Teaching Online: A Practical Guide

Series 3rd Edition
Author(s) Susan Ko, Steve Rossen
Publisher Routledge
Published 2010
Pages 450
Price £29.99
ISBN 9780415997263
Reviewed by Dr Stylianos Hatzipanagos
King's College London
Review published 25 October 2010

I read this book with interest, as I am often asked to recommend resources that would help academic staff to step on the technology enhanced learning ladder. Online course design and development plus teaching online encompasses a difficult set of tasks for higher education teachers that are new to e-learning that involves (1) familiarisation with instructional design principles, (2) acquiring digital literacies skills that academic staff in higher education do not always have and (3) establishing a set of competences of teaching in an online environment, including computer mediated communication, moderating and assessing online skills. This is a significant departure from teaching face to face and staff need to be inducted and taken through the process of familiarisation with learning technologies and to feel at ease with the media and the modes of interaction.

This book, of which I read the 3rd edition, is an effective guide towards this direction. It caters on both significant areas: instructional design and teaching online. I will attempt to provide an evaluation on how well it does this in both areas and how practical and accessible it is as a resource.

The strength of the publication is that it offers a more or less concise view of what an online learning course should look like, beyond the uploaded PPT slides on virtual learning environments paradigm, that we frequently encounter in higher education as universities make the jump into technology enhanced learning, without having in place a course design and development strategy. One might argue that any in depth debates on online pedagogy are missing from the book, but this is a practical guide that offers a quick step by step start and tips for success. It would be useful though for academic staff to also look at the research literature on how students learn online and explore the literature on pedagogical affordances of learning technologies.

Three quarters of the book are dedicated to course design and development. It starts with an overview of the range of online experiences, the strength of which is the practical examples. Now, I am not an enthusiast of scenaria and cases, unless they are comprehensive in number to provide an overview of a field. And the only two examples in this case are a course that is taught entirely online and a blended learning course. This is a broad standard categorisation in online education and the two examples give a quick snapshot of what online learning looks like.

This part is the strongest of the book with good sections on course design and development, following a step by step guide on how to design and develop online courses starting from course learning objectives, putting together tutor centred and student centred materials and activities, including some discussion on assessment and high/low stakes testing. It also addresses the complexity of working collaboratively in course teams to achieve outcomes, offering suggestions on what models of collaboration between instructors and designers might work best, commendable team approaches and advice on good collaborative practice.

The final part is about teaching online and is not as powerful in depth and breadth as the rest of the book. It addresses briefly important topics such as providing advice and support, assigning collaborative tasks, establishing virtual office hours, team teaching online etc. There are other publications that cover these areas of teaching online in a more comprehensive manner.
I need to mention that some of the terminology is American, rather than European, (and some of the sections are not directly relevant, e.g. to the UK readership, like the intellectual property in the United states section, however I don’t see the above as a problem that could undermine the accessibility of this book.

Finally there is an interactive companion website which is not particularly rich in content, however it has a good downloadable and updated guide to resources and a blog for collecting case studies. It takes us back to the interesting question on how useful companion websites are. And two important functions that they can have, as this website demonstrates, is to offer updates on resources and a forum for discussions on issues the publication raised.