Member Login
E-mail:
Password:

Reset Password

 

 

Vol 23, No. 3 (May 2006)

[article | discuss (0) | print article]

Coordination and Teacher Development in an Online Learning Environment

PAULINE ERNEST
JOSEPH HOPKINS
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Abstract:
This paper shares some of the experiences in online coordination and teacher development which have emerged in the English Language Department at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. The advantages and disadvantages of coordination in an asynchronous computer-mediated environment form the backdrop to those issues which we consider to be vital, both for the success of online language courses and in the training and support of online instructors. Among the issues discussed are the course coordinators' role in developing awareness of the specific needs of the online learner, encouraging teacher reflection and the construction of knowledge on new pedagogical approaches inherent in online learning, and promoting a sense of community among online teachers. Specific examples of coordinating activities developed within the English Department will be examined, such as face-to-face meetings, training of new teachers, reference documents for teachers, coordinators� feedback on teachers� work in the classroom, and online discussions of pedagogical issues. These all play their part in helping educators to deliver online courses �to learn from the experience of others and to encourage and evaluate educational innovation� (Gooley & Lockwood, 2001, p. 12).

Coordination and Teacher Development in an Online Learning Environment

KEYWORDS

Asynchronous Online Learning, Coordination, Distance-learning Development, English for Special Purposes, Teacher

THE Universitat oberta de catalunya (WWW.UOC.EDU)

Based in Barcelona, Spain, the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya `Open University of Catalonia' (UOC) was established in 1995, originally with the aim of establishing a new system of online distance education in Catalan.1 Currently with over 30,000 students studying in both Catalan and Spanish,2 the university offers 17 undergraduate degree programs, various postgraduate and masters courses, a doctoral program centered on the information society, and various university

551

extension courses. The majority of students are professionals aged 25-45 who choose the virtual option of study either as a way of updating their professional qualifications or extending their knowledge of an area of special interest to them.

In contrast to the many universities which now offer blended courses, UOC offers exclusively online courses, relying predominantly on asynchronous computer-mediated communication, with a purpose-built virtual campus catering to the entire university community (see Figure 1). Teaching materials are in web and print format, with all students having the personalized service of a counselor (tutor at UOC), who advises the students throughout their studies, and a teacher (consultor at UOC) in each subject, who guides and assesses their learning, delivering the activities which form part of the system of continuous assessment. Full-time academic staff are employed by each faculty, although counselors and teachers work part time from home. There are two optional face-to-face meetings each semester when students can meet their counselors and teachers in person and discuss issues related to their studies.

Figure 1

Welcome Screen of the UOC Virtual Campus

0x01 graphic

ENGLISH COURSES AT UOC

The majority of the undergraduate degree programs at UOC require students to complete three one-semester courses in English language: English 1, 2, and 3. Currently, there are approximately 6,000 students enrolled in these obligatory courses with 3 full-time coordinators and over 65 part-time teachers based in various locations throughout Spain. The majority of the classes have 50-70 students. The level of the courses is intermediate/upper intermediate, and the course syllabuses emphasize that students should have a solid base in the language before enrolling. The courses are skill based, with the emphasis on reading, writing, and listening. Grammar has a secondary role because it is assumed that students will

552

have encountered the most common structures in previous courses. Due to the university's firm commitment to asynchronous learning and to the fact that not all students have access to broadband Internet connections, speaking is currently not one of the main focuses of the courses.

In each course, teachers lead students through a series of six classroom activities. Four of these are centered on units from the course materials on CD-ROM, which students work through autonomously following their teachers' guidelines for study (see Figure 2). The other two activities are based on online English-for-special-purposes (ESP) materials presented in a format similar to that of the other units but designed specifically for students of the various degrees offered by UOC: economics and business administration, computer science, psychology, law, political science, humanities, and tourism. In the English classes, students are grouped by degree program and are expected to work on the ESP activity corresponding to their area of study.

