Moving forward with live online

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It has been called many things: live online, web live, online synced or virtual live.

This modality pairs live synchronous sessions with traditional aspects of distance learning, such as online lesson materials and activities. This style, of course, was a lifesaver for all levels of education during the pandemic, especially for instructors who were not well-versed in learning management systems (LMS) like Blackboard, Canvas or D2L. With minimal time, not-so-tech-savvy instructors were able to get training or work with instructional designers to learn video conferencing tools along with getting their tried-and-true assessments to be submitted online.

This article is provided by the Instructional Technology Council, an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

As classes are shifting back into potential post-pandemic normalcy, many of those same instructors are exhaling a huge sigh of relief as they enter back into their long-vacant rooms. Meanwhile, as enrollment continues to be influx, institutions are reflecting on course offerings as they see more demand for remote offerings. Many colleges have decided to keep “live online” as an option for students, but how do we move this modality from a pandemic “Band-Aid” to a rigorous and robust method of course delivery?

Promote remote student support resources

Student support can be easily navigated on campus but may be a challenge for distance learners. Despite the face-to-face time in live sessions, we need to remember live online students are still remote students and need access to the same resources as “traditional” online students.

Outside of the classroom, the onsite student uses various brick-and-mortar campus resources to provide support for issues, such as advising, tutoring, library assistance, or health and wellness. Live-online students will also need access to these resources, and due to the pandemic, many colleges have developed new processes for completely remote support for students. This needs to be communicated effectively to the live-online students through the LMS, since their courses are their main connection to the campus.

Live-online instructors or instructional designers will need to think about what services students will need and ensure they are accessible through courses shells through links, announcements or pages dedicated to student support. Since course design and programming are customizable, instructors and designers could easily curate support resources based on course, major or another commonality within the demographic of the course.

Ensure students have access to technology for success

One of the main challenges community colleges faced when moving their entire institution online during the pandemic was accessibility to technology. Many campuses knew this was an issue, but they could help by providing campus-wide wi-fi and modern computer labs. Without access to these technological support services, students and even some instructors struggled to maintain course quality and engagement.

The pandemic has not improved the socio-economic situation for our students, and while technological processes have had some innovation, students may still struggle to access the technology needed to effectively enroll in online modalities like live online. Ideally, colleges could implement technical requirements for courses, such as requiring a specific device or proof of internet requirement, but is this a fair imposition for open-enrollment institutions?

Even though campuses have opened back up and these resources are readily available to students, educators cannot forget one of the main draws for distance learning: remote flexibility. Students may not be able to come to campus. The obvious answer is that students should not take a class they cannot guarantee active participation, but with low and fluctuating enrollment, fewer options are being offered and scheduling required classes will be complicated. This issue is a complex balancing act between the functionality of the modality and the accessibility of students.

Revaluating technology fees may help ensure students get access to the right technology.

Reevaluate substantive teacher interaction

Lastly, we need to address institution-level questions, such as how live online classifies substantive teacher interaction. Since it involves a designated facilitated class time, should credit hours be calculated in an identical manner to traditional face-to-face classes?

Throughout the pandemic, many live-online instructors experienced a disconnection between students in web conference classes, often caused by students who did not use their cameras or simply logged on and zoned out. Instructors felt this negatively impacted their approach and in-class personalities.

Even though students and instructors are physically connected through a video conferencing platform, there are different challenges and approaches to making the same connection as they would in the physical classroom. There is a valid argument that this “Zoom and gloom” may have been just trial and error as instructors become accustomed to an unfamiliar and imposed modality. But since the “live” component is not equal to the face-to-face classroom, instructors and administrators should determine which elements from distance education best practices will help build stronger substantive interaction in live-online courses.

Live-online courses were not born out of the pandemic, but the modality was quickly thrown into the mainstream over the past three years. A common criticism of online courses was the lack of instructor guidance or student accountability — live online provides a potential solution. Many educators are still seeing the potential for this course delivery style, since it provides some of the flexibility of online courses but the benefit of additional instructor support. Live online has an interesting journey ahead as instructors, instructional designers and administrators refine and mold what this “Band-Aid” will become.

About the Author

Brooke Litten
Dr. Brooke Litten is an instructional designer for Rowan College of South Jersey. She is the Northeast regional representative for the Instructional Technology Council, (ITC). Along with working as an instructional designer, Litten teaches critical thinking online with Mercy College and first-year writing courses at various New Jersey community colleges.