147 Practical Tips for Teaching Online Groups: Essentials of Web-Based Education is a 72 page "handbook" of tips intended for readers interested in developing formal, group-based courses to be delivered over the Internet. The authors claim that the "tips" that are briefly presented in this publication are appropriate for all levels of instruction, from K-12 through higher education. In a postscript, however, they also assert, and I agree, that much of the material presented in the book is "the essence of good teaching in any [authors emphasis] setting" (p. 67). As a result, much of book will seem to resonate with anyone who teaches; however, only people who have developed and delivered distance learning courses will appreciate the implications of the tips that are too-briefly described in this handbook.
Considering the attention that Web-based instruction is receiving throughout the Cal State University System and throughout the country, publications such as this would seem to be well suited to the issues and concerns of faculty across all disciplines. However, it is hard to recommend this small paperback as essential reading for anyone wishing to explore or participate in this mode of instruction.
The 147 "tips" are easy reading, each being on average, a paragraph or two in length. Therein lies the problem. Because they are brief, the tips do not provide a great deal of explanation or context for anyone who has not already done a significant amount of online teaching. Because of this, to assert that these tips are useful is an exaggeration. But instructors who have taught using distance learning will find the book comfortable reading because they will have experienced the true implications of the content of this book.
The tips themselves are fairly broad in their usefulness, ranging from philosophical to practical. An example of the former is a category concerned with advice on what an instructor should expect from him/herself, the learners, and the technology. I did not find these observations to be particularly useful since there really isnt much advice regarding what one might proactively do to deal with some of the expectations the authors describe.
Examples of more practical tips include items labeled, "Develop learning communities," "Define your role in the online classroom," or "Consider team-based learning." Again, due to their brief coverage, these are really of little use to the novice. As well, most experienced instructors are already well aware of such advice. One of the more useful sets of tips is organized under the heading, "Organizing the Online Course." But when it is all said and done, most of the tips can be summarized in the recommendation to develop first a good syllabus Ð advice that would serve any instructor well.
This is all not to say that this book is totally without value. In fact, as superficial as each tip is, many can provide the basis for a more thorough textbook or course--traditional or online--designed to teach people about Internet-based distance learning. In fact, the next time I open this book, I will use the tips as suggestions for topics to teach in just such a course.