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Presenting Information Online - Part One of The Online Teacher's Toolkit
by James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education, 01/08/09

When you teach a course online, you do not enjoy the benefit of meeting with your students in a classroom for three hours each week. That very essential element of the educational experience is missing. What to replace it with? What tools are available to substitute for the various learning functions that take place in the classroom?

This series of three articles describes an online teacher's toolkit -- a set of ideas for helping students learn online. We divide the toolkit into three bins: one contains tools that help you present ideas and information to students; another with devices helps them wrestle with the concepts they need; and a third with instruments for them to produce works that prove that they have learned something. The next two articles will cover wrestling and producing.

Not teaching online? Read on nonetheless -- the toolkit we describe in this article can be employed just as well by the teacher whose craft is confined to the classroom.


Most teachers spend at least some of the class period presenting information and ideas to students. Lectures, slide shows, demonstrations, readings, recitations, all are designed to call out concepts, illustrate ideas, and focus facts for learning. How do you do this online, when there's no class in front of you? You've got an array of options:

Readings. This is the most efficient way to convey information and ideas. Most students can read twice as fast as they can listen. Despite the lure of multimedia, text remains a fine way to present your content, even online. And you've got many ways to incorporate text into an online course:

Books and articles. If you require a textbook for your classroom-based course, require it also for your online course. Students, beyond walking distance of the bookstore, can order the book online and have it in their hands in a few days. Same goes for other readings most efficiently acquired and consumed in book form. Just tell them in the online course which pages to read for each assignment.

Web resources. Most of the journal articles you might require your students to read for the online course are probably available online. You may need your librarian's help in finding them and in authorizing your students to read them, but most colleges have arranged such permission. And depending on your content, the web offers an array of non-scholarly resources that may include excellent sources of content for your students. See Online Research in this series for some guidance in uncovering these materials.

Your own words. Now is a good time to write up those lecture notes into prose. Students would rather have your gems of wisdom in written form -- it's faster to work through, easier to review, searchable, and compact. Just write it up in your word processor and post it online. As you write, consider the nature of the medium, and adjust your style to online delivery. See Writing for the Web in this series for some advice on online writing style.

Narrated Slides. Many of us have accompanied our lectures and presentations with slides. We have learned how images can provoke thought and illustrate concepts in the classroom. (See The Power of Image s in this series.) An easy way to move this type of presentation online is to narrate your slide show as you go through it, recording your voice, and posting this online as a resource for students. New software tools such as Keynote let you record your narration as you click through your existing slides, and then to compress the result into a form that travels well over the web. See From PowerPoint to Podcast in this series for some other ways to narrate your slides for online delivery.

Podcast. Here you're using a traditional communication medium -- your voice -- through a modern digital device -- the iPod -- to get your points across. For most teachers, the podcast seems unfamiliar. But it's really just another form of the traditional lecture or slide show, a form in which you are corporeally absent but intellectually present. In fact, most of the interchange in a classroom-based course occurs through voice, so the podcast is in some ways the easiest tool in the kit to employ. And since a podcast can contain images and text as well as your voice, it can carry your slide shows as well as your talks. And students don't need an iPod to hear or see your podcasts -- they'll play on any computer as well. For more ideas on podcasts, read Portability and Podcasts, Podcast, Audio Homework, and Audio Homework 2 in this series.

Video. New digital cameras and video-equipped computers make it easier than ever to present ideas to your online students through moving images with sound. Videos can be live or recorded; you can make them yourself or use videos created by others:

Live video . You could if you wanted schedule a live video broadcast to your students once each week for three hours and require them to watch it. Technically, this is very easy to do: you just sit down in front of your computer, look into the camera, and speak into the microphone. Your students can talk back through text, voice, or video. The synchronicity of live video can help to keep the class together as a group, but it may not match the work style and schedule of your students.

Recorded video. Short video clips can be very useful in communicating certain ideas. You can record yourself speaking directly and personally to your students, or provide clips of evidence, recorded by others, that you might your students to wrestle with.

Personal video. "Welcome to the online version of Child Development 101. I'm Professor Piaget and I'll be your teacher for this semester..." might be a good way to introduce yourself to your students. Or to explain a key concept. Or to stress the importance of a certain idea. Students like knowing there's a real teacher behind their online course, and a personal video helps to make this point. See Video Podcasts for instructions on how to prepare a video like this.

Evidentiary video. "Your first assignment is to watch these three video clips of infants playing with blocks, looking for differences in their stage of development..." The video clips you may already be using in the classroom can be posted easily to the web and be made part of your online course. Online video annotation and analysis tools can turn these clips into opportunities for students to wrestle with the ideas they illustrate.

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