Journey To Online Teaching – Engagement 11/16/2013

I started a second online course on online teaching.  This is offered through PLS 3rd Learning The focus of this class is more of writing a specific course to be presented online. This week in that class we were looking at the modes of online learning.  I have experienced the asynchronous/synchronous and the Self-paced format. I have never taken a synchronous course but have been part of synchronous events and session.  From my experience the major issue with both asynchronous/synchronous and synchronous courses is that you have to be online at the given time, even if there are time zone issues.  I am currently taking an asynchronous/synchronous course where some of the students are in widely different time zones and have to attend the sessions at midnight when it is 7pm for me.  The advantage thought is that you connect with people.  I one of the most important parts of the online course is developing a sense of community and teacher presence in the beginning.  If there is not a strong synchronous component at least at the start this is really hard to do.  It is very likely that someone will drop out of a course if they are missing that sense that there is an instructor working with you.  That is the major disadvantage of the self-paced class.  I found it really hard to be motivated when I know no one was going to look at what I did till the very end.  There was no continual feedback to let me know how I was doing.  Now I think self-paced it fine for short things.  A tutorial on a limited topic is a great way to use self-pace content.  In my opinion as a course it is a bad option.  I am currently coaching my AP CS students through a blended experience.  They are taking a MOOC (Massive open online course) and are finding the best of both worlds.  They can work through the content with many different asynchronous voices, but can also just turn to a classmate in the same course and have a conversation about the content or ask a question.  I have also pulled them all together as a group and went over a particularly difficult topic.  The disadvantage of the hybrid is that “resource” cost of teaching the class in general is higher.  You need the online instructor(s) and the Face-2-Face coach.  If this could be facilitated with one instructor you would solve that but the scheduling of Face-2-Face time could be very difficult.  If it were possible for the students to be all together in the same place at the same time frequently why not just teach Face -2-Face.  The logical argument that follows that given equal choices of Face -2- Face vs. Online which is better.  I don’t know.  It might depend on the content.  However, if Face-2-Face is not possible because of physical location, medical conditions, or just resources I would think asynchronous/synchronous is the best mode of online teaching.

The discuss of mode of online class piggy backs nicely to my other online course ( “Today’s Online Teacher”) this week were were discussing student engagement and the role of the online instructor.  When you’re an online teacher the students see you as online all the time because they have access to the material 24 hours a day.  The thought of responding to students 24hours a day at first is daunting.  But then I began to think about it and often I do that now.  I answer emails, look at student work and respond to them digitally at all hours of the day.  The bigger question is how to handle contact with students in general.  In our district we have a 24 hour rule for emails from parents.  I would think something similar would have to be true.  The idea of digital office hours has been repeated over and over again and making sure students and parents understand those expectations from the beginning is important.  We as instructors also have to make it clear to our students when we expect them to be engaged in the class.

I think it is actually easier for a student to disengage in a face-to-face class then an online class for similar reasons why an online teacher must work to disengage from the students in an online class from time to time.  In the face-to-face mode it is easy to fake it.  A student can show up to class, stare at the teacher, respond a question or two and seem that they are engaged.  However, they could be far from engaged.  In an online class since you don’t have the face-to-face contact one has to engage the course more naturally.  The student is the only one there to answer the questions presented.  There is no “smart kid” in the class to do the heavy lifting for you. So often by the time a student has presented disengaged in  face-to-face class significant interventions need to take place, but in the online class it becomes apparent that a student is disengaged very quickly.

If you want to learn more about my journey follow my story by clicking on one of the tags below (Journey to Online Teaching or JOT)

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