Syllabus for OLT-640



The technology enabling online learning allows communication and interaction between student and texts, student and teacher, and student and other students. This course considers the theoretical aspects of communication and interactivity and the practical skills of facilitating online discussions and online interactions.

With the advent of Web 2.0, the interactive Web, there are new ways of communicating with students. Some are appropriate for an online class, some are not. We will be discussing communication in light of new developments, keeping in mind that all courses must conform to solid pedagogical principles. You will also be working to develop a "philosophy of online teaching" statement that is often required when you are applying for an online teaching position.

The number one assumption behind this course, however, is that discussion is the heart and soul of online learning. The basic question then becomes: What structure does the course designer need to provide and what behaviors should the faculty facilitator exhibit to assure that discussions in online courses maintain focus and attain depth?

The purpose of this course is to give the participant:

  1. Acquaintance with (some of) the literature, theory, and research about discussion and communication issues in online courses and with leading learning theorists.
  2. Opportunities and requirements to share reflections on these issues.
  3. Practical experience in a number of practices that occur in online discussions.
  4. Practice in developing course material with newer Web interactions.
  5. The background to develop a philosophy of online teaching.

So this is both a shop course and a theory course.


Human beings have always communicated with one another. What has changed over time are the methods and customs of communication. With each change, there has been discussion about the pros and cons of the methods and customs, with each generation naturally comfortable with the practices of its youth and young adulthood.

The printing press moved people from an aural tradition to a visual one. The development and growth of electronic media, first radio, then television, shifted the definitions of time and space in the communication event (witness the collective experience of September 11, 2001, made possible by television). Now the computer is redefining conversations, grammar and spelling, and, specifically related to our discussion, the ways in which we experience learning. Listservs, blogs, podcasts, video, online chat (synchronous and asynchronous), and other tools are all changing the style and immediacy of communication. Cell phones are creating 7 x 24 x 365 connectivity, sometimes despite our best judgment.

The study of communication theory dates from the twentieth century. This field of study has roots in psychology and sociology, although the traditions of literary criticism and rhetoric also make strong contributions.

The key elements of the communication element remain the sender, receiver, the message, and medium. We will focus primarily on the message and the medium. Every medium has strengths and weaknesses in terms of communication, conveying content, interaction, graphic and text usage, and other more subtle characteristics. Message uses symbols (i.e., words, graphics, sounds, video, etc.) that depend on shared cultural context.

The computer is a relatively new medium for communication but one subject to many of the same variables of the communication process. In this course we look at the communication event within the context of learning process and consider facilitation to be the primary role of the teacher.


After successfully completing this course, you should be able to:

  1. Define differences among facilitating, presenting, training, leading, and coaching.
  2. Describe differences and similarities between on-line facilitation and face-to-face facilitation.
  3. Sequence activities that foster knowledge flow and student involvement.
  4. Prepare the framework for effective discussion by establishing ground rules, supporting participants, and clarifying goals.
  5. Demonstrate why and how people need feedback on content, communication style, level of interaction.
  6. Provide exercises that accommodate learners at different paces, styles, and cultures.
  7. Use clear, appropriate questions to focus thinking and support learning; use skillful questioning to draw out information and insights.
  8. Ascertain the ebb and flow of the conversation and the need to intervene.
  9. Move the group through structured thinking steps.
  10. Design and implement the final instructional unit of your online course.


You will need the following textbook to complete the work of the course. The required textbook is available from the College's textbook supplier, MBS Direct.

  • Curtis J. Bonk and Ke Zhang, Empowering Online Learning: 100+ Activities for Reading, Reflecting, Displaying, and Doing (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008).

ISBN-13: 978-0-7879-8804-3


Communication and Interactivity in Online Learning is a three-credit online course consisting of eleven (11) modules. Each module, in turn, includes study materials (textbook readings, Web sites, and other readings) and activities in the form of discussion forums, publication activity/forums, and written reports.

In the discussion forums, you interact with your classmates by completing defined activities and discussing assigned questions based on readings from the text and other Web-based material. Through the publication activity/forums, you continue to construct an online course (begun in OLT-510 and OLT-520) using your own course shell. Upon finishing each activity, you post a message in the corresponding publication/activity forum and then offer constructive suggestions to your classmates on their courses. By the end of the course you will have completed a final instructional unit in your online course.

For the purposes of this course and the Online Learning and Teaching Certificate program, we will continue to use a free installation of Moodle as our learning management system (LMS) for constructing student course shells.

