There are two common assumptions about teaching online that can sink even the most well-meaning neophyte. One is that “teaching is teaching” regardless of whether it’s face-to-face or online and there’s no reason to deviate from the proven principles that work so well in the traditional classroom. The second assumption is that teaching online is all about the technology, and if you design your course properly, it pretty much runs itself.
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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.
We want our students to learn what we have to teach them. We want them to retain it. In the best case, we want them to enjoy the work, assimilate the driving principles, and look forward to each opportunity to make their work better. We diligently gear up and learn how to use slick software that allows students easy access to a wide variety of materials.
In “Social Dynamics of Online Learning: Pedagogical Imperatives and Practical Applications” the authors write that “Failure to address the social and relational dynamics within online courses may result in greater feelings of isolation among the distance learners, reduced levels of student satisfaction, peer academic performance, and ultimately increased attrition. … More often than not, most students wait for the professor to ‘do’ something that magically knits or binds them with others in meaningful ways.”
Here are a few tips to ensure your students have a positive online learning experience.
Personal introductions. By using the personal introductions of students, an instructor can get to know his/her students better, thus allowing interaction with individual students in a more personal manner. When students see that the instructor is reaching out to them on a personal basis, it helps establish a rapport and put the student at ease.
Several years ago, a colleague suggested that having students lead discussions in the online classroom would be a good idea. I agreed and searched the literature for research on this topic but found nothing. No one at that point had been looking at having students moderate, or they hadn’t written about it. I still thought it was a good idea and decided to pursue this line of research by having my students moderate and follow up with an end-of-course student questionnaire.
A survey of senior campus officials responsible for managing online and distance education programs revealed some interesting findings, including almost half of the participants not knowing whether their program is profitable.
Social presence, “the degree to which a medium is perceived as representing the presence of communication participants,” is an important factor in students’ learning and satisfaction. With online learning reaching across cultures, Judy Teng, educational technologist at the College of Saint Rose, studied how ethnicity affects student perceptions of social presence.
I have always enjoyed teaching in the classroom environment. There is something special about watching a student’s eyes light up as a new concept changes perceptions. When I first taught in the online environment, I wondered how I would communicate with students without seeing them in person. Would they get my assignments? Would they understand the requirements? Could they produce the level of work I expected? Could we overcome the potential miscommunications of the written word?
Online instruction invariably requires more time for logistics than does face-to-face instruction due to interaction needs, extraneous cognitive load (mental effort needed to attend to non-content-related course elements), and poor self regulation by students.