I appreciate the list from Ken Bain’s book. Given my experience teaching community college writing online in a really diverse community here in Hawai’i, I think he hit the nail on the head. The Canadian h.s. survey, however, included some suggestions and teaching practices that worry me a bit. I understand the survey focused on adolescents who may need a different online experience than adults, but I question suggestions like — ie., be willing to allow as many resubmissions of work as students need and engage socially (to the extent where you may become a counselor, it seems to imply). This goes hand-in-hand with some comments in this MOOC that students need to know we’re available 24-7 online. Hmmm…
As a recovering workaholic (ha!), I’ve been talking lately with another dedicated writing teacher about how to make our jobs sustainable. We’ve also been talking about how to make students more accountable for problem-solving, using the resources we provide (“Did you read the assigned sample essays and analyze them as we asked?”), and not blaming the instructor as a first reaction. Comments made in this MOOC in the webinars and readings acknowledge that teaching online requires an enormous amount of time and personal investment. That’s both wonderful and challenging. But, I do think we need to train students to understand there is a balance… We are there to support them in a genuine, connected manner, but we also have to find ways to make this work sustainable. For example, for me, this semester, it means I cannot read every draft of every paper my students write and allow repeated graded revisions. There are too many of them, too few hours in a day, week, semester.
I am reminded of readings I’ve encountered about the “milleniums” — this generation of students who have been described as highly distracted, multi-taskers who want things to be spoon-fed (ideally through multi-media), etc. They want what they want –now! I don‘t agree with a lot of the negative descriptions, but the conversations that arise out of trying to define this generations’ qualities do make me question: How far do online instructors work within a culture of “give me what I need now”? Can instructors really keep up and provide these students with the “quick hits” (quick responses, immediate feedback) that social media, etc., sets as the norm? Just thinking…
Last thought: In the community college setting where adjunct faculty are underpaid and where full-time faculty are saddled with committee work, etc., how do instructors commit to the level of involvement needed for a successful online class? More and more, we’re asked to think about “engagement” as an answer to curing the horribly low graduation rates and swelling numbers of developmental students. Cracking the code to “engagement” is hugely important, and I do agree that small efforts can have great benefits. Ex: I’m try to show my personality, add humor, motivate with cool quotes and images, respond immediately to questions/concerns, grade work quickly, post announcements and reminders, use voice memos, pick up the phone to call struggling students, and generally cheer on students daily. That’s all do-able. And, I love it actually. I really do. Compared to the 1.5 hours/2x/week that I get with my f2f students, I do enjoy the on-going rapport with my online students tremendously.
But, over- individualizing instruction or extending ourselves too far in an effort to engage students who come to online education without really understanding their role or without the necessary skills can drown us and make us feel like we’re bending over backwards in a setting that doesn’t necessarily support us. (Examples: A college allowing students to register and begin an online class 3 weeks into the semester. Or, a student who wants feedback on every draft every step of the way and thinks nothing of messaging me 3-4 times a day. ) That’s a recipe for burnout.
To an extent, the learners need to find it in themselves to show and do the work and take charge of their educational experience. So, that brings me back to Ken Bain’s last point: “Understand your students’ ambitions.” I’d add “Help your students define their own ambitions and help them seek the many resources that can assist them (not just you).
In What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain (2004) discusses some of the major ways that teachers can connect with students through the practices of effective teaching. Below is a list of suggestions to help you connect with your students.
- Spend time online with students to nurture their learning.
- Invest in your students by not fostering a feeling of power over them.
- Have the attitude that, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”
- Create an online environment where everyone can contribute and each contribution is unique.
- Foster the feeling that teachers are fellow students and human beings struggling with mysteries of the universe.
- Provide task praise (you did that well) and avoid person praise (you are so smart.)
- Give students as much control as possible over their learning.
- Provide lots of non-judgmental feedback.
- Encourage collaboration and cooperation.
- Provide many opportunities to revise and improve work.
- Avoid language of demands and promises.
- Make a promise to your students that you will try to help each one achieve as much as possible.
- Understand your students’ ambitions.