Figure 2

Title Page from One of the Units in the CD-ROM Materials from English 1

0x01 graphic

After working through the materials for a given unit, students are asked to post written contributions to a class discussion moderated by the teacher in the online classroom forum. Approximately 75% of the students enrolled choose the continuous assessment option where evaluation of the course is based on their participation in these discussions (50%), in addition to the results of two online tests taken during the semester (50%). Alternatively, students may pass the courses by taking a face-to-face final exam at one of the regional examination centers.

UOC's ONLINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

The context of the English language courses at UOC is distinct from most other online or distance learning situations in a number of respects. First, because UOC

553

is totally online, its courses have no face-to-face classes or tutorials, unlike blended or most other distance-learning situations. In addition, since the majority of the university's administrative, academic, and social activities take place in the virtual campus, all those involved (i.e., students, teachers, counselors, and administrators) are accustomed to working and studying in an online environment.

Yet another difference lies in the institutional support students receive. Before embarking on a course of study, for example, students are required to complete a foundation course which provides them with training on how to use the various facilities available via the virtual campus, including how to use the online library, how to participate in online discussion forums, how to search the web effectively for information, and how to use programs such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. As a result, unlike many online learning situations where teachers invariably find themselves responsible not only for the delivery of course content but also for ensuring that students can access and use the technology (Bates, 2000; Anderson, 2004), teachers at UOC do not generally have to deal with this aspect.

As noted earlier, classes at UOC have 50-70 students each, and providing quality courses for such large numbers is one of the main challenges facing the coordinators of the English Department. It has been suggested (e.g., Turoff, 1997) that administrators may be keen to adopt web-based technologies as a means of delivering courses economically to large numbers of students at a time, and, at first glance, it might appear that the situation at UOC is an example of this. However, it must be emphasized that UOC was established within the context of the Spanish public university system, which has always been firmly committed to providing affordable tertiary education, albeit with large class numbers due to limitations in funding. Much less a consequence of the implementation of web-based technologies, therefore, the large student-to-teacher ratio at UOC is more a result of the historical tradition of Spain's university system.

Finally, another major difference at UOC, compared to most institutions offering online courses, is that the great majority of communication among students, teachers, course coordinators, and university administrative staff takes place asynchronously, within the virtual campus, via email or online bulletin boards and discussion forums. This almost total reliance on written asynchronous computer-mediated communication (ACMC) has both advantages and disadvantages. As regards the former, we would agree with those (e.g., Warschauer, 1996; Salmon, 2003) who argue that ACMC can benefit both students and staff by giving them more time to reflect on and formulate what they want to say, which may lead to more even participation in online discussion forums. In addition, because this type of communication is text based, it is relatively easy for all concerned to refer back to what has been said, and, for coordinators in particular, this is a very useful means of keeping track of all that happens in the department (e.g., recording, modifying, and updating policy decisions).

A major disadvantage of ACMC, however, is that the lack of visual or audio cues and immediate feedback may contribute to feelings of stress, isolation, and frustration among participants (Wellman, 2001). As course coordinators, we have found, for example, that certain conflicts which could no doubt have been

554

resolved rapidly in real-time conversations can last days or even weeks and may involve numerous exchanges of messages before a satisfactory solution is reached. We have learned from experience how important it is for teachers to receive a very prompt response to their messages (preferably within 24 hours) or at least an acknowledgement that their query will be dealt with shortly. In addition, we find that it is invariably more efficient and less stressful for all concerned to deal with delicate issues in person or by telephone (e.g., providing teachers with less-than-positive feedback on their teaching).

TEACHER SUPPORT AND STAFF DEVELOPMENT

The introduction of web-based technologies in higher education has been hailed by some as the “holy grail” sought by university educators from time immemorial (Daniel, 1997). However, technology in itself does not ensure quality and does not automatically lead to pedagogical innovation (Turoff, 1997; Werry, 2001). Berg (1998) claims that providing quality online courses in fact requires more faculty time than face-to-face classes, and we would agree with this view. Indeed, our experience is that delivering online language courses is extremely labor intensive, requiring a considerable time investment to deal with such matters as materials development, close collaboration with other departments to guarantee that students receive accurate information about the courses, as well as short- and long-term planning. In order to ensure the success of our courses, however, we have found that we need to spend more time on teacher support and development than on any other area of our work. The various initiatives undertaken during the past 10 years are described in the following sections.

