaining that different cultures have different perspectives and that those beliefs held dear to one group must be viewed from the outside as relative to culture (Warnock, 1979). It seems to embrace tolerance and diversity – two terms adopted by public schools by the 1990s.  Anthropologists were not to “judge” other cultures through the spectacles of their own culture (Gensler, 2013). The term also claims that there are no “absolute truths” since everyone views truth from their own cultural perspective (Warnock, 1979).  Cultural relativism may go so far as to say, “that good and bad are relative to culture.  What is ‘good’ is what is ‘socially approved’ in a given culture.” (Gensler, p. 44). 

Occidental College

Occidental College was a liberal arts college and embraced diversity and cultural relativism.  The science department was the only area where college did not accept another culture’s belief.  Any belief in God and some form of creation was not tolerated in the explanations of the origins of the universe.  My belief that there is a divine creator that organized the planets was not accepted as a valid answer on any given biology test.  I memorized the evolutionary theories and answered accordingly to receive the all-important grade for my GPA.  My beliefs differ from standard Christians who believe in creation ex nihilio, and from standard scientists who believe in evolution.  Neither my Mormon cultural relativism nor my Christian friends beliefs would have been acceptable answers.  Yet, other areas of cultural relativism were embraced – such as sexuality. This was the 1970s, and the 60s “hippie,” free love era had left its mark.
In 1979, I applied to graduate school at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, to study pharmacology. While being interviewed, one of the professors asked me, “Are you going to hang your diploma in the nursery?”  At first I was confused, thinking of a green plants kind of nursery.  But then I realized he was talking about me later having children.  To this day, I can’t remember what my response was to that question.  Even though I had learned that one of my professors was critical of women in his department, I accepted my invitation and attended the school.  There was one woman professor in the department, so I imagined that there would be no problems.  Unfortunately, I did not feel welcome in the department and only stayed for one semester. I still regret not finishing my PhD.  True, I did raise five kids later on, but this example of cultural relativism set me back.  From my perspective, a woman was fully capable of getting a higher degree, even if she set it aside for a while to raise a family. 

I appreciate the need to respect other cultures.  However, it is difficult to conduct a course of study in a multi-cultural classroom if one group is of the belief that plagiarism is acceptable.  Yet, I recall copying large portions of the encyclopedia in 6th grade for reports. I see the advantage of examples, and even copying good writing to learn to write is not necessarily bad if kept within the context of learning.  Perspective is a much-needed quality in education. We should try to understand another person’s beliefs and respect their culture.  One area that often fails the test is within the home school culture, where recently in Germany, a family of homeschoolers were arrested and taken away from their parents for three weeks.  After the parents agreed to send their children to the state-run schools, the children were returned to their home (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2013). This is an example of a country not applying the principle of cultural relativism to their own people, and forcing their perspective on another person’s belief.  Too often, cultural relativism is applied discriminately – governments and schools choose what to accept and what to reject.


Christensen, H. T. (1960). Cultural relativism and premarital sex norms. American Sociological Review, 25(1), 31-39. 

Gensler, H. (2013).  Cultural Relativism. In Russ Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Ethical Theory: An Anthology. (pp. 44-47). West Sussex, UK: Wiley & Blackwell.  Retrieved from  http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=LxKhwZjkVlIC&oi=fnd&pg=PA44&dq=cultural+relativism&ots=cfP_Uuys3B&sig=M6ChjL1GeLXN2lvvGnMpizJQX2s#v=onepage&q=cultural%20relativism&f=false

Home School Legal Defense Association. (2013, Semptember 20). German officials return homeschooled children to Dirk Wunderlich family on condition of school attendance. The Christian Post. Retrieved from http://crossmap.christianpost.com/news/german-officials-return-homeschooled-children-to-dirk-wunderlich-family-on-condition-of-school-attendance-5255

Warnock, M. (1979).  Cultural relativism and education.  International Journal of Research and Method in Education. Westminster Studies in Education (2) 1. Retrieved from  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0140672790020103#.Uj4ObWTF1_I


An example of how to design online learning activities

Online learning activities should be designed to take advantage of technology, but be based on learning theories which promote authentic learning. Instructors cannot be effective purveyors of knowledge just by taking one of their classroom courses and uploading it to an online platform. While face-to-face learning has some advantages, online learning has the potential to create networks of collaboration, connectivism, and meet the needs of andragogical based learning. Constructivist learning theory is often applied to online learning, where the idea of building or constructing knowledge is a key element (Pruitt, 2011). Everyone comes to the table of learning with some experience from which to build more knowledge. However, not everyone has the same background, and therefore I propose that learning theory must include guidance to diminish cognitive overload. The power of examples is monumental, and provides stepping stone to guide the learner. While plagiarism is always a concern, the educational field is becoming more open, sharing of information and collaboration are the tools to build and construct greater knowledge.