Like word processors, LMSs have many similarities. Thus, by teaching yourself Moodle while mastering the principles of course construction, you should be able to transition easily from one LMS to another—from open source products like Moodle and Sakai to corporate systems like Blackboard and Desire2Learn, to name a few.

Although you set your own schedule and work at your own pace, this is not an independent study course. While you are not required to meet "in real time," you must log on and participate in the discussions on a regular basis.


Consult the course Calendar for due dates.


For your formal work in the course, you are required to participate fully in nine (9) online discussion forums and twelve (12) online publication activity/forums. The major publication assignment for the course is a final instructional unit within your course shell that contains a video component and gives explicit instructions to the students about how the materials are to be employed in learning activities for students of the course. The unit should reflect Universal Course Design. Additional assessments include a book review (consisting of a selection forum and report), a facilitation activity (consisting of a selection forum, discussion facilitation, and written reflection), and a statement expressing your philosophy of online teaching. At the conclusion of the course, you will complete an end-of-course survey. See below for more details, and consult the course Calendar for assignment due dates.

Since interaction is one of the most important aspects of this course, effective use of and participation in the discussion area is critical to your success. Here are some suggestions to help you succeed:

  1. Please use the spell-checker built into the discussion forum's text editor before submitting each post. If this is not sufficient for your needs, open a word processor in another window, compose your answer or comment, use the spell-checker in the word processor to check your comment, and then copy and paste your comment into the message field.

  1. Consider your comments before clicking the Submit button, and make sure each comment is thoughtful, well supported by logic, and complete in content and scope.

  1. In discussions you have the responsibility to explain your thoughts and position and to stimulate discussion of others. Please don't compose all your posts as statements of fact, but rather ask questions, pose issues, and be open to discussion and disagreements from others.

  1. Conduct all discussions with civility, have consideration for others' points of view, and respond in a thoughtful manner appropriate for graduate students engaged in a discussion intended to be beneficial to all. This does not mean you can't disagree with others, but when you disagree, you are responsible for explaining your logic and position clearly and respecting the logic and positions of others.

  1. Simple statements of opinion, quips, and short comments have their place in discussions and keep things interesting; however, realize that they do not contribute significantly to your grade in this course. For your posts to contribute to your grade, they should contain some or all of the following characteristics, stated in increasing order of weight:

  1. If you're not involved in discussions, you can't contribute to or complete the course. Regular involvement in discussions is required to pass the course, and commenting in discussions only once or twice a week is not sufficient involvement to show your competence. In addition, the mentor checks the course statistics on a regular basis and is aware of how frequently each student accesses the course.

Discussion Forums

Communication and Interactivity in Online Learning requires you to participate in nine (9) graded discussion forums, worth ten points each.

Communication among fellow students and with the mentor is a critical component of online learning, and active participation is required to pass this course. Participation in online discussions involves two distinct activities: an initial response to a posted question (discussion topic) and subsequent comments on classmates' responses. Meaningful participation is relevant to the content, adds value, and advances the discussion. Comments such as "I agree" and "ditto" are not considered value-adding participation. Therefore, when you agree or disagree with a classmate, the reading, or your mentor, state and support your agreement or disagreement. You will be evaluated on the quality and quantity of your participation. Responses and comments should be properly proofread and edited, professional, and respectful.

Deadlines for posting discussion topics and comments are given in the course Calendar.

Click the link below for an evaluation rubric that will aid in the grading of online discussion forums.

Publication Activity/Forums

You are required to complete twelve (12) publication activities and to participate fully in their associated online forums. Each publication activity/forum is worth ten points.

In the publication activities, you will follow the instructions given and construct your final instructional unit using your Moodle course shell. Each publication activity has an associated forum in which you discuss the activity and offer constructive suggestions to your classmates on their courses. Our underlying philosophy is that we learn from one another, and we believe you will find that discussing issues with your classmates and looking at their courses will be a big help in the construction of your own course. By the end of this course, you will have completed the final unit in your online course.

Click the link below for an evaluation rubric that will aid in the grading of publication activity/forums.

Book Review

We can't read everything on online learning; we need to "fill in" for one another concepts from the latest research.

For this assignment, you will select and then read and review a book on education (preferably online education) or on learning theory. The publication date should be within the last three years. This is a "jigsaw" exercise, which means that we all do different pieces (different texts) and then put everything together at the end with our reports. Your book review should address the following questions:

  1. What was the thesis of the book?
  2. What lessons were in it for teachers of online classes?
  3. Did the text leave out anything, give incorrect information, or not live up to its intention?
  4. How will you use the content of this book in helping you design your online course? Be specific. Give us tips we can all use. Don't just tell us the chapter headings.

