Sunday, December 19, 2010

Online or Not to Online

As hard as it is to believe, there are many, many college professors who have had no experience with online courses, and who plan never to have any. I find this stunning, having taught online since 1998. Although I read some of the research on higher ed and online pedagogy, have been to many workshops and conferences, and have even presented at teaching conferences and at League for Innovation on the subject, I find that my own experience is usually corroborated by what others tell me, rather than challenged. So I am going to post on that subject for a while.

First, to teach online or not to. I think the first question to be considered is how supportive one's institution is (or forceful in demanding online course development and teaching). If it's an option and no more "brownie points" are given in regard to tenure or promotion for online teaching as opposed to traditional teaching, I wouldn't do it unless you just have a craving to do so. But it's not going to go away, so don't bet on it being a fad. In this day of cost-cutting, online teaching is one of the best ways to cut costs. At a recent meeting with George Mehaffey of the AACSU, I was told that "experts" now consider online as good or better than traditional for instructional purposes. I have to find out where that information came from, since it might be based on student perceptions of their learning and we all know how questionable that can be. My point is that the forces behind higher ed funding consider online instruction a more than viable option and it's only going to get bigger.

A second consideration is whether your institution rewards you more for research and/or service or for teaching and student contact. If the former two, stay clear of online teaching. If the latter, it might be for you.

A third consideration is how much time you like to spend on a computer and learning new technologies, such as Wimba or learning management systems (Angel, Blackboard) because you are going to be expected to be online a lot and your students will expect you to be much smarter than they about the software, etc.

Fourth, if you think online teaching will be easier and a way to avoid students, don't even consider online teaching. It's very time-consuming, at least the first two semesters. I taught a new hybrid course this semester and had to record myself giving the lectures to PowerPoint for the auditory learners. It took up much more time than I expected because of false starts, phones ringing, and knocks at the door along with creating a verbatim script of my lectures (for the print learners).

Fifth, it's really necessary to think in terms of whole course design. The course should be in place on day one, not as you go. So it should be a course you have already taught many times traditionally, one where all the lectures and assignments and rubrics are ready.

Sixth, your institution should give you training and some kind of compensation. I can say that my college did--I have this great laptop, for example.

Seventh, the old "plug in something from the textbook" is an option nowadays, but it doesn't make everything easy. The textbook package may be very different from what you want to emphasize in the course, the institution's learning outcomes, and the needs of your students.

All these may sound negative, so next time I'll blog on the good stuff of teaching online. There are some.

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