I’ve been teaching online since 2001. I’ve always felt a certain sense of excitement when discussing philosophies, pedagogy, or instructional strategies with others and creating active, energetic online classrooms. So it was disheartening when I “hit a wall” and things started to feel really monotonous.
The 2009 Sloan Survey of Online Learning reveals that online enrollments rose by nearly 17 percent from the previous year. The survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities nationwide finds approximately 4.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2008, the most recent term for which figures are available.
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.
Regardless of the size of course enrollments, the key to a successful teaching and learning experience for both the learner and instructor is communication. Clearly defining and communicating the expectations will address the uncertainly of what role and responsibility is required of each participant.
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.
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.
Utter the words “group project” and you’re likely to hear at least a few groans from your students. The reasons for their dislike of group work are many, but logistical difficulties of getting everyone together and lazy group members who don’t pull their own weight are two of the biggest complaints.
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.
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.