I am a rank beginner at teaching online.
Let’s be clear – for those of us who teach mostly face-to-face classes, the situation this spring has not been “online teaching,” but lifeboat education, emergency instruction, or, as my friend Professor Courtney Joseph puts it, the business of salvage-a-semester. True online teaching, like any pedagogical practice, requires planning, patience, training, support, and the time and willingness to learn from mistakes. Those of us who scrambled this spring to put our courses on in the internet had few of these things in place.
We are beginners again, no matter how long we have been teaching. I’ve been an educator for twenty-six years. In those years my pedagogy has shifted and evolved from a teaching practice rooted in unyielding rules, structures, and deadlines to one resting on a foundation of compassion. I have grown and learned from the wisdom offered to me by expert teachers in articles, books, webinars, face-to-face workshops and teaching institutes. I have also learned from my students, who have challenged me to meet them where they’re at and not where I once imagined—green behind my ears—a generic college student should be.
Why would I imagine I would need anything less than this all over again to become successful at teaching online?
Last week I took a three-day workshop on Facilitating Live Online Sessions through the Online Learning Consortium. Expertly led by facilitators Karen Costa and Clea Mahoney, the workshop not only delivered new things to read, think about, and turn into practice, but was designed at every step to model what a good online course looked like. I learned so much. I learned what neuroscience tells us about when and why we pay attention; I learned how to transfer that knowledge into planning interactive, high-impact five minute introductions to my sessions. I learned how to give my students multiple ways to satisfy an assignment, and how to give fulsome feedback in writing, through audio, or in video form. I learned how to use new pieces of software, and thought critically about low-tech and high-tech solutions to pedagogical problems. I learned how to structure a course, and how to build moments for students to practice retrieving knowledge. It was an amazing experience.
It left me thinking – if I had my world rocked by three days of instruction, imagine how much more there is to know!
It is hubris for me to think that I have teaching figured out online because I know how to teach a F2F class. I need expert help in learning the parameters of this new way of delivering instruction. I also need help seeing where and how practices that are so foundational to my F2F pedagogy can be applied online. I learned a handful of these things last week, and now I’ve signed up for The Online Learning Toolkit six-week course this summer to have help planning my fall courses.
We need, as F2F teachers, to acknowledge the breadth and depth of the skill-set our online colleagues have. We don’t yet have it. And until we have it we cannot compare what we’ve been doing so far with what really great online instruction looks like. I love face-to-face teaching and can’t wait to get back to it someday. But simply put, I cannot throw up some Zoom sessions this fall and pretend I’m doing a good job.