Last summer I began a journey into
On-line learning. I took the very class that you are taking
now. It was revolutionary in my teaching life. Since I am an outgoing and
talkative person face to face, I wondered if it would be possible
to dialogue with other students without really being able to
see them. Could I learn information without the traditional lecture?
plagued me. However, after finishing the course, I was convinced.
On-line learning is the future of education and I wanted to
be a part of that future. The following fall semester
my supervisor, Tracey Smith, suggested that I "shadow" a few of her classes
to see how the our particular subject area "Speech" adapted
to the on-line classroom. I had access to the lectures, assignments,
and discussions, but not the private forums. I felt enlightened
and liberated (and extremely arrogant). I was ready to be an
It couldn't really be that difficult, could it?
I began to facilitate (teach) my first on-line class. Thankfully,
I did not
have to create
the class. Tracey had already done that for me. All I had
to do was facilitate discussions and grade assignments. Here are
a few of
questions that I wish I had asked before I started teaching
Now you know the truth, about one facilitator's experience with her
first on-line class. Did it make me crazy at times? Obviously! Was
it worth it? Absolutely! Even though I've shown you many of my problems,
there were even more benefits. My students were forced to engage
their learning instead of being passive recipients. Unlike the one
or two people who answer questions in a f2f class, everyone had to
in the discussion. However, by far, the most amazing benefit of
on-line learning that I did not anticipate was the level of empathy
and support that
extended to each other. My speech students wrote each other notes
of encouragement before their speeches were due. I had students
like, "I'm sure you'll all do great," "I'll be smiling
at you from the back row to remind you to relax," or even "You
have such an interesting topic, I'm sure you're speech will be great." I
taught an interpersonal and public speaking class where we did a
weekly assignment on-line. In class the students talked to each other,
but never about anything serious or personal. However, on-line, they
bared their hurts and life experiences with each other. One student,
when discussing her self-concept, told everyone how people made her
feel when she was sixteen and pregnant. It was heart wrenching. One
of the other students wrote her back and told her that he was in
high school with her. He remembered seeing her walk around school
thought she shouldn't be there. He wondered why she bothered. Then
he went on to tell her how impressed he has been in her level of
commitment to her child and her education. He even apologized for his
attitude. With a couple of web-enhanced courses and one on-line course
under my belt, I no longer have warm fuzzies about on-line learning.
the truth: it is time consuming, difficult, and worth the effort.
- How many times a day do I really need to log on?
I'm more than certain that Tracey told me the answer to this one and I definitely
should have paid attention. My limited experience has shown me that it
is best to try to log onto the class once in the morning, once at lunch,
and once at night. For a while, when I still had all the warm fuzzy feelings
about the class, I logged on to my class about five or six times a day.
However, the warm fuzzies went away and were replaced by mild annoyance
that the computer was ruling my life. In an act of defiance, I began to
log on once a day (usually in the morning). While this made me feel better
because I was no longer glued to the computer, it created all kinds of
problems with the students.
They posted questions and wanted responses quickly --rightfully so. They
made interesting comments in the discussion. I found that I would have liked
to elaborate on a point, but the discussion had already moved in a different
direction. It really was not worth it to drag the students back. This specific
course required that the class come to campus twice. On one occasion a student
wrote me a note asking for directions to the classroom and posted it around
noon. I figured that since they were coming to campus, they would probably
not discuss a great deal. So I checked it in the morning and did not check
it the rest of the day. The student was lost and late to class as a result.
It is a difficult habit to make, but well worth the effort. Check the class
at least three times a day.
- How long should it take you to grade assignments and
hand them back?
All instructors have different ways that they go about finding time and
grading assignments. In a f2f class it might take one to two class periods
for some people to hand back assignments, while it takes others one to two
weeks. The same can be said for an on-line course. I've found that it is
best to talk to two or three people who have taught on-line before and ask
how long it takes them to get assignments back to the students. Then, use
their knowledge and make a schedule that works for you.
I spent the first two weeks of my on-line class grading each assignment as
it was handed in (once again the crazed warm fuzzies at work). I spent the
next unit not grading anything until the entire unit was finished.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each. When I graded something as soon
as it was handed in, it didn't hang over my head. It was taken care of, recorded,
and forgotten. However, I did spend a few minutes each time trying to re-orient
my self as to what I was looking for in each part and how I had graded the
others in order to be fair and consistent. If I waited until the end of each
unit, I could grade everything at once. This meant that once I had reviewed
the criteria, I could simply become a grading machine. Then I didn't have
to review it again. Unfortunately, though, if I waited until the end of the
unit, I had an enormous amount of material to grade. What might have taken
me ten minutes at lunch and fifteen minutes before bed over the course of
a week, suddenly became a huge block of time that I was attached to the computer
trying to finish all of the grading. Regardless of the schedule or time frame
that you use, you should definitely have something in mind.
- Should I stay silent or should I "talk?"
As I am sure you have discussed (or will discuss) in this class, how do you
comment and still motivate that students to discuss. It didn't look overly
difficult when I took this class. My facilitator, Mike McNett, made interesting
observations and we all jumped on them like a pack of rabid dogs. His comments
did not stop the flow of communication, they enhanced and motivated our
However, most of us will not be facilitating a discussion for graduate level
students who love to learn. Instead, we will have Community College students
or four-year students. What's the difference? When a facilitator makes a
comment to graduate students, they explore what the facilitator has said
and try to apply it to their experiences. When a facilitator makes a comment
to undergraduate students, they respond as if the final authority has spoken.
There must not be anything else to say. It effectively ends the dialogue,
whether it was meant to or not. Once again, I should have asked this question
before I started teaching, instead of half way through the semester. Tracey
had an excellent suggestion: make a comment and follow it up with a question.
Hopefully, this will cause the students to respond to your question and the
discussion will move forward.
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