A First Teaching Experience

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.

Comments 5

  1. avatar Todd Conaway wrote:

    I think that many still see the online environment as a correspondence course with some additional bells and whistles. Darn.

    We are still growing our literacy in this digital space. And will be for a long time I imagine.

    The image below is one way we can create a different model of the face to face classroom.

    I am going to try to embed this image here, if it does work, it is here: http://www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/

    Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

    Posted 04 Sep 2011 at 12:42 pm
  2. avatar Eduardo Peirano wrote:

    1- KISS with Learning and Technology
    “Do we use KISS when we help teachers select an appropriate technology?

    2- Online Teachers Must be Experienced in Using the Web to Instruct « Returning to College
    Many instructors teaching online today are not “Web heads”. They do not possess the “information literacy” skills now required of many undergraduates , despite an assumption that professors are all computer–savvy

    3- if you are teaching online you must always have a plan B!!!!!!

    Posted 04 Sep 2011 at 5:35 pm
  3. avatar Brandon wrote:

    @Eduardo and Todd: Yes to all of the above. And a special yes to #3. Have a backup plan!

    Posted 04 Sep 2011 at 8:37 pm
  4. avatar Sandra wrote:

    I teach IT students who all have laptops and we have our own network. These classes are face to face and I use Moodle as a repositiory.

    The first thing I say to students is that if they cope with 3 years of using the network and their laptops – they deserve their degree! Why do I say this? Let’s take the last couple of weeks as an example:
    Because all my students have laptops and acces to the web, I like to make them find answers themselves from the web or from websites I direct them too.
    The last 2 weeks has seen the network become wither totoally unavialable or only intermitantly available during my classes. My plan had been to direct them to various websites to find information. I had a backup plan of an Excel activity for when things went wrong or didn’t work to plan. The activity had been uploaded to Moodle so the students could easily download the tutorial or related files. What happened – no network access. What did I do – gave them a small group discussion activity to do while I went to see what was what. Then had to pass the required files out via a flash drive. Frustrating for sure. And this happened two classes in a row!
    Morale: even when there is a plan B, make sure there is a plan C and plan D and maybe a flashdrive!! However one positive is that the students can see that they need to plan accordingly too – the Internet isn’t always available and sometimes the brain has to come into play as well

    Posted 04 Sep 2011 at 9:05 pm
  5. avatar Nancy Lewis wrote:

    True. Many people in my company still see online learning as just an internet version of the in-person classroom. We use Adobe Connect to show lessons created in PowerPoint in a very linear way, without much student autonomy. We’re struggling to define just what online learning is. I’d be interested to hear the rest of your “Intro to Logic” story.

    Posted 25 Sep 2011 at 9:12 am

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  1. From (Parenethical) - Looking Hard in the Mirror on 21 Sep 2011 at 5:05 pm

    […] have considered teaching online a challenge ever since I taught my first (problematic) course and prepared to design my second online course.  It was clear to me that approaching an […]

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