Guide for English Teachers at UOC

In an online situation such as ours, with more than 65 teachers working at a distance, it is essential to have a user-friendly document clearly defining the diverse aspects of the teacher's role and the official policies of the English language program. This information is contained in the Guide for English Teachers at the UOC (see Figure 3), currently in its 17th edition and updated each semester to clarify new issues and reflect changes in the courses, materials, and policies. The Guide, which is available to teachers via the home page in the staffroom is, in effect, a compendium of the past 10 years of our online teaching experience. Current contents include such things as a detailed description of teachers' tasks throughout the term, course contents, evaluation criteria, official policies on dealing with student plagiarism, and advice on solving common technical problems. Feedback from teachers regularly confirms that they find the Guide an invaluable tool in organizing the different aspects of their work. As coordinators, it is also very important for us to be able to refer to this document when there is any controversy or confusion among teachers over policy decisions.

Training of New Teachers

Before beginning their first term, new teachers are sent general information about

555

the courses and a copy of the Guide for English Teachers. This is followed by a face-to-face hands-on session in which the coordinators answer queries and provide advice on how teachers can use the virtual campus, conduct their online classes, and deal with problems which typically arise during the first few weeks of the course. To avoid information overload in this initial session, further training for new teachers takes place via email at various key points throughout their first term in a “just-in-time” approach. A distribution list of new teachers is also created, and teachers are encouraged to write to the coordinators with their queries. Assuming other new teachers may have the same doubts, these queries, along with the course coordinators' responses, are sent to all members on the list.

Figure 3

Title Page and Table of Contents of the Guide for English Teachers at UOC

0x01 graphic

Class Visits

When the English courses began in 1995 the coordinators implemented a system of periodic in-service `visits' to teachers' classrooms in order to provide them with feedback on their teaching. Originally, these visits were conducted on an ad hoc basis, with few preconceived notions or expectations of what teaching in this environment should be like. Over the years, however, a number of key qualities have emerged as crucial to effective online teaching practice, such as frequent teacher presence in the classroom, appropriate language in messages, positive responses to students' postings, and so forth. Teachers are, therefore, now provided with a checklist of online teaching behaviors the coordinators expect to see in their classrooms (see Figure 4), and these points are reflected in the detailed feedback sent to each teacher after the visit.

556

Figure 4

Checklist for English teachers

When we visit your classrooms we will be looking for the following

1. Presence in the classroom

• Message from you somewhere in the classroom at least every 48 hours.

• At least 2 messages responding to each classroom discussion (preferably more).

2. Language used in messages

• Concise messages with a format that enhances clarity.

• Correct spelling, grammar, vocabulary, paragraphing, register.

• Appropriate length (neither telegraphic nor too long).

• Appropriate tone (neither too informal nor unnecessarily formal).

3. Teaching

• Proactive enough?

- Provide guidance/help for students.

- Encourage contributions/participation, particularly from weaker students.

- Appropriate balance between types of messages: formal/informal; brief/detailed.

- Students are reminded of important dates (especially test dates).

• Reactive enough?

- Positive reaction to students' contributions.

- Include references to students' work + mention students by name in relation to something praiseworthy/interesting.

- Participate in classroom discussions, giving own opinions on topic.

- Regular, informal references to students' grammatical errors (e.g., `people are' NOT `people is').

4. Classroom activities and exercises

• Guidelines for classroom activities and exercises are posted on or by the established dates.

• Clear and appropriate instructions: How/where to send responses, it is clear what is expected from students, optional extras are clearly marked as such.

