Published on 2012/08/20
Instructors and professors are stepping down from the podium to teach a new group of students with different needs and goals. However, this requires educators to redefine some approaches to teaching. Photo by Xy.

I confess; I did not love the process of moving my courses online. So, when I was approached about writing this piece I had very mixed feelings. Despite having taken a large number of online classes as a graduate student, and knowing that online offerings were becoming part of the new normal, I still wasn’t thrilled to lose the weekly face-to-face interaction with my students. I loved meeting my students in person, making eye contact when I wanted to make a point, and feeling like I was really connecting with students during each course. Moving to an online model, at least in the community college environment, is a bitter-sweet experience for both instructors and students.

Online classes offer a new flexibility for time crunched students and instructors, especially adjuncts who need to hold down a day job in order to survive.  The virtual classroom also provides a much needed opportunity for students and instructors to increase their digital literacy which is a vital proficiency in today’s global market.  At the same time delivering content and evaluating student progress online comes with a whole range of issues like increasing concerns over plagiarism, exposing the poor time management skills of all parties, and lessening engagement in the education process. So, what’s an instructor who is asked to transition to online delivery to do?

Do allow plenty of time to learn the software (online platform) and to review your materials and convert your course into an online experience. It can take many hours to upload and test your class materials, and I do mean test. I found that adding links to online videos, blogs by experts, and graphics helped to make up for missing out on lectures.

Don’t assume that your students all know online protocol. You will need to post your email address and some guidelines for how and why students should contact you, when you will check emails and reasonable response time expectations as well as proper etiquette for posting in online classroom discussions. I spend a lot of time with students explaining how to write an email, what an instructor means by “substantive reply” and how to respond to a classmate in a way that encourages more discussion.

Do ask for samples of writing early in the course. Consider stacking the front of your course with some short exercises that require students submit written responses that are not graded. Getting a feel for your students’ writing style early in the course can help you later when reviewing and grading longer, higher stakes assignments where plagiarism could be a concern. An added bonus of this technique is students have a few tasks that allow them to learn and experiment with the online platform without worrying about grades.

Don’t abandon hope of spontaneity. Just because you need to build and post your entire course early doesn’t mean that you can’t duplicate the experience of active and engaging classroom discussions.  You, as the instructor, must participate in discussions. I’ve also found that the use of unexpected “bonus” material or extra credit units (via discussions or announcement areas) can really perk up an online group of students who seem to be losing interest.

Finally, remember that the same things that increase student success in online classes (internal motivation, time management skills, solid research, and good writing skills) also make for better online instruction.  When your department head or dean approaches you with the announcement that your course is going online, you can look at this as a professional development   opportunity. Your other choice is being left out and left behind.  I challenge this community to help each other out—right here. Post your own dos and don’ts for getting up to speed with online delivery. Ask questions and post your concerns and let instructors who have successfully made the switch help you out.

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