As part of its mission to shape, lead and support distance learning programs at Tufts, the Tufts Distance Learning Consortium (TDLC) hosts speakers who present on a broad range of issues related to distance and blended learning. On December 16, 2010, the TDLC had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Neal Gualtieri, an Adjunct Clinical Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine who has extensive experience with online learning. Gualtieri teaches Online Consumer Health, Social Media for Health, and Web Strategies for Health Communication. She is also the editor-in-chief of eLearn Magazine.

According to Gualtieri, the key to effective online learning, also known as e-learning, is less about technology than it is about good instructional design. Good teaching, whether online or face-to-face, is about engaging students, allowing them to reflect on their learning and helping them develop the skills they need. One of Gualtieri’s heroes is Professor Diana Laurillard who currently holds the Chair of Learning with Digital Technologies in the Faculty of Culture and Pedagogy at theLondon Knowledge Lab. Gualtieri attributes Laurillard’s book Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies with profoundly shaping her thinking about e-learning.

When Gualtieri started teaching online 14 years ago, she used available technologies, which included heavy use of video conferencing. As she started getting feedback from her students, she discovered that they didn’t like being on camera for the duration of the class. So she changed her approach and had students on camera only when they were asked to report on a topic. In order to help students stay engaged, she would have rotating scribes take notes for the group. She found that calling on people to take part in class increased accountability.

Gualtieri discussed an online project she led for Plimoth Plantation. Located in Plymouth, MA, Plimoth Plantation is a bi-cultural museum that focuses on the Wampanoag People and the Colonial English community in Massachusetts in the 1600s. The project called You are the Historian developed an interactive website that enables students in grades 3-5 to use clues to try to figure out what happened at the First Thanksgiving that took place in 1621.

Since the website is used as part of schools’ social studies curricula, an assessment component was required. Gualtieri had to work hard to convince her client and collaborators to forgo multiple-choice questions and think of other ways for students to demonstrate their understanding. They designed a gallery where students could select images and write captions, as historians would do! This is a great assessment model for all levels of education.

Early in her career, Gualtieri was required to take an online course on workplace harassment. Her experience as a student in this poorly designed course has informed her teaching on what not to do in a class. The content was badly written and the text was hard to read with white text against a black background. Additionally, there were no opportunities for participants to interact or to ask questions, the scenarios were too black and white, and the multiple-choice questions had obvious answers.

Gualtieri has used her diverse experiences to develop guidelines on what effective online courses should provide:

1. Opportunities for reflection
2. Opportunities for demonstration of understanding
3. Peer discussion about “real” problems
4. Guidance from an expert or mentor
5. Storytelling to share experiences
6. Support for formal and informal learning
7. Visual imagery and multimedia as appropriate
8. Culturally sensitive design
9. Layers of information to encourage exploration
10. Formative evaluation: appeal, usability, and learning

You can read more at:

“Testing… One, Two, Three: Can Online Multiple-Choice Exams Make the Grade?” by Lisa Neal, Editor-in-Chief, eLearn Magazine.

Melanie St. James, Manager, Usability and Design Services, Educational and Scholarly Technology Services, UIT

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