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The Art of Teaching Online

Online learners require a higher level of self-discipline to succeed, and instructors must be more involved in their learners’ experience to ensure student success. Photo by Rana Ossama.

It’s important to be cognizant of the skills classroom instructors need to know to get ahead online. It’s a multi-faceted topic as I see it. What do we need to know to make the switch from face to face to online classes? What (or who) do we need to know to snag the most online classes possible? Or what do we need to know to create the best learning environment for our online students, and how do we remain sane when trying to teach with them? All very good questions, and I’d like to answer all of them, but I think the third is the most interesting and useful to a prospective online teacher (as well as a seasoned one), so I’d like to direct my comments towards that question.

Online teaching can be one of the most rewarding and most frustrating experiences an instructor will ever have. It’s rewarding because it’s possible to see the students’ thoughts flower before your eyes. Each forum post shows an increasingly in depth examination of the material presented as the student grows more comfortable with both the subject matter as well as the online experience. When a student makes progress, there is a feeling of, wow, this course design and presentation of information really worked! I am making a difference. On the other hand, there is the deflated feeling when a student really fails to adapt to the online environment.

One can say, “Well, online classes are not for everyone,” or “He didn’t try. I could tell he didn’t read half the required material,” but it’s hard not to look at it like it’s not my fault as the instructor. So what really makes some students succeed and some fail?

Online classes require a special kind of discipline that face to face classes do not. A student must first of all realize that the instructor is not going to pop up in his or her bedroom like a genie ready to teach at the first command when he/she opens the course platform. The student has to be prepared to teach him/herself, ready to put in the hours required, and able to face the frustration when an instantaneous response to a question is not forthcoming. How does an instructor impart this fact to the student? Personally, I tell them just that in the beginning of the class in an introductory letter. Does it help? Maybe. There are still those students who believe that an online class is an easy A. They are really shocked to find out that it isn’t!

Can we as instructors help turn this around? That’s hard to say. I teach English Composition, and an integral part of my classes is peer review. Conducting peer review on line is one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had as a teacher. There are students who drop out without filling paperwork or sending their partners papers to review. There are students who stay in the class but don’t send their partners papers to review. There are students who send their partners papers to review two days after the deadline. It’s a nightmare. Rather to accept this as a failure, I have tried different requirements and penalties. Sometimes they work. Often they don’t. I have lately begun calling these “delinquent” students on the phone to find out what the problem is. I have to say, they are shocked and start to fall in line after hearing my lovely voice. Is this online teaching? For me, it is.

So what does it take to be a success at online teaching? Anything you are brave enough to try.

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