Open-door Policy: Online Peer Observations

Peer observations have long been considered a valuable tool for teacher development in foreign language teaching (Wajnryb, 1992; Nicas & Hopkins, 2001). In order to facilitate a similar experience in an online environment, English teachers at UOC all have access to the other classrooms of the level at which they are teaching, and are strongly encouraged to visit them as frequently as possible. Teachers can thus benefit from being exposed to diverse examples of online teaching practice, have the opportunity to acquire new ideas for their own classes, and can also provide each other with feedback and mutual support.

It is interesting to note, however, that while new teachers regularly visit their

557

colleagues' classrooms, comments from more experienced teachers indicate that they tend not to take full advantage of this opportunity. It seems likely that this is due to various factors. First, as all UOC teachers work on a part-time basis for the university, they invariably have commitments at other institutions. They may therefore have little time to devote to such “extras” as looking in on other classrooms. In addition, the current structure of the online campus requires teachers to click through several screens in order to access one of their colleagues' classes. Finally, another reason why most teachers do not visit their fellow teachers' classrooms is no doubt because it is not required by the department. As suggested by Nicas and Hopkins (2001), even if teachers are willing to observe other classes, they may feel that they are imposing, or even spying, on their colleagues unless peer observations are an obligatory part of their work.

The Online Staff Room

The online staff room (see Figure 5), similar in format to that of the online classrooms, constitutes the main meeting point and resource center for teachers and coordinators and fulfills a similar function as staffrooms in face-to-face environments. It is a space for sharing news, teaching materials, and methodological tips and for providing support, feedback, and communal “warmth” for all staff. In the Llista de companys `list of colleagues,' for example, teachers can see which of their colleagues are connected at any given moment (i.e., which of their colleagues are “in the room”). In addition, beside their names, there are icons enabling teachers to send messages directly to their colleagues (or to call them into a text chat) and also to send messages directly to the course coordinators (Envia missatge al responsable). There is also web space to store important documents (Espai de disc).

Figure 5

Online Staff Room of the English Language Program at UOC

0x01 graphic

558

The most frequently used features of the staff room are undoubtedly the four communication spaces described below. Teachers have direct access to the staffroom and to these spaces from the welcome page which appears each time they log onto the campus. If new messages have been sent to any of the spaces, these are signaled by means of red flags. Unlike the case of the online peer groups, the staff room is highly visible and easily accessible, which helps to ensure that teachers frequently visit the space.

1. Notice Board

The Notice Board is used by the course coordinators to post important information such as the academic calendar, documents to be distributed to students, reminders of important deadlines, copies of tests to be used in the classes, and so on.

2. Forum

The Forum is used for a variety of purposes, the most important of which is the sharing of teaching materials. This area is especially important for new teachers because it is here that their more experienced colleagues provide them with examples of successful classroom activities, along with useful advice and general support. There are also regular discussions among the teachers about common teaching problems, such as how to evaluate students, how to deal with cases of plagiarism, what to do if student participation levels fall, and so on. In addition, teachers use this space to share articles dealing with online teaching issues and to announce upcoming conferences for language teachers. Finally, the Forum is also a venue for socializing, a key point for strengthening the interpersonal bonds of the online community. Jokes are shared, alongside personal announcements such as successful defenses of doctoral dissertations, births, adoptions, and the like.

3. Debate

Debate is used primarily for the discussion of specific teaching issues that have emerged from the Forum. For example, after several teachers had expressed concern about a recent change in the format for the continuous assessment tests, a formal discussion on this topic was established by the coordinators in Debate. Based on the issues raised and conclusions reached, the official policy was subsequently modified. It should be noted that contributions to this space are always of key importance in helping to shape the general policies of the whole English language program. Policies on evaluation and plagiarism, for example, were finally established only after receiving input from the teachers through online discussions in Debate. This space is also used each semester for the discussion of articles on relevant pedagogical topics such as online moderating skills (Feenberg & Xin, n.d.), which are posted by the coordinators.

