I’m taking an online language course with an institution that’s not my own this semester, and it’s teaching me an enormous amount. The learning isn’t yet about the language – that will come in time – but about what it’s like to “do college,” especially as a new student.
I was entirely out of my element when it came to seeking admission. First, I couldn’t find the portal for non-degree-seeking students (hint: scroll all the way down the webpage, Cate), and I wasn’t expecting to have to pay for things quite so soon: $35 for admission; $126 for orientation. I expected admission to be instantaneous, and it wasn’t – there were some entirely reasonable waiting periods while various things were processed at the university. And I was wholly unprepared for what an online course would involve.
I logged on to begin my course last night, and discovered I couldn’t access my class materials or zoom link until I’d completed an online orientation to the course management software (including quizzes!). Completing everything took forty-five minutes, which was extremely unfortunate, since I’d only logged on half-an-hour before my class was due to begin. Once I passed the final quiz (100%, yay me!) I had to wait for the system to register that I’d passed that final quiz, and only then could I join my class (already in progress). When I joined, it was clear that the students had already learned some basic words, and they were about to introduce little stick figure friends to each other. I lost my mind with nerves (actual thought track: I DON’T KNOW ANY WORDS) and backed out of zoom in a panic. I then promptly sat on my couch and cried.
This was, undoubtedly, an overreaction, but my overwhelming sense of “I don’t know anything, I don’t even understand why I’m seeing my instructor’s screen on zoom, I’m out of my depth, what am I thinking?” obliterated my more rational thoughts.
Today I’m left thinking – how often must this be true for our students? How many times I have assumed that something is self-explanatory when explanation would help? How often have I taken for granted that my students know where the bookstore is, or how to buy an e-book online? How many assignments have I written that were hard to parse? How many times have I counted on my students being digitally dexterous when perhaps they were all at sea?
I wrote my professor this morning and explained that I panicked. I then came to work wondering how they would reply, fearing that my earnest and heartfelt honesty would be met with a brusque email about me being a college student who should measure up, try hard, and be responsible. I know I’ve sent such emails in the past. When it arrived, the email I got back was warm, incredibly kind, and very reassuring. It was a model response to an anxious student, and I learned from that, too.
I’m humbled by the education I still need, and more deeply aware than ever that my pedagogy should take nothing for granted. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do better – at both my language studies, and at being the kind of teacher I want to be.
This is going to be one wild ride.