Reading Lisa’s post about bread got me thinking about my first online teaching experience. I thought I’d share for those who are just getting started.
It was just after my second year of grad school and everyone in my class was getting an opportunity to teach during the summer session. I was assigned “Introduction to Elementary Logic,” a course that I find extremely easy (and often fun!) to teach. All of us were given explicit instructions about how to run the course: meet four to five days a week in a chat room on Blackboard, make the chat required, and always have a quiz to make sure students come to class. I’m not going to say that I followed all of these suggestions, but I did hold class in a chat room four days a week, two hours each day.
It was the worst teaching experience of my (admittedly short) teaching career.
Everything that could go wrong technologically did: students kept getting kicked out of the chat room, the chat sometimes wouldn’t update for some students, some student messages wouldn’t come through, the whiteboard (where the class worked as a group on the logic proofs) didn’t work for half the students, and the recordings often didn’t work (leaving students who had to miss class out in the cold). Even with extra meetings outside of the assigned time and having extra in-person meeting times for those in the area, grades and student satisfaction were low. I can speak to the fact that teacher morale was rock bottom. I muddled through and worked around the problems as best as I could, but there was very little good to take away.
But it didn’t have to be this way.
See, no one in the department had taught online before. So the assumption was that we should attempt to replicate an in-person class as closely as possible. And in a traditional philosophy department, this means one thing: lecture. Chat was the closest tool available, so use that. Students sit in a classroom together, so have an assigned, required meeting time. You can see the reasoning behind all of the recommendations. But in making these recommendations, the professor in question forgot (or, rather, never knew) that teaching online is fundamentally different than teaching in-person. Online, your class can exist side by side with the rest of the student’s life. Online, you can provide students with greater flexibility to accommodate unusual schedules and life situations. Online, students can share found information almost instantaneously. Online, you can give student’s greater freedom.*
After this class, I decided to completely reevaluate the way I approached online teaching. I looked at the various tools available and thought about how I wanted the students to interact, what kind of lessons they should be learning through practice, and how I can get out of the way of the learning experience. That’s a post for another day, but, needless to say, I haven’t looked back.
*This, of course, is incredibly unfair to in-person teaching. I say this only because I come from a department where lecture and basic discussion are the only forms of learning. It’s fair to say that teaching online has vastly expanded my view on the possibilities of the in-person classroom as well.