4. Tips

The Tips space is devoted to technical matters, and queries sent here by teachers are answered by a colleague or one of the coordinators. Information

559

is shared by all on such things as improving technical skills, finding short cuts for dealing with regular teaching duties, using new authoring software, creating online learning materials, and so forth.

In addition to the communication spaces, in the Recursos `resources' space there is a link to the English Teachers' Homepage, which includes the following:

1. Guide for English Teachers at the UOC

See Figure 3 and discussion above.

2. Bank of past activities

At the end of each semester, a selection of useful classroom materials which have been sent to the Forum are selected by the Coordinators and added to the English Teachers' Homepage for future use.

3. Links to useful sites

These include links to sites of particular interest for learners of English.

Face-to-face Meetings with Teachers

UOC organizes face-to-face meetings for the entire university community at the beginning and the end of each semester. Students are encouraged to attend information sessions led by teachers of the various subjects they are enrolled in and to clarify any doubts they may have. At these meetings, the English-language coordinators regularly organize hands-on sessions for the English teachers on topics such as the standardization of grading criteria for students' written work or on the Hot Potatoes software suite for the creation of online learning activities. In addition, general staff meetings are held on these days at which policy is discussed and decisions are made. It should be noted that experience has shown that time is used much more efficiently here if the issues on the agenda have been discussed previously in the online staff room.

Finally, another key aim of these face-to-face meetings is to provide an opportunity for teachers to socialize with one another. While socializing is obviously a priority in the online staff room, this occurs within the inevitable constraints of an asynchronous, text-only environment (see Giese, 1998). The face-to-face encounters are therefore an extremely important complement to the online socializing, further strengthening the interpersonal bonds that have been created in the virtual environment.

HOW WE PERCEIVE OUR ROLES AS ONLINE COORDINATORS

In addition to the need to prioritize staff development via the elements outlined above and our ongoing involvement in the creation of relevant teaching materials, we have also become increasingly aware of other factors which are crucial for our work: the establishment of close working partnerships with different sections of the university community and the coordinators' role as liaisons between teachers and administration, the need to encourage reflection and self-evaluation among teachers and to promote awareness of the specific needs of the online distance

560

learner, and the development of an online community of teachers based on team work and collaborative relationships.

As coordinators, we have had to develop a plethora of professional skills: managerial, pedagogical, technological, and affective. We have also had to acquire other less formal skills, such as the ability to implement “constructive persuasion, inspirational appeals, exchange of favors and mutual help, coalition building and consultation” (Conger & Lawler, 2005, p. 7). We have had to become adept at anticipating, diagnosing, and rapidly solving all types of problems; publicly acknowledging when we make errors; and accepting valid criticism from teachers or students.

Developing Working Partnerships with Other University Departments

Two contrasting images form the basis of effective online coordination and teaching. On one hand, there is the solitary online teacher (or student) deciding when, where, and how this individual works. In order for online teaching and learning to be effective, however, alongside this solitary worker, there must also exist a complex network of collaborative relationships throughout the university, closer “day-to day-working partnerships” (Phelps, Ledgerwood, & Bartlett, 2000, p. 204) among coordinators, instructors, student counselors, technical support staff, administrators, and so on. New modes of course delivery thus need to be reinforced by new staffing roles and professional partnerships.

As coordinators, we have found that the time we have dedicated over the past 10 years to prioritizing and cultivating this support network at UOC has been of enormous value, currently enabling us to focus our work more effectively on pedagogical issues. We have made considerable progress from past situations where we had to deal with a multitude of nonacademic issues such as travel expenses for teachers attending face-to-face hands-on sessions or having to solve the technological problems of a student who, 6 weeks after the start of the term, was unable to access the online materials. We still find, however, that we frequently have to act as interlocutors between teachers and other university departments in order to guarantee the smooth running of our courses.

