I have been an online educator for almost 10 years and feelings of isolation and complacency were familiar companions on my teaching journey. Many virtual work environments lacked channels for educators like myself to connect and maintain meaningful conversations and I longed to build a sense of community with my colleagues in the field. The constant dripping of policy changes from the top made for limited self-reflection and minimal opportunities for collaboration. Departmental attempts at transformative shifts in work culture were captured in ephemeral professional development methods that operated on low frequency when it came to encouraging personal growth and knowledge creation.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
We all are familiar with the stereotype of the professional adjunct: a harried and underpaid soul cobbling together a marginal income by racing from campus to campus, teaching a class here and a couple of classes there, using their car as a mobile office, and hoping for the day that someone offers them a “real” tenure-track job on a single campus.
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.
One of the most important responsibilities online instructors face is teaching students how to think critically. Successful achievement of this task requires that instructors provide the right setting and the appropriate activities that will prompt a student on to higher-level thinking. Though this mission is not exclusive to online instruction, the online environment presents some unique challenges and opportunities that distinguish this type of learning environment from traditional face-to-face classroom instruction.
In a recent conversation, an online teaching colleague complained that her school had wrongly listed her as “adjunct instructor,” rather than “adjunct professor,” in its faculty roster. “That term ‘professor’—it means so much more than merely being an instructor,” she complained. Au contraire, I countered: ultimately, titles—and one’s accomplishments—count for little throughout any online course one teaches and never equate to long-term respect.
How do you motivate online learners?
It’s an age-old question that continues to stump online instructors as well as the managers of distance education programs trying to solve the attrition problem that continues to drag down this otherwise thriving segment of higher education.
Larry Ragan, director of faculty development for Penn State World Campus, may have given a new spin to the old expression “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Except, unlike the philosophical musing that’s become immortalized as one of those motivational posters, Ragan’s focus is on improving online learning.
Students with disabilities are drawn to online courses for many of the same reasons as everyone else, but it’s often the anonymity that makes learning
Cognitive engagement is important to student success in any learning environment. However, cognitive engagement takes on more significance in the online learning environment, where students learn in a physically isolated environment and often lack elements that typically engage students in the face-to-face classroom.
What is the best way to train and support a beginning online faculty member? At some colleges, the only option is on site training held on the campus over a day, a weekend, or a period of days during the summer. These on-site workshops, while potentially very effective, commit the faculty members to time, travel, and often inflexible scheduling. However, Berkeley College, with campuses in New York and New Jersey, has designed an online faculty workshop and set of training and support tools to complement its other professional development offerings.