For this assignment, I must design five online learning activities based on a theme. The course will be described as "Successful Blog Writing" and include five authentic learning activities based on guided constructivist learning theory and experiential learning theory. It will utilize constructivist learning theory where learners will construct knowledge by performing authentic learning tasks ((Bannan-Ritland & Dabbagh, 2005). This course will also focus on experiential learning.  Videos will be used for each module to help students see the changes that produce good writing. Then they will be shown examples of poor writing and the needed corrections to make it good. This will take into account guided learning, where they can see and read good examples before trying to do it on their own. Feedback will be ongoing to encourage student and instructor collaboration. These interactive discussions will take place on discussion forums or video chats.


Successful Blog Writing


This course is about how to produce a blog that others will want to read. Businesses are encouraged to start website blogs to add dynamic dialogue to their site. They may have a product that is continually updated, or they may want to promote their products. Today, anyone can launch a website, an online magazine, or how-to site. While this opens the door to anyone creative enough to jump in and start writing, not everyone who blogs writes engaging words that bring visitors repeatedly to their site. There numerous blogs on the Internet, but some are better than others. This course will aim to help bloggers become better writers and make their posts more interesting and readable.

Who will want to take this course? Who is this for?

This course is for anyone who wants to write well. It is for all ages and levels.  However, it will be presented in English and students that speak English as a second language may find it more difficult. Learners for this course will probably have some knowledge of the Internet and online blogs. But it will be helpful to anyone that is already blogging and may need more polished writing skills. It will also be helpful to anyone just starting out.

The goals of this course:

The overarching goal is to assist learners in becoming better writers and designers for personal, business, or educational blogs. In the words of Peggy Noonan, journalist and speech writer for U.S. President, Ronald Reagan everyone thinks they are a writer, "which is understandable because everyone is. Everyone writes letters home to Mom or keeps a diary in weight-loss class on What Food Means to Me. Not everyone plays the piano so most people don't claim to be pianists, but everyone is a writer... (What I saw at the Revolution, p. 76).

Objectives will be broken down into individual activities, making it easy for students to see the goals for each section. Rethink your writing process.


Each activity can be spread over one week. I have found that Coursera.org and Canvas.net have easy to use platforms for online courses. Students have access to all the activities, announcements, course syllabus, discussion forums, video lectures, quizzes, exercises, and the weekly modules on the navigation panel of every page. Clarity in an online course is as important as the content. 

This is an example from one of their courses:

Activity 1:

 Discussion board – Post your blog if you have one. Then tell us what you think makes good writing – what makes it work. List one of your favorite blogs.

This activity will encourage students to connect in peer-to-peer learning, where they can learn from each other and discuss the content of this course as it applies to their own writing (Herrington, Oliver, & Herrington, 2007). Collaboration in discussion will engage the participants in an effort to solve a problem and share ideas. While the process may result in individual products (such as a personal blog), the final products will have been influenced by collaborative interactions via discussion forums. This is especially important for online courses where students will not be meeting in a brick and mortar classroom.

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Activity 2:

Watch the two video presentations with examples of bad writing and how to fix it. This type of activity falls in the category of a physical demonstration and is an absorb activity as identified by Horton (2011). One of the advantages of online learning is that it gives the learner control. Everyone learns differently and enters a course at various levels of previous knowledge. 

With a video, students can stop the lecture presentation and go back, review and play it as many times as they need to. Plus the instructor is presenting the information in three formats: visual which include images and words, auditory, and text which can be read which addresses the learning needs of individuals (Herrington, n.d.).  

Students are then given a “do” activity early in the presentation to initiate real-life situations where they must use the new tools that have been just presented (Guy, 2009).  Learners will have the opportunity to improve their writing by fixing sentences that do not work, applying the techniques of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning: remember, learn, apply (Overbaugh, n.d.). This activity also encourages students to analyze and evaluate their writing. Reflection is an important aspect of an authentic learning activity that prompts change and knowledge construction that is useful (Gearhart, 2012).