Highlighting the Needs of the Online Distance Learner and Teacher

Another significant area of our work lies in promoting an awareness of the specific needs of the online distance learner. English teachers at UOC are all highly qualified practitioners in the face-to-face academic environment, but they are invariably novices in the online environment when they start working at the university. This symbiotic relationship between expertise and novelty forms the basis of much of the work of online coordination and, just as students need relevant “scaffolding” to ease them into the online learning environment (Salmon, 2003), so too do teachers. In training sessions and in our regular control visits to teachers' classrooms, we repeatedly remind the teachers of points such as the following: the need to be aware of the online student's learning objectives; recognition that the teacher's fascination with the potential of the technological medium may not

561

be shared by their students, most of whom probably view the computer simply as an innovative means of study in new and complex circumstances; the need for teaching strategies which will combat students' isolation; the need for flexibility as regards deadlines for the submission of work and above all, patience and a sense of humor in dealing with technological problems. Our experience as online coordinators has confirmed our belief that, far from depending primarily on technological expertise, successful online teaching is most effective when based on a mixture of proficient face-to-face methodology and a continual awareness of the specific differences inherent in the online learning environment.

Encouraging Reflection and Self-evaluation

An effective online teaching environment should challenge the traditional scenario of academics working in isolation and instead serve to bring together teams of people with varied skills, working collaboratively in order to deliver and develop courses. A priority at UOC has therefore been the creation of an environment in which interaction and reflective learning are prioritized in the relationships between coordinators and teachers, among teachers, and between students and teachers. Team work has been central to this approach as have the years of cross-fertilization of teaching activities and experience in the online staff room, the stored information on the Teachers' Home Page, and the regular debates among teachers on pedagogical issues. We would certainly agree that “Online education is not merely uploading teaching materials, receiving and sending e-mail messages and posting discussion topics on the Internet. More importantly, it provides an arena for an interactive, deep, collaborative and multidimensional thinking and learning environment” (Ascough, 2002, p. 47).

Fostering a Sense of Community Among Online Teachers

The importance of online teacher communities as a key element in faculty development has been well documented (Lynch, 2002; Palloff & Pratt, 1999; Brown, 2001), and many aspects of our work described above play their part in the promotion of this sense of community (see Figure 6). In the first place, we see online networking as vital in order to prevent isolation, especially given that most teachers at UOC do not meet each other regularly. In fact, contrary to what might be expected, many have commented that there is considerably more interaction and professional collaboration in the online environment than in most face-to-face situations they have worked in. One should not forget that, at many institutions, English teachers may have only one or two other colleagues with whom to share materials, ideas, and experiences and that, in some cases, they may be completely on their own. Furthermore, teachers in face-to-face contexts may never coincide with certain colleagues because of different teaching schedules. In an online, asynchronous environment, on the other hand, all teachers “meet” regularly in the online staff room.

Second, promoting a sense of community among teachers also helps to maintain positive channels of communication with the coordinators. Just as teachers

562

can easily become isolated in the online world, online course coordinators could easily lose touch with what is happening in the classrooms without such a system. Indeed, the online teacher network provides coordinators with a valuable source of continual and candid feedback from teachers on student needs, materials, evaluation procedures, policies, and other matters, which is a crucial aspect for the success of the courses.

Figure 6

Online Community of English Language Teachers at UOC

0x01 graphic

Third, the online network forms an integral part of ongoing teacher development by helping bring together the collective knowledge of the online community and making it available to all. The following words from Moore and Kearsely (1996) are an apt reflection of the English language teachers' network at the UOC: “In successful groups there seems to be a high degree of interdependence of relatively autonomous individuals” (p. 135). Indeed, in this system teachers learn to depend on one another while, at the same time, becoming more autonomous, a quality that should be a major goal of any kind of language teacher education (Freeman, 1989; Richards, 1990; Wajnryb, 1992).

Finally, the online networking of teachers leads to a more positive working environment which in turn leads to more cooperation. This not only means that teaching materials and useful classroom strategies are freely shared among the teachers but also that this cooperative atmosphere also hopefully serves as a model for the type of learning environment that teachers promote in their own

563

classrooms. In conclusion, we believe that an effective system of networking among online teachers such as the one described here can contribute to better teaching practice and, ultimately, help enhance students' learning.

