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In teaching a face-to-face class, even if we’ve never been in a particular classroom before, we know what to expect. There will be desks or tables for students, a chalkboard or whiteboard for presentation, and possibly technologies for demonstration or doing experiments. Image flickr cc f_a_r_e_w_e_l_l
We also know there will be people, students who arrive with different goals and expectations, who communicate in different ways, and who have varying skill levels. We know how to adapt the environment to our pedagogy, moving desks into a circle or placing students in a certain group. We also know we will be communicating with students as individuals and as a group. Students at GMU service learning
Our advantage in a face-to-face classroom is that most of us grew up in classrooms. We’ve seen various physical configurations, different pedagogies, and a wide variety of colleagues. Image flickr cc Steve and Jemma Copley
If the web is our classroom online, we must explore a lot more to understand the environment and become comfortable with it. If we only use the internet for email and Facebook, and the web for shopping and looking things up, we’ve only spent time in one corner of the classroom (the corner with the bean bag chairs and the board games).
It is a mistake to assume that our younger students grew up in this classroom – they too have only spent time in the “fun corner”. The web is a wonderful place to learn, but not many people know how to use it for learning.
If they’ve taken an online class in a learning management system, they have been to another corner of the internet. This corner is closed, however. During class, they went to the one place to learn. When they finished their class, they couldn’t see their work anymore. Many online instructors are only trained to use an LMS, but starting with the system instead of the larger web is backward. The whole web is the real classroom.
Image flickr cc by Redden-McAllister Playing on the web can help us acquire skills such as navigating around a website, engaging in online conversations with others, working with options and settings, creating video and audio, and learning new vocabulary as we play. These skills make us better online instructors.
Image flickr cc by noil’s In this way, the web becomes our space, within which we can do all the things we know how to do: realize the curriculum, use effective teaching practices, bring students together. And that, after all, is what we’re here to do.
On Thursday, the Program for Online Teaching facilitated a workshop we called, depending on where you looked it up, “Where the Hell Do I Start?”, “Start Here!” or “Beginners Workshop”. A one-day, seven-hour experience, we had a full house of 24 (and more on the wait list), almost all of whom rated the workshop “Extremely Useful”. Here’s our formula:
1. A 1-hour online synchronous planning session with the facilitators to come up with the idea (after a grueling “how do I do this?” session in August where attendees clearly wanted their hand held as they clicked a mouse),
Can’t wait for the description of what we did? No need to wait till the movie comes out — here it is.
Goal: Provide novice and beginning online instructors with direction in creating their first online class, and an opportunity to focus on their own needs.
By the end of this workshop, beginning online workshop participants will:
Got approval through professional development
What we did
Coffee and pastries in the courtyard 8:45
9:00-9:30 Classroom: Show and Tell
9:30-11:00 — Classroom: Understanding the Guiding Force of your pedagogy
11:00 Computer Lab: Using Blackboard to set up a course your way
12:20 lunch on the patio 4800 building, dealt with the fact that Pat and Oscars didn’t bring forks (a good lesson in the need for appropriate technologies)
1:00 Classroom: Determining what you need to learn to create what you want
2:00 Computer Lab: Accessing Resources, tools and help
3:00 Classroom: How do we prepare students?
We got immediate feedback via SurveyMonkey, which all but one attendee filled out.
Of attendees, 56% were associate faculty, 44% were full-timers.
Experience: 74% had never taught an online class.
Goals: 87% took the workshop to enhance their teaching skills.
Satisfaction: 87% said the workshop was “Extremely useful” in fulfilling their goals.
Among the things participants found most useful was access to expert teachers, help setting up their course, a thorough introduction to key components of getting started, seeing what others were doing, being introduced to various tools, and “Understanding that these online instructors do not let the technology drive the course”.
Among the things participants wanted was more attention to their individual questions, the avoidance of too much computer detail, and 2 or 3-day workshops.
Of the activities they might consider participating in now that they’d taken the workshop, 83% wanted more workshops, 78% intended to explore online tools independently, 78% were interested in POT’s Online Teaching Certificate, 65% planned to participate in the new automated online Blackboard training, 57% would participate in Bb workshops, 39% intended to discuss online teaching issues in their department, and 9% intended to start their own blog.
We consider that we have both inspired and educated 23 people to become independent, pedagogically-driven online instructors, and couldn’t be happier. Suggestions for ourselves:
This started as a “things I wish I knew” list, but these are the biggies I’ve learned in 12 years of teaching online:
1. Save everything on your own hard drive.
2. Serve yourself.
3. Trying to reduce workload can lead to better creativity.
4. Online teaching is its own discipline, and we need to study it.
5. Knowing HTML will be a boon more times than you can count.
6. Sharing is important.
7. Content isn’t a course.
1. I gotta use Blackboard.
No, you don’t, even if your institution sets you up a Bb or WebCT class and has a policy saying you must use it. Blackboard, or any course management system, is just a shell. There are a zillion features you’ll never use. Or maybe you’re an innovator who’d rather teach with blogs and wikis. Solutions:
2. It takes too much time.
That depends on how you organize, and what you want to do. It is a mistake to assume you must create the entire class before it starts, and have everything visible to students as they enter. Think in terms of it being a regular class, just online instead of in a physical classroom. The same time-savers and time-wasters come into play. Yes, there is a learning curve, so it may feel more like your first year of teaching than your tenth. If you are already web-savvy, this time is negligible. If not, make time first to play on the web.
3. It’s not like real teaching.
It is real teaching in every sense, from preparing class materials, to planning for interaction, grading, and expressing your professorial personality. If you don’t believe that, ask to sit in on an online class someone else is teaching. The trick is to set up a class that demands your online presence, and use every opportunity to create a classroom personality through the way you write and what you create. Some instructors need set times to go in and add to discussion or message students on their progress, so they’re always aware of what’s going on “in class”. Others are on the web anyway and “stop by” daily.
4. The students know more than I do.
If you mean cellphones and Facebook, yes, they just might. Although you could use these technologies to teach, it’s unlikely you’d choose to do so. Students’ superior kills in social interaction technologies do not translate directly into learning online, anymore than being socially popular translates to in-class performance. You know your discipline and you know how to teach more than they know how to learn, in any environment. And anything they know that you want to know, they’ll be delighted to teach you.
5. I don’t know how.
You can learn from others, or just get started. Create a class, planning it just like you would an on-site class. For every element you do in class, look in your course management system or search on the web to figure out how to do it online. Experimentation is key — you can’t break anything. Get technical help when and if you need it. Start small, and build more into your class after you teach it the first time.