Learning by Doing

and doing again

July 8, 2013
by annecdeutsch
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The Bar is Set High

I was listening to the interview with John Prusch about his online German class and when he said that it took him 300 hours of development and 15-20 hours a week to teach I was taken aback.  Now that I have the experience of being an online student I can  say that the workload is intense.  I have also been very aware of how much time and work Alex is putting in as our instructor.  With this experience and having listened to some of the instructor interviews I have to admit that the prospect of online teaching is intimidating.  But in higher ed a credit hour is a credit hour, both for students and for instructors.  I wonder if the push toward online will also entail a push to re-examine the credit hour?  I personally don’t think that they are equivalent.  I also wonder what structures are being put in place to support instructors who are taking the leap to online?  I know that SUNY has the OLN and some SUNY schools have local supports, but I wonder if this is the exception or the rule?

On another front, I was interested to hear Beth Harris discuss her online art history course.  She discussed the difficulty of teaching a course that many students didn’t find terribly exciting or relevant.  She also talked about how this made crafting discussion questions particularly difficult.  One strategy she employs is to ask questions that are not necessarily about art history but are asked to get students thinking about higher level concepts that are related to art.  Her example was “what does it mean to be human?”  The reason this struck a chord with me is that many students are either uninterested in research or they think that they are already expert researchers.  Unfortunately, very few of them have the research skills required at the college level.  This interview served as an important reminder to me that it’s my job to make the course both relevant and engaging.  I want to do my best at writing engaging and thought provoking discussion questions.

The bottom line seems to be that the interviews are making me nervous and intimidated!  There really is a high bar to get this right.  So I would say that my fear is my biggest resistance at this point.  I do have the luxury at this time of just playing with all of this because I don’t have anything lined up for this course.  I really do appreciate having this opportunity and am learning so much.  I”m looking forward to the next module.  Is that tomorrow already?

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July 4, 2013
by annecdeutsch
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Online Presence and Trust

When I first started teaching my primary concern was covering material.  I tried my best to follow the advice of a wise colleague – don’t over-plan because it won’t give you leeway to respond to where your students are and where they want to go.  But I can’t say that I was very successful.  Then I began working in an environment that was very teaching and learning focused.  We had weekly meetings that allowed instructors to share what was and wasn’t working in the classroom and provided more formal development sessions during each intersession.  Student centered teaching was the expectation and the norm.  I learned a ton and was able to practice and experiment both in my own classroom and when I taught in other instructors’ classrooms.  I came a long way in my teaching, but was beginning to work on encouraging more peer teaching and learning as my last class came to a close.  I continue to work on this practice during my “one shot” instructional sessions, but have been frustrated not to continue developing my practice in my own classroom.  This class has provided me with an opportunity to jump back in where I left off and to start thinking about how to design a student centered classroom online and how to facilitate learning within that space.

So while the student centered approach isn’t new to me, teaching online is.  I’m most concerned about facilitation and establishing a positive environment in the online classroom where I can both challenge and encourage students.   In a face to face classroom two things are very clear on day one – I have rigorous standards and I’m  invested in student learning and success.  In COI, Social Presence and online learning Pickett discusses the importance of establishing trust in the online classroom.  One thing that has been surprising to me but upon reflection makes sense is that this is about both design and instruction.  The icebreaker module takes on a new significance in this light – as it’s not only the launch of the course but also the launch of the community.  In tandem with the design will be my presence. How do I introduce myself? How do I facilitate the first discussion to make everyone feel welcome and validated? How do I make myself “real” to the students and help make them feel a part of the community?  All of these elements combine to create trust.  Pickett discusses using “generous and genuine” compliments as well as using vernacular and addressing students personally.  I don’t think about being authentic in the face to face classroom, but I think it will actually take some work online.

While rigor can be introduced in any environment, it’s more likely that students will rise to the challenge when they feel trust with the instructor and with their peers.  Pickett raises the possibility that students can challenge each other – as long as it’s done respectfully.  My course material is all about critical inquiry and that should be a thread that runs throughout all aspects of the class.  I just can’t forget that modelling, a theme that runs throughout this course, becomes extremely important in this context.  I think that discussion facilitation will be an exciting challenge.

Somehow I have been interacting less in this module rather than more.  I”m not entirely sure why this is but I am aware, which I suppose is something.  One thing that has been taking a lot of mental energy is starting to think more about my course structure and how all the pieces do, and in some cases don’t, fit together.

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