Lost in translation

We’re all told now that creating an online class isn’t just translating a face-to-face class, but what if the f2f class was really good?

You scare people when you say, “you can’t just put your on-site class online – you have to change your whole pedagogy, be a facilitator, do things differently, be innovative”. The implication is that if you “just” translate your classroom pedagogy to online, you will create a lousy class.

That’s not necessarily true. Some examples:

In the classroom, a teacher uses constructivist methods, giving students evidence and having groups create case studies for presentation. For her online class, she uses the same method, using online groups and shared presentations.

In the classroom, a teacher is a great lecturer. For his online class, he records his lectures, making sure his presentation is dynamic, and posts those for the class.

In the classroom, a teacher provides lots of opportunities for guided discussion. In her online class, she creates both asynchronous forums with well-designed, provocative topics, and some scheduled synchronous activities in which students can talk in real time.

In the classroom, a teacher creates a student-directed learning environment, where student interests and agency are paramount. In her online class, she does the same in an open, online environment.

In the classroom, a teacher Skypes in guest speakers, and has students interact with others around the world. In his online class, he does the same.

When people say “you can’t just translate your on-site class into an online class”, what they mean is that if your class is only non-interactive factual lecture, a pedantic printed textbook, and set exams, bad things will happen. The instructor could just write out their lectures, make assignments, and create tests. S/he will focus  more on “putting things up” on the LMS in their current form, the content will be dull, and the students may fail to engage.

So there is a risk and an opportunity here. Encourage teachers with dull pedagogies to go online, and it’s possible, but unlikely, that anything good will occur. Encourage teachers who are cognitive of their own approach, who think about their teaching, and who already design experiences that best combine their own strengths with the needs of the students, and good things will happen.

Then instead of telling instructors their pedagogy must change, we can  focus on showing them how  to achieve a good translation of the work they already do.

4 comments to Lost in translation

  • I’ve definitely seen the phenomenon you describe here, Lisa, where the static classroom class stays static online. At the same time, it really is possible for pedagogy to change when going online, perhaps as a result of personality and also based on the nature of the class itself. I don’t think I ever would have evolved into a writing teacher in the classroom, but online that has really been possible as the online environment really allows – well, requires actually – for the students to become writers. I never really figured out how to encounter my students-as-writers in a classroom (although, admittedly, when I was teaching in the classroom, there was not yet wifi, device ubiquity, etc., since the last time I taught in a classroom was 2001). But still, online is just different at least for a writing class. An analogy might be that it is the difference between a swimming class where you sit by the side of the pool and talk about swimming (i.e. the classroom, talking about writing), but online… we are all swimming in the virtual pool / writing in the virtual space. For me, it’s been a day-and-night difference in terms of what is possible. I’m sure I could have figured out how to be a good teacher in the classroom, but I don’t think I would have turned into a writing teacher if the classroom is where I had stayed.

  • Hi Laura! I completely understand. My pedagogy has also shifted as a result of the web, and contact with different tools and methods is inspiring and gives us a chance to do wonderful things. But for beginners, pointing out that this will be a wonderful side effect doesn’t seem helpful. I’m not sure a beginner would even understand until s/he’d experienced it.

  • Yep, that definitely makes sense. I’m also guessing that the definition of a “beginner” in terms of teaching online would take two different shapes: someone who is a beginner at teaching online but who has a personal online presence already (that was my case) v. someone who is both a beginner at teaching online and who also does not have a developed online presence of their own. I am guessing that that double-beginner (super-beginner? neo-beginner?) is the person who is going to need the scaffolding provided by their classroom experience more than the person who has their own personal online experience (as a learner, explorer, sharer, whatever) to build on. There’s been a fantastic back-and-forth for me in terms of my personal learning network and the learning network that is my classes, so that I learn things from one and apply it to the other, and vice versa, all the time. Without that well-developed, already existing online learning world, I think I would have had a much harder time starting to teach online.

    • At our place, we find very few novices in online teaching who have any broad online presence – it’s often just shopping and Facebook. They tend to be overwhelmed by the very idea of PLNs as something else they just gotta learn about when all they’re trying to do is get a class up and running and have it make sense. As for me, I started teaching online in 1998, when the idea of “online presence” was in its infancy.