Monday, April 7, 2014

Online Teaching: Show Up!

This semester I'm coaching some of my colleagues who are going to be teaching online for the first time. I don't know that I qualify as an "expert" in online teaching, but I have some experience in it--I've taught six or seven courses online now--and I'm always up for a new challenge. (It also helps that I'm currently in a doctoral program in Educational Technology...I'm thinking about this stuff a lot lately!)

To help acclimate my colleagues to the realities of teaching and learning online, we have an online course of sorts so they can experience the similarities and differences between the online and face-to-face modes.

This past week, I encouraged my colleagues to read a few pages of 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education by Dr. Lawrence Ragan of Penn State. In particular, we read pp. 4-6, which are a good introduction to what I picture as "good teaching" in an online course.

In the ensuing discussion, one of my colleagues offered this insightful comment:

While a lot of this work is front-loaded (getting the courses management page running, upload all videos and other needed electronic documents), we should not expect that the course will simply run itself from that point on. I liked Dr. Ragan's first point that it is important for online instructors to "show up and teach", which obviously means something different in an online class, but is so important for us all to remember and do as we progress through our classes this summer.  Our presence in an online class needs to be as prominent as it would be in our traditional classrooms.  

I was so glad she noted this! I think this is probably the biggest misconception I've heard about online teaching: once the course is set up, you don't really have to do anything until the assignments start rolling in.

Not. True.

Or at least, that's grossly minimizing the role of the instructor from a "professor" (in the finest sense: one who "professes" a subject) to a mere technician. I don't think we can divorce instruction from curriculum. When we try, we end up with something lifeless and's no wonder so much of online education is given a bad name.

Teaching well online requires just as much thoughtfulness and effort as teaching well in a face-to-face course!
Image by H0fy [CC BY 2.0]

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