Monday, September 9, 2013

Teaching Online (Part IX) - Knock, Knock, who's there?

     Picture the opening scene of a Western with Tumbleweeds blowing down the main street, creaking saloon doors rocking in the wind, and not a soul in sight. Certainly not an inviting place to be, in fact the opposite. You find yourself uncomfortably nervous, tense, perhaps even scarred and wondering who is going to get shot and when? Now compare that to any film that opens in New York City, the hustle, the bustle, the constant activity. Things are happening, work is going on all around at all hours, buckle up for a fast paced engaging ride. As the instructor you will create the scene for your course...which one will it be?

     As mentioned in other posts, your presence is important to the overall success of your course. Online courses in 2013 are not the average online course of 2000, they are not even the online course of 2007, 2009, or least they shouldn't be. Technology is progressing, options are multiplying, and the consumer demand for online flexibility only highlights the importance of offering high quality. Higher Education is taking note, and all across the landscape as Online Programs, Degrees, and Courses are gaining popularity, they are also gaining credibility.

     The increased demand of online learning today is mainly attributed to flexibility. Contrary to those who still think the demand is because of the past perception "online is easier". Though some would not say it out loud, many used to think online courses for both students and professors were viewed as the easy, or may I even say, lazy substitute for traditional learning. Those that would still argue this have not realized how online learning has (should be) changed. Is there still some of that out there, sure, but online students more and more are working professionals. Those that do not mind, in fact they expect, a rigorous course, but need the flexibility online learning provides. As an instructor you should not be teaching an online course if you think online means less work and more play. It does mean more flexibility in your schedule, but one could easily argue that to design and effectively teach an online course it takes as much or more time than a traditional one. For those work-a-holic professors (and you know who you are) it is important to set boundaries (in the form of online office hours) in order not to get burnt out.

     The fact is, that although it is true that online courses are work intensive up front a continued instructor presence throughout the life of the course is vital. When the students Knock, someone must be there. For those that neglect this important fact your course will go down down down into a burning ring of fire. As mentioned above, setting online office hours can really help you to not over stress/work, but also as a reminder to continue to work. Updates in your news/bulletin board area, feedback on student work, comments on the discussion board, all show your students that you have not abandoned them. Keep up with these and exceed whatever expectations students may have for instructor involvement. Students appreciate you being involved as much or more than you appreciate them being involved. Remember that teaching is caring.

     Next blog post we will talk about how to maintain a distinctly Christian influence online. An important challenge for faith based institutions, but one that can strengthen the overall quality of online course offerings.