Education: Online Superteachers

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This weekend, my colleague and superteacher BFF Chiara Ojeda and I have tasked ourselves with revamping our entire online class… again.  This time, we are putting a focus on three primary goals: 1) streamlining the lessons on the platform for a more elegant, well-organized, user-friendly feel; 2) separating the lessons into modules including a) content, b) delivery, c) design, and d) putting it all together; and 3) spending the entire course developing one huge project, the persuasive Ignite presentation, as opposed to multiple smaller projects.

While we embark on this weekend-long journey which will include long hours at work on Saturday and Sunday, we received a task from our superiors: document how much time students spend on reading, homework, and assignments versus how much time students spend completing teacher-led lessons and interacting with us, the instructors.  I stumbled across an article that will definitely help Chiara and I revamp the course.  “Online courses need human element to educate” by Douglas Rushkoff offered a variety of suggestions for improving the quality of education in online courses.

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Among Rushkoff’s many astute observations were three primary ideas that resonated with me.  First, he believes, “subjects tend to be conveyed best in what might be considered their native environments. Computers might not be the best place to simulate a live philosophy seminar, but they are terrific places to teach people how to use and program computers” (Source).  I believe that some subjects just cannot be taught as effectively online as in the brick and mortar classroom, and I believe that public speaking is most definitely one of those subjects.  If we are to create a course about presentations to be taught online, the course has to focus on the online presentation specifically.  We cannot expect the same exact course to be taught on campus and online.  I wish our online course could be wholly separate from the campus course… I wish the online course had a separate, online presentation-specific textbook; I wish the online course had its own separate set of expectations and outcomes; and I wish the title could be changed from “Professional Communication and Presentation” to “Online Communication and Presentation.”  We live in an age and an era that embraces the online presentation, and we must learn to speak and to present just as effectively via computer as we do in front of a live audience.

Second, Rushkoff argues that “computers should not require the humans using them to become more robotic” (Source).  I completely agree.  As online teachers, we must remember Garr Reynolds’ advice about “naked” presenting; we must be as natural and authentic as possible to cut through the online medium and to reach our students.  Reading a lesson to students or conducting a GoTo Training or Wimba session using a script just doesn’t cut it.

Rushkoff’s last point was that “education does not happen in isolation” (Source).  As online educators, we can’t just throw a book at a student and expect him or her to learn.  Learning happens when people come together and share ideas.  I wish the online learning platforms available out there could meet this dire need… I haven’t seen an online platform yet that I’ve been happy with, but I’m optimistic!

Do you teach online courses?  What is your biggest challenge as an online superteacher?

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2 thoughts on “Education: Online Superteachers

  1. I have thought a lot about this question over the last 4 years. I have tried various formats of online course – usually as a complement or post-course refresher to my physically present courses.

    I think the existence of the online content has changed the way I run a course in person, more than changed the delivery of knowledge to students via online. One fruit of the process of thinking online/offline delivery was my own manifesto on how I teach (http://conorneill.com/2011/11/18/teaching-manifesto/) which helped me clarify who I am as a teacher.

    My view is that we live in a vastly different world than that of our parents.

    My grandfather in Ireland, if he wanted to search for information – he could travel 3 hours by rail to the city of Dublin and go to the city library – where he might be surrounded by the sum total of 2% of the knowledge of humanity. Maybe he would travel over to London and between London, Oxford and Cambridge – maybe he could reach 15% of the knowledge of humanity.

    Today, with google and internet connection – I am a search away from all that humanity has ever written, every video ever recorded, every sound in digital form. Instant access.

    And on smartphone – instant access to all of humanity’s knowledge everywhere.

    So the challenge of a teacher of today is to teach people when all of knowledge is always available.

    So… if all is available and someone doesn’t use a tool… why?

    Because they don’t believe a) they can b) it matters and c) it is worth doing.

    My role as an offline teacher has moved away from providing tools to building self belief. My role as an online teacher is accelerating access to the best sources of tools, ideas and knowledge.

    A hungry person will find the food they need.

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