Learning Activity

Learning Objective

Write in Active Voice

Slide presentation with voice-over: examples of active and passive voice sentences.
1) Ten sentences in the passive voice and students must change to active voice. Answers immediately follow.
2)Quiz – identify if a sentence is passive or active. Answers immediately follow.
Write a 300 word paragraph using active voice. 
To write in active voice.

Cut Unnecessary Words
Slide presentation with voice-over: First review of parts of speech – adverbs, prepositions. Student can skip if needed.
Examples of sentences with unnecessary words, and then how to streamline the sentences and remove extra words. Look at extra adverbs, long phrases, jargon, needless prepositions, negatives, and avoiding “there is” and “there are”
1) Ten sentences that need editing and students correct. Answers immediately follow.
Correct a 300 word essay and look for unnecessary words.
To write with more clarity and ease of reading.

Write with Strong Verbs
Slide presentation with voice-over. First a review of nouns and verbs, can be skipped. Next examples of nouns that should be verbs: “obtain estimates versus “estimate.”
Ten sentences with needed corrections, students correct them, answers follow.
 Correct a 300 word essay.

To write with more emphasis on action.

Improve Punctuation
Slide presentation with voice-over. Review of em dash, parenthesis, semi-colon, phrases.
Write ten sentences with these forms of punctuation.
 Write a 300 word essay with these four punctuations.
To use and understand the correct use of em dash, parenthesis, semi-colon, and phrases

Use Parallelism
Slide presentation with voice-over. Show examples of sentences with parallelism and those that are not constructed that way.
Correct ten sentences that need parallelism.
 Correct a 300 word essay, using parallelism.
To improve readability of whole texts by using parallel structure in sentences.

Activity 3:

Blog writing is different than what you learned in school. Short, more like a conversation. Students will follow links to successful blogs and try to analyze why they work. They will add to the discussion forum what they like and provide links for students to follow and read as well. Then they will be asked to find writing that does not work and analyze why. While everyone writes, the ability to communicate through writing is a skill that can be learned and improved. Even within the academic community, higher education often prescribes a type of academic writing that is not clear and even not that well-written (Zinsser, 2006).

Read the following links about blog length:

Link 1
Link 2
Link 3

And now go to the discussion forum and add one or two of your favorite examples of a short, precise, to the point blog post. Also, take a look at what your classmates have posted and comment on at least one of them. Create feedback.

Check out Seth Godin's blog and see how short you can write:

Seth Godin

Activity 4:

Choose an interesting subject that you know about. Write about what you know. Keep your subject tight, keep your words to about 300. You can write about anything, but choose to write about your passion, because then you will have more ideas and your enthusiasm will come through in your writing.

How to Create Great Blog Content -- Problogger

Penelope Trunk

Activity 5:

Images communicate. Choose those that help convey your message. Avoid copyright infringement. One of the best ways to avoid any copyright problems is to take your own photos. Here are two examples of blogs where the author takes all her own photos:

Pinch of Yum
Pioneer Woman

Listen to one blogger explain how taking her own photos made her blogging better:

Let's look at the copyright laws and the newer, Creative Commons option. Take a look at this short video about copyrights:

Where to find images that are in the public domain:

Public Domain Images
Stock Free Images

Now, look at some sources for creative commons sharing, where you can find images to share by giving credit to the author:

Wikimedia Commons

Check out this site, to learn how to use the Creative Commons:

Creative Commons

Next, go to the discussion forums and add one more source of images that are in the public domain or have the creative commons license.


Gearhart, D. (2012). Authentic learning in online courses:  A Course Design Model. Interactivity in E-Learning. USA: Troy University

Guy, R. (2009). The Evolution of Mobile Teaching and Learning. Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science Press

Herrington, J., Oliver, R., & Herrington, A. (2007). Authentic learning on the web:  Guidelines for course design. Universtiy of Wollongong Research Online.  Retrieved from:  http://community.education.ufl.edu/community/file/download/97286

Horton, W. (2012). E-Learning by Design. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer

Overbaugh, R. & Schultz, L. (n.d.). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved fromhttp://ww2.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.htm

Pruitt, R. A. (2011). The Application of Cognitive-Developmental or Mediated Cognitive Learning Strategies in Online College Coursework. Teaching Theology & Religion14(3), 226-246. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9647.2011.00712.x

Zinsser, W. (2006). Writing Well. New York, NY: Harper Collins

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