I am really enjoying Tony’s 9 Steps! I thought I would copy some of his key comments into a Word doc and respond to them as I read on. Step 1 alone has raised so many thoughts, and I’m realizing I can’t possibly respond to everything I’ve copied! I have been teaching writing online for about 6 semesters and I remain excited and challenged, so I will also enjoy reading Tony’s posts on 21st learning for experienced online instructors, too. For now, these 9 steps are wonderfully affirming and thought-provoking. Here are some tid-bits that struck me:
Tony writes, “online students need to feel that the instructor is ‘present’ online.”
I work hard at this and I just got wonderful feedback from a student who said, “You spoiled me!” and went on to explain that her current online class in the same discipline feels impersonal. She said she doesn’t even know the instructor is there, but she “misses” me. I am certainly amazed by how close a relationship some of my online students feel they have established with me by the end of the semester. At times, it’s closer than I feel.
What worries me, however, are the students who do not realize this is an integral part of their online learning (despite my best efforts to help them “acculturate”) – that establishing a connection with their instructor is a good thing and requires they step up and respond to the invitation to interact.
Many of my recent high school grads come to community college unprepared to engage in the learning environment actively. I love this part of the job – ie, helping them develop an understanding of what it takes to succeed as a learner. And, the online environment really challenges them on this level. The hard part is reaching those who have little experience seeing instructors as mentors, coaches, and people who are in this line of work to cheer them on, support them, and respond to them.
Tony writes, “Or do I see learning as individual development focused around developing in learners skills and the ability to question, analyse and apply information or knowledge? Do I see myself more as a guide or facilitator of learning for students?”
As I am reading this I am thinking about how so many people have said to me , “I can’t imagine teaching writing online.” However, writing teachers are very accustomed to being guides, facilitators, coaches. To me, it feels like a very natural fit for instructors who strive to respond to their writing students genuinely and in a timely manner. The students’ full writing process is all there in full color and it’s very instructive — for them and for me.
Tony writes, “Moving your course online opens up a range of possibilities for teaching that may not be possible in the confines of a scheduled three credit weekly semester of lectures. It may not mean doing everything online, but focusing the campus experience on what can only be done on campus.”
Yes! This is exactly what I’m grappling with. My f2f writing classes feel like such a struggle because I only see the students 2x per week for 1.25 hours each session. The sessions are too short and they are too spread out. In contrast, online students have access to me 24-7. My f2f do as well, but they are not accustomed to taking me up on my offer to correspond outside of class. So, more and more, I am creating online opportunities for my f2f students to work, interact with each other, explore, and think about content throughout the week.
On the other hand, I am hesitant, to be honest, to create due dates or invitations for students to create more artifacts online, especially those require attention outside of our two class sessions per week because I need to limit my own workload. Tony addresses work load later in his posts… Teaching online in an interactive, “very present” way involves exceptionally more time! (That is something some English colleagues who shake their heads at teaching writing online don’t quite seem to understand. The online writing instructors I admire spend soooooo much more time with their students and developing their courses. As Tony says in his later Steps, there needs to be more collaborative sharing perhaps to cut down on this.)