Behind the Curtain of Online Learning

Week 3 Application Post


A few months ago, I set up a mock class to meet the requirements for one of my Walden University courses. I’d been using Blackboard Learn for over a year, and assumed I had a failry good understanding of the features and uses of the software application. It seemed only logical to use Blackboard Learn to set up a course site for my mock class.

There’s a big difference between setting up a class and particpating in a class. I soon disocvered that while I had an understanding of how to navigate within the Blackboard course site, I was clueless when it come to setting up class files, linking documents, making sure all the class links worked, putting announcements in the right place, etc.

In our course text, The Online Teaching Survival Guide, Boettcher states “part of the instructor’s responsibilities it to take action to ensure that all learners are engage, present and participating” (Boettcher et al, 2011, p. 52). While this sounds like a straight-forward task, without an understanding of the technology, it’s almost impossible to create an environment that will engage the learners. As I was preparing for this mock class, I kept feeling a bit like the Wizard of Oz – I didn’t want learners to look behind the curtain, or discover all I didn’t know.

I think a well constructed site, with an easy to use interface, may not merit any comments from students. But when students encounter difficulties, or find links that won’t work, their frustration level understandably rises. Given that one of the goals within the online community is to establish a presence – social, cognitive, teaching and community (Boettcher et al, 2011), these kinds of errors present a road block for the class.

It’s essential to have a well thought out plan for developing a course online. However, just as important to developing the course content is an understanding of the technology tools used for the online course.  The next time I set up a class, I’ll spend much more time understanding the behind the scenes (or curtain) environment. I think it makes all the difference for the learners.


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass



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