Thursday, February 5, 2015

Online Teaching: A New Beginning

This post was first shared at CI Teaching & Learning Innovations blog.

I started teaching online in 2003 and as I grew into the role of an online instructor a lot of things began to change for me.  My teaching (both online and face-to-face) became more active, placing my students at the center, and my views about how people learn also began to change. Last spring, I accepted a position at CI that provides me with the opportunity to support faculty with their own journeys into online teaching.

Shortly after I started at CI, I facilitated our first Online Teaching Preparation Program, which has been completed by 17 in the first two offerings. The fully online classes that make up the program place faculty in the role of an online learner, providing an authentic experience to relate to the array of challenges and unique opportunities that their own students will encounter.  Additionally, faculty create and share reflections about their journey at different points in the program.  I enjoy reading these reflections immensely.

Stacey Anderson, a full-time Lecturer in English and First Year Composition Coordinator, shared a poignant reflection that, to me, captures so much of the transformative aspects that can be intertwined with “becoming” an online instructor.  Stacey has given me permission to share her reflections below. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

"A New Beginning," by Stacey Anderson


“In the summer of 2012, my family and I made the first of what will be many visits to the Cook Islands. The population of the entire country is about 11,000 residents, comprised primarily of Maori natives and New Zealand transplants. It is a rustic and amazing place to lose and/or find yourself.
On the tiny island of Aitutaki (population 2000), our favorite spot to eat, shop and hang out was the Koru Café, owned by an energetic, adventurous couple who left their familiar lives in New Zealand to return to the culture of their ancestors.
The koru symbol was everywhere in the café, including the stylish business card that was attached to every purchase, and I asked the owner, Trina, what it meant. She said it symbolized “a new beginning,” which signified what starting up a new business in a small island country meant for her and her family. In that moment, I visualized everything they had risked, what they had left behind, and how they had to adapt, and would continue to do so, to embrace this new life – a life that discarded the creature comforts to which they had become accustomed but offered a whole new world of simpler pleasures, as well as challenges. I purchased the necklace pictured above for myself and the women in my family as a remembrance of what I had learned and experienced.
Throughout our trip last year, and in the time since, the koru has been a powerful symbol for me. The symbol itself is based on the “fiddleneck” frond of a fern before it has unfurled. A bit of internet research reveals that that its circular, cyclical shape “conveys the idea of perpetual movement” as well as “a return to the point of origin” – in other words, “a metaphor for the way in which life both changes and stays the same” (“Mountain Jade”).
The koru provides an apt metaphor of my transition into online teaching, exemplifying Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s call for us to “be true to” who we are “while embracing the full potential of” the “online learning landscape.” This is a process of continuous unfurling, reaching forward, growing, while always hearkening back to where I began, and what matters to me as an educator in any learning environment.
Teaching online is truly a “new beginning,” for me personally as well as on a larger scale. The transformation that these three classes have precipitated for me has been more profound than I ever would have anticipated. Like the owners of the Koru Café, I am embracing a new adventure that is filled with risks but also great rewards. Hard work lies ahead. But it is also meaningful work, work that is helping unfurl potential I didn’t know I had. I am so hopeful and optimistic that I can help my online students experience a similar transformation and embrace a “new beginning.”
I am immensely grateful to everyone who has participated in this extraordinary journey with me. This process has been unexpectedly cathartic, inspiring me to take risks in ways I never could have in a less trusting, supportive environment. I hope we can all continue to turn to one another as we strive to put what we learned into practice. I would happily share a cup of tea or glass of wine with any of you – either here stateside, or at the Koru Café. In the meanwhile, as they say in Maori, Kia Orana (‘be well’)!”
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