Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Online Students Speak: Questioning the Reason for 'In-Person' Classes?

As I've noted frequently in earlier blog posts, I regularly seek feedback from my students. It is now December and I am pouring through my course evaluations from my Fall semester online classes. There is much I intend to share with you in the coming weeks but, today, I am starting with one specific student comment that, to me, is compelling and captures many of the provocative thoughts I've had myself about the transformation of my own teaching over the past three years as I've integrated social networking, podcasts and other forms of multimedia into the design of my online classes.

This comment was sent to me through an anonymous survey in response to an open ended question at the end of a survey. The question read, "Is there anything else you'd like to share with me about this online class?"

I took several online classes this semester. This was BY FAR the most interesting and was my favorite. I think elements of this class should serve as a model for online classes in general. My other instructors were generally disengaged and remained aloof. You obviously spent a lot of time in preparation for this class and I really appreciated that and benefited tremendously from the effort. You seemed like a real person (instead of an email address). I've talked to instructors (who do not teach online classes) who think online classes undermine the learning experience. But this class did the opposite: the lectures, the video, audio, social interaction, voice thread lectures enhanced the learning experience. . . .

Michelle, I depend quite a bit on the online learning experience (mostly for convenience) and I hope that you will convert many of your peers and convince them of the potential of online learning if they put in the time as you have. One of my "in-person" instructors once admitted to me that some of her peers see online teaching as "easy money." I guess because they presume they don't have to do much (which has been the case in a couple of my classes). If you are ever sitting around the faculty meetings and some of your peers question the efficacy of online learning (which I'm, discovering many colleges and universities do), I hope you advocate passionately for your case. I must sound like I'm piling it on but, in truth, this class made me question the reason (in some not all cases) for "in-person" classes at all.

I'm sure online classes are not for everyone but technology will quickly increase the immediacy and interactivity of this type of learning even more so in the future. I see no reason why (for many classes, especially lecture-hall style ones) instructors can't record lectures and do what you have with your supplemental podcasts, voicethreads, and discussion boards. If they are worried about the integrity of testing, they can devise hybrid classes and designate testing centers (either on campus or contracted to a private source). Students can watch lectures online and attend discussion groups in person if people believe that the online experience is too isolated.

I've rambled on but it's because I have a vested interest in seeing more of these types of classes appear on the scene in the future. Good luck.

I feel energized and refueled by this comment. First, it reaffirms the criticality of an instructor's pervasive presence throughout an online class. A presence that must be energetic and supportive of a student's learning. Secondly, I feel compelled to share more student voices in an effort to relay the student concerns, enthusiasm and innovative ideas about online learning in higher ed.

The surveys and evaluations I deploy in my online classes are seen by me and only me. That has served me well. Over the past several years, I have deeply transformed my online classes from flat to interactive and socially engaging based upon my students' feedback. In 2007, I received the Sloan-C Award for Excellence in Online Teaching. This was an amazing honor for me.

However, I now feel compelled to do more. Therefore, I will begin to utilize my own blog as a vehicle for conveying my students' voices because, afterall, we are educators and educators are here to serve the needs of our students. So, it's time we listen to them instead of listening to our own biases and following our own traditions. Feedback, thoughts, questions and debates are always welcome.

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