Relying on a Team-based Approach to Online Teacher Development

Underlying all the above is our belief in the need for a constructivist rather than a prescriptive mode of coordination. As pointed out by Ernest (2003), coordinators “should always have `hands-on' experience in delivering the courses they have to co-ordinate and, the `sage on the stage' approach should be as unwelcome in on-line course co-ordination as it is in on-line teaching.” Since a major challenge facing educators delivering online courses is to “learn from the experience of others and to encourage and evaluate educational innovation” (Gooley & Lockwood, 2001, p. 24), we believe very strongly that feedback from both teachers and students should be encouraged at all times. By incorporating issues which have emerged from discussions in the different staffroom spaces (often directly related to feedback teachers have received from their students) into our policy decisions, we ensure the recognition of teachers' active involvement in and ownership of the decision-making process. This team-based approach to online teacher development (Ellis & Phelps, 2000) is illustrated in Figure 7.

Figure 7

Illustration of the Team-based Approach to Online Teacher Development Used by the English Department at UOC (Based on Ellis & Phelps, 2000)

0x01 graphic

564

CONCLUSIONS

It should be noted that only after the accumulated experience of 10 years of online coordination do we feel able to make a valid contribution to the ongoing construction of knowledge and experience related to this type of work. Until now, our priorities have had to be the establishment and development of the English courses currently offered, given the rapid growth of student numbers (200 to 6,000 students from 1995 to 2005); the many changes experienced within the English department regarding materials, methodology, staffing, location; and the fact that in the online teaching environment “the pedagogical and technological goal posts” (Phelps, Ledgerwood, & Bartlett, 2000, p. 203) are constantly shifting. On a personal and professional level as online coordinators, we still find that we have to struggle to reconcile the multifaceted daily demands of our job with our desire to carry out much needed research in the field.

We are aware that UOC is not typical of most distance-learning institutions: totally online, large student numbers in each class, an asynchronous learning environment, and many technological restraints. We are hopeful, however, that the experiences outlined in this article will be relevant for others working in similar fields.

We would highlight the following as being of greatest importance in the effective coordination and delivery of any online course:

1. regularly updated, user-friendly documents for teachers in which their duties and responsibilities are defined clearly and concisely,

2. well defined, easily accessible online spaces which foster a sense of community among teachers, and

3. strategies for the promotion of discussion, reflection, self-evaluation, and documentation of pedagogical issues among staff members.

We trust we have demonstrated that, as pointed out by Phelps, Ledgerwood, and Bartlett (2000), online coordination and teaching “require more than the development of technical skills. They require new pedagogical approaches, new working partnerships, new needs for motivation, new staffing roles and structures and new models of student support” (p. 216).

NOTES

1 It should be noted that Spain has a national distance university, the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, which has been in operation since 1972. Courses, however, are offered only in Spanish and not in any of the other languages commonly spoken in Spain (i.e., Catalan, Basque, and Galician).

2 In light of the success of the online degree programs in Catalan, in 2000 UOC began offering courses in Spanish aimed at the rest of Spain and Spanish-speaking America.

565

REFERENCES

Ascough, R. S. (2002). Designing for online distance education. Putting pedagogy before technology. Teaching Theology and Religion, 5 (1), 17-29.

Anderson, T. (2004). Teaching in an online learning context. In T. Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.), Theory and practice of online learning (pp. 273-294). Athabasca, Canada: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/ch11.html

Bates, A. W. (2000) Managing technological change: Strategies for university and college leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Berg, G. A. (1998). Public policy on distance learning in higher education: California state and Western Governors Association initiatives. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 6 (11). Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v6n11

Brown, R. E. (2001). The process of community-building in distance learning classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5 (2). Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/jaln/v5n2/v5n2_brown.asp

Conger, J., & Lawler, E. (2005, August 26). People skills still rule in the virtual company, business life summer school. Financial Times, p. 7.

