Part of my teaching work for the past few years has been developing and teaching online sections of the corequisite first year writing courses offered at EKU. I was interested in learning more about online education and was very excited for the challenge of creating a course for an online population. Students in corequisite classes are already “at risk” — they are placed in these classes due to their ACT scores not meeting university benchmarks in reading, writing, or math. (I only work with the reading/writing students!) These students leave the university at high rates, and I find this heartbreaking. Online students have high rates of attrition as well- so if you combine those two populations, you end up with lots of reasons to try to create a really great learning environment. I took on this challenge mostly because I wanted to be sure that these students had all the opportunity and connections and the support they needed to start their college careers. Going into these classes, I didn’t expect to love online teaching as much as I do.
Much of the story I had heard as a “face to face” (F2F) teacher was that online education was a necessary evil. That the trends of MOOCs and LMS systems worked to fill in a gap, but that whatever educating or learning that was happening in those classes had to be sub par. Because how could you learn anything at a computer, far away from your brilliant instructor and without the meaningful community of fellow students in your classes? There was also much concern about online education working to disrupt the foundations of the liberal arts program. Online courses are managed by awful corporations that create classes of hundreds of students and put hardworking professors out of work. All of this is true. All of these worries are legitimate. But I think it is important to examine the gap that online education works to fill. And to consider the students who desperately need online programs.
Most of us connect to the world through an online format most often. I spend a good chunk of every work day attending to my emails, obsessing over the news, listening to music, checking on my kids at school, and connecting to family members and colleagues at my laptop or from my phone. Tons of virtual ink has been spilled over whether or not this is a good thing, but it is a thing nonetheless. The interwebs aren’t going anywhere. We won’t all wake up one morning and be back to calling people on the phone and only checking email between 9 am and 5pm. That ship has sailed.
In terms of online education, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater. Despite the fact I am checking email for work at 10PM most days, I also get to text my sister. She lives far away and just had a baby. It makes me happy to connect with her everyday. And I get to see my nieces grow up. And she gets to see my sons get bigger. This is the power of online connection. How can we use the good parts? How can we help students navigate the online world? How can we make connections that are strong and meaningful in an online classroom?
These questions were central to my online course design. In my next few posts, I will explore certain elements of the course I have created, and consider how they work.
But I must say that as an online teacher, my online students are superheros. They are parents, partners, full time employees, caretakers, and students all at the same time. I have watched videos that students have posted of themselves doing homework with a toddler jumping on them, I have seen photos of students writing essays while in the hospital with a sick child. I have read posts written by students in airports, on night duty at fire stations, while working security at music festivals, and from early morning offices. These students are so hardworking. They are so overwhelmed. I feel that I owe them a class that stands up to the effort and attention they give it and I have tried hard to do so.