Transactional Distance Theory as presented by Michael G. Moore seems to capture a number of the concerns of distance/online instruction and wrap them up into an even bigger concept/concern and frankly it’s a good deal to wrap your head around when beginning to consider online education. Having had the opportunity to teach two online classes summer classes, I have wrestled with a number of the issues Moore mentions and I do believe it is incredibly important to consider and understand this theory and the variables of dialogue, structure and learner autonomy as they impact transactional distance.
As a traditional long term face to face instructor who loves the relationship building aspect of teaching, I found the thought of teaching online daunting as the idea of not “knowing/seeing” my students would take away some of what I love most about teaching. Clearly I needed to discern that you can indeed know your students in this forum too. I also have had the opportunity to hear students discuss experiences with online classes where the teacher is little more than proctor and troubleshooter and that is not a career aspiration of mine. As I approached this year of teaching a hybrid online course, I have tried to think critically about how to make a “connection” with students and how to make the material relevant to them in a way that moves them to want to learn it.
Moore’s description of dialogue was intriguing as it is important to realize that you are having a conversation and I liked that he labelled it as positive which is something we should all strive for as teachers. His thoughts on structure made me think about how I can make some more of the material more “flexible and interactive” with students. I have used and want to expand the use of Pos-it on schoology which allows for the interjection of questions into video clips– so this is one way to get students to give some feedback and thoughts about what they are seeing and increase interactivity and connectivity. We have also worked to make projects in the class very personal– they pick their own house, car, apartment and have a job of their choosing and then this applies to problems they consider.
I really would like to know more and am curious about what Moore terms “student creation of knowledge” that is shared with the teacher– Moore’s lack of an example made this difficult to understand but the example given of the early MOOC communities in the other article seem to perhaps explain what Moore meant.
The other thought of Moore’s that stirred some curiosity was in discussing the autonomy of the learner and the idea that online communities often benefit those students who traditionally don’t say much in a face to face class but yet have brilliant thoughts to contribute that it is often easy to overlook or miss. Being able to create instruction that prompts these students to extend themselves and express themselves does have great positive benefit potential for all involved in the class.
Now that I have these terms/concepts to consider it will certainly make me take a step back and think about how some of my content, tests, discussion boards and or assignments can be altered to increase dialogue in some cases, diminish structure in others and allow for greater learner autonomy in others. I have made a concerted effort to amplify my communication with students to a personal level in little ways that I hope lets them know I see them as an individual part of the class/school. From comments on grades that are specific to their assignment answers to the seemingly more frivolous– nice catch at Friday’s football game– I think even these small things help kids know I am individually concerned and have care for them and it has been my experience in face to face education that when students know and believe this, they will always work harder to give you and show you their best– hopefully that is a concept that is universal to all forms of classrooms.