online teaching challenges
As an experienced online educator, I am confident that my students are not only learning but also excelling. Through our classroom activities and interactions, they are simultaneously mastering content and developing higher-order thinking strategies. Yet I am plagued with concerns that this is not enough.
Anyone who teaches online has run into problems within their courses. Some of these problems can be complicated and if not correctly resolved can do major damage to the online instructor’s reputation and opportunity for teaching future courses. This month’s column tackles the worst of these.
Our courses are rolled out to online students with assignments scheduled for each week. Some of these assignments are relatively easy, meaning there will be weeks that are “light” in terms of scheduled assignments, while others will be “killer” weeks because of especially difficult assignments and/or a large number of assignments. While you need to prepare students to do all the assignments, it is especially important that you pre-assist them for those killer weeks. If you don’t do this, their anxiety can markedly increase, their involvement in and enthusiasm for the course can decrease, and you can lose them altogether.
When first visualizing an online mathematics course, I saw a barren, text-only environment where students learned primarily from the textbook and where instructors provided text-based direction, clarification, and assistance. But typing is not teaching and reading is not learning. Students deserve more from online courses than regurgitated textbooks and opportunities to teach themselves. With today’s technology, we can create a rich learning environment.
Teaching any online class is time-consuming and can be a juggling act. The instructor must keep students engaged and motivated, adhere to a variety of deadlines, quickly answer all student emails and postings, react to in-class “emergencies,” stay on top of all school policies, and teach the subject in an easy-to-understand manner—while remaining a patient, upbeat, and constant presence through it all. This is no easy task, and while we each have developed approaches to help us, there is one often underused “tool” that online instructors can employ: the students in one’s course.
Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Harassment: Navigating the Murky Legal Waters of Online Teaching
If you teach online, here’s a simple quiz for you:
- Are you familiar with your college’s intellectual property policy?
- Do you know if you own the class material you have created?
- Do you have permission to use all copyrighted materials you use regularly?
- Do you know how to prevent defamation and harassment issues online?
- Do you have a disability expert on campus that regularly assists in the development of online materials so that you do not violate disability guidelines?
Disruptive students, in any teaching and learning environment, are a challenge to manage, but they can be particularly so online. And it may take longer for an instructor to realize that a student is actually being disruptive online, since online communications can be ambiguous and one always wants to give students the benefit of the doubt.
Teachable moments, those special times when students are most ready and willing to learn, are traditionally considered unplanned opportunities. But should teachable moments be treated like unexpected gifts or can they actually be set in motion with a little advanced anticipation and planning by the instructor?
This time of year is always one of the most difficult times for students to focus on their studies. In the online classroom it can be an especially challenging to keep students engaged, serious, and committed to assignments and deadlines. For while students in the face-to-face classroom know they must be in X classroom on Y days at Z time each week—no matter the month—the casual setup of the online classroom can bust wide open if not addressed during these holiday months.