Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Entering the Virtual Classroom

Today is my first day in the virtual classroom, teaching College Composition online. So far, I'm not liking it.

Other professors who have experience teaching online had warned me that a significant portion of the prep work needs to be completed before the semester begins, as opposed to addressing issues all throughout the class. The reason for this is twofold:
1) It's not going to come up in class. Any questions students might have about your writing expectations, how to find information on the site, what the goals are for the class ... these need to be clearly spelled out, in writing, from day one so that students feel comfortable (as much as they can), and like they know what they're getting themselves into. As a professor, I need to try and anticipate students' concerns and address them upfront.

Similarly, I need to provide samples of writing. When I say, "You need to write a comprehensive discussion board post for full credit," what does that even mean?!? As a student, I wouldn't have known how to interpret that. Therefore, since I won't be modeling the behavior during class, I need to demonstrate what I'm looking for before they even start the assignment, so they know what they're working towards.

2) To my mind, it's reasonable to assume that online students are busy people. I think there's a misconception of online students trying to "get away" with less work or less time spent in class. I'm sure that describes some of the online students, but the majority of students I've met who are taking online classes are doing so because they need to fit the classes into their schedules somehow. And between work, family, often second jobs, etc., online is their best option. Many of them say they wish they could be attending class in person, because it's easier to learn and collaborate and it also takes some of the responsibility off their shoulders in terms of remembering assignments and due dates. Showing up to a lecture is a lot easier than figuring out the material for yourself, I think.

So anyway, if you agree with they assumption that online students are busy, then you might also agree with me (and my more experienced contacts) that it's important to give online students longer deadlines, so they can fit in the readings and assignments around everything else. When planning my traditional classes and it went down to the wire (as it usually did), I knew that, at the very least, all I really needed to have is a lesson plan for the first day. Which isn't even a lesson plan; it's going over the syllabus and expectations. Instead, for the online course, I'm trying to have the first two weeks of lectures completed (as narrated PowerPoint presentations, which are taking me forever), as well as the first two weeks of assignments, quizzes and any other activities.

Point being, it's the first day of class and I'm really tired. I've only been getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night for the past week, once I started to realize there was no way I would finish all of this in time. I just barely got up the first lecture (plus a nearly hour-long Intro presentation that I hadn't even thought about before, introducing students to the class and the site). I'm hoping to have Week Two's lesson up by tomorrow, so that I can get on a regular schedule of having the Week 3 lesson posted the first day of Week 2. And now that the class has started, the grading will become a factor, too!

I have been assured that, once the online semester starts and class is moving along, it actually becomes much more manageable. I'm clinging onto this hope, because I definitely need the workload to lighten up a bit. Or else this isn't going to be much of a summer!

7 comments:

Jonathan said...

I'm just sat here wondering about recording a few minutes of lecture as a video... I know a lot of the big colleges have started recording their lectures, and making them available to students...

Amy said...

In an online class, nobody knows you're a dog.

Sorry, couldn't resist. Nice photo.

M. Lubbers said...

Jonathan: I haven't been brave enough to actually create any videos, although I've considered it. It's bad enough to listen to my voice on the narrated PowerPoints. If you were taking classes online, what method of teaching do you think would work for you?

Amy: So true! Beckett is actually teaching the class, not me! You found me out:)

Bren said...

Sounds like a LOT of hard work, M! Surely it WILL pay off in the end though? Doing all this prep work would also mean next time you're teaching this class that you're 80% of the way there already, wouldn't it? Although you'd then have to apply the 80/20 rule I suppose... And anyways, it's 5-6 hours sleep normal? Or is THAT why I wall around like a zombie all the time??? ;)

M. Lubbers said...

Bren: You make a good point. I'm hoping that this will all help in the future. Even if I don't teach the exact same class or I use a different book, I think just having this experience and seeing how it all works will be helpful. That's what I always tell myself when I teach a new class: It will never be this hard again, I swear! And the majority of the time, that's true.

As a parent, I'm guessing you're only half-joking about the 5-6 hours of sleep. It always amazes me, on the rare occasions that I do get enough sleep, how much better my mood and outlook on life are! And how it only takes one night of not-enough sleep to make me revert back to my grumpy self. Hopefully going on vacation next week will get me sorted out!

cat said...

As a former online student, it never added anything to the experience to have video of the prof lecturing. Unless there were some very specific gestures (like an ASL class) or some kind of specific demonstration, there's no point to seeing the person. I mostly just got tired of looking at the guy at the podium ...
I think PPT with voice is a better medium, though you are lovely to look at!

M. Lubbers said...

That's good to know, as a student, you'd prefer the PPTs. I knew that I didn't really want to do the video, but felt guilty because I wondered if it would be better for the students. Now I won't feel guilty about not doing it!:)