Daniel, J. (1997, July 2). Distance learning and the growth of the mega university. Paper presented at the International Forum for World Leaders in Higher Education. Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://www.cityu.edu.hk/forum/pap1-5.html

Ellis, A., & Phelps, R. (2000). Staff development for online delivery: A collaborative, team based action learning model. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 16 (1), 26-44. Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet16/ellis.html

Ernest, P. (2003). Factors which facilitate effective on-line learning. English courses at the UOC. Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://www.uoc.edu/dt/20202/index.html

Feenberg, A., & Xin, C. (n.d.). A teacher's guide to moderating online discussion forums: From theory to practice. Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://www.textweaver.org/modmanual4.htm

Freeman, D. (1989). Teacher training, development, and decision making: A model of teaching and related strategies for language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 23 (1), 27-45.

Giese, M. (1998). Self without body: Textual self-representation in an electronic community. First Monday, 4 (3). Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue3_4/giese/index.html

Gooley, A., & Lockwood, F. (Eds.). (2001). Innovation in open and distance learning: Successful development of online and web-based learning. London: Kogan Page.

Lynch, M. V. (2002). The online educator: A guide to creating the virtual classroom. London: Routledge Falmer.

Moore, M., & Kearsely, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Nicas, G., & Hopkins, J. (2001). Peer observations for professional development (Or “The best new ideas could be in the class next door”). APAC of News, 41, 29-34.

566

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learner communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Phelps, R., Ledgerwood, T., & Bartlett, L. (2000). Managing the transition to online teaching: The role of project management methodology in the learning organisation. In Proceedings of moving online: A conference to explore the challenges for workplaces, universities and colleges (pp. 203-226). Lismore, Australia: Southern Cross University Press.

Richards, J. C. (1990). The dilemma of teacher education in second language teaching. In J. C. Richards & D. Nunan (Eds.), Second language teacher education (pp. 3-15). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Salmon, G. (2003). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online (2nd ed.). London: Routledge Falmer.

Turoff, M. (1997). Alternative futures for distance learning: The force and the dark side. Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://eies.njit.edu/~turoff/Papers/darkaln.html

Wajnryb, R. (1992). Classroom observation tasks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Warschauer, M. (1996). Comparing face-to-face and electronic discussion in the second language classroom. CALICO Journal, 13 (2), 7-26. Also available at http://calico.org/journalarticles.html

Wellman, B. (2001). The persistence and transformation of community: From neighbourhood groups to social networks. Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman/publications/lawcomm/lawcomm7.htm

Werry, C. (2001). The work of education in the age of e-college. First Monday, 6 (5). Retrieved September 15, 2005, from http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_5/werry/index.html.

AUTHORS' BIODATA

Pauline Ernest is coordinator of English at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. She has been involved in teaching for 30 years and has worked in countries such as the UK, Cuba, Mexico, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. She has been a TEFL teacher at the Escola d'Idiomes Moderns (Universitat de Barcelona) and also Director of Studies at a trilingual school in Barcelona, where she coordinated the English language and literature programs from the primary to secondary level. At present, her interests include e-learning, teacher development and classroom management, poetry translation, and the development of strategies for incorporating literary texts into the language classroom.

Joseph Hopkins is a coordinator of the English language program at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. He has been involved in language teaching for over 15 years, both in the US and Spain. His main interests are in language teaching management, curriculum development, the use of asynchronous computer-mediated communication in language learning, and web-based language learning in general.

567

AUTHORS' ADDRESS

Pauline Ernest

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Av. Tibidabo, 39-43

08035 Barcelona

Spain

Phone: +34 93 253 75 72

Fax: +34 93 417 64 95

Email: pernest@uoc.edu

Joseph Hopkins

Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Av. Tibidabo, 39-43

08035 Barcelona

Spain

Phone: +34 93 253 75 22

Fax: +34 93 417 64 95

Email: jhopkins@uoc.edu

568