You will select your book in Module 1 and post your book review in Module 10. See Modules 1 and 10 for further details.

Facilitation and Reflection

Since this is the final course in the OLT series, you will have a chance to demonstrate that you can moderate a discussion by selecting a discussion forum and facilitating it. Facilitating or moderating a discussion means actively leading the discussion, asking questions, making comments, and probing for more information.

When you finish with your facilitation, you will reflect on your experience and submit a written reflection to the mentor as an individual assignment.

Philosophy of Online Teaching

You will develop and submit to the mentor a philosophy of teaching statement, suitable for submission when you apply for an online teaching position.


Your grade in the course will be determined as follows:

All activities will receive a numerical grade of 0–100. You will receive a score of 0 for any work not submitted. Your final grade in the course will be a letter grade. Letter grade equivalents for numerical grades are as follows:
























Below 73

To receive credit for the course, you must earn a letter grade of C or higher on the weighted average of all assigned course work (e.g., assignments, discussion postings, projects, etc.). Graduate students must maintain a B average overall to remain in good academic standing.


First Steps to Success

To succeed in this course, take the following first steps:

Study Tips

Consider the following study tips for success:

Standing Assignments


Students at Thomas Edison State College are expected to exhibit the highest level of academic citizenship. In particular, students are expected to read and follow all policies, procedures, and program information guidelines contained in publications; pursue their learning goals with honesty and integrity; demonstrate that they are progressing satisfactorily and in a timely fashion by meeting course deadlines and following outlined procedures; observe a code of mutual respect in dealing with mentors, staff, and other students; behave in a manner consistent with the standards and codes of the profession in which they are practicing; keep official records updated regarding changes in name, address, telephone number, or e-mail address; and meet financial obligations in a timely manner. Students not practicing good academic citizenship may be subject to disciplinary action including suspension, dismissal, or financial holds on records.


Academic Dishonesty

Thomas Edison State College expects all of its students to approach their education with academic integrity—the pursuit of scholarly activity free from fraud and deception. All mentors and administrative staff members at the College insist on strict standards of academic honesty in all courses. Academic dishonesty undermines this objective. Academic dishonesty can take the following forms:

Please refer to the Academic Code of Conduct Policy in the College Catalog and online at




Using someone else’s work as your own is plagiarism. Thomas Edison State College takes a strong stance against plagiarism, and students found to be plagiarizing will be severely penalized. If you copy phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or whole documents word-for-word—or if you paraphrase by changing a word here and there—without identifying the author, or without identifying it as a direct quote, then you are plagiarizing. Please keep in mind that this type of identification applies to Internet sources as well as to print-based sources. Copying and pasting from the Internet, without using quotation marks and without acknowledging sources, constitutes plagiarism. (For information about how to cite Internet sources, see Online Student Handbook > Academic Standards > “Citing Sources.”)

Accidentally copying the words and ideas of another writer does not excuse the charge of plagiarism. It is easy to jot down notes and ideas from many sources and then write your own paper without knowing which words are your own and which are someone else’s. It is more difficult to keep track of each and every source. However, the conscientious writer who wishes to avoid plagiarizing never fails to keep careful track of sources.

Always be aware that if you write without acknowledging the sources of your ideas, you run the risk of being charged with plagiarism.

Clearly, plagiarism, no matter the degree of intent to deceive, defeats the purpose of education. If you plagiarize deliberately, you are not educating yourself, and you are wasting your time on courses meant to improve your skills. If you plagiarize through carelessness, you are deceiving yourself.

For examples of unintentional plagiarism, advice on when to quote and when to paraphrase, and information about writing assistance and originality report checking, click the links provided below.

Examples of Unintentional Plagiarism 

When to Quote and When to Paraphrase

Writing Assistance at Smarthinking

Originality Report Checking at Turnitin


Disciplinary Process

First-time incidents of academic dishonesty concerning plagiarism may reflect ignorance of appropriate citation requirements. Mentors will make a good faith effort to address all first-time offenses that occur in courses. In these cases, the mentor may impose sanctions that serve as a learning exercise for the offender. These may include the completion of tutorials, assignment rewrites, or any other reasonable learning tool including a lower grade when appropriate. The mentor will notify the student by e-mail. Decisions about the sanctions applied for subsequent plagiarism offenses or other violations will be made by the appropriate dean’s office, with the advice of the mentor or staff person who reported the violation. The student will be notified via certified mail of the decision. Options for sanctions include:

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