Pushing Through: An Online Superteacher’s Perspective

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Chiara Ojeda and I teach Professional Communication and Presentation both on campus and online.  We have such a hard time with our online class… I cannot even sum up the issues that come from teaching a written/verbal/visual communication class with a presentation component ONLINE.

Because we’re superteachers, and because we want all students to have a positive experience and to learn and to grow, Chiara and I spent about 6 months collecting student feedback and overhauling the entire online class.  We’ve put so much work into this online class.  We redesigned the structure of the course; created all new lessons and assignments; included the most up-to-date, fresh references in the field; and incorporated faculty and student feedback.  We also incorporated required GoTo Training sessions each week to help students learn and understand concepts and to ask questions and receive answers in a live, interactive environment with their fellow classmates.

I thought we’d made the class 100% foolproof… I thought every single student was going to enjoy him or herself, learn a lot, and – most importantly – pass the class.  With the launch of the new online class, I had such high hopes.  I dreamed that this class would solve all of my online teaching and student learning problems.  Clearly, my expectations were irrational, but, I thought, after all of our hard work, certainly this relaunch of PCP-Online would totally change things in a positive way…

nope

The exact same amount of students are failing the course.  Some students aren’t completing any work at all.  Other students aren’t reading directions (not meeting word counts, not citing sources, etc.).  It appears that the failure rate is exactly the same, and the hard work Chiara and I had done had absolutely no effect on the pass/fail rate of the course.

As an online superteacher, I’ve gone above and beyond to create what I believe is an online experience that is positive, engaging, and learning-centered.  But I can’t force students to embrace learning.  If students don’t want to read their textbook; if they refuse to study lessons; and if they don’t want to spend time carefully working on assignments, I can’t make them.  The online class is still exactly the same as it always has been…

On Tuesday, I was so depressed that I literally could not get out of bed.  I stayed home all day.  My superteacher heart was broken.  What was I doing wrong?  Why couldn’t I be the teacher these online students needed?  Why wasn’t my class resonating with people?  Why couldn’t these students pass?

After my Tuesday of moping, I decided that I needed to get real.  This afternoon, I made up my mind that I have to stop focusing on the negative and instead put my energy into positive things.  When working with online students in the past, 80% of my time has been spent on negative things: nagging John to speak to me and his fellow classmates with respect; tracking down Nancy, now MIA, to find out why she hasn’t been completing her work; explaining the late policy to Susan and that I cannot accept her assignment two weeks after it was due; and calming down Steve who believes I am out to get him and purposefully give him failing grades.  I decided this week that I am going to spend more of my time on positive things.  I can control this constant influx of negativity and my reaction to these “students behaving badly” actions.  Here are the new policies I’ve made up for myself:

1.  I will stop being so dang dramatic about the online class.

I can’t control students’ choices, and I can’t blame myself if I really am trying my hardest.  I don’t think it’s okay for a teacher to stop learning, pushing, changing, and growing.  I do think it’s okay for a teacher to stop to re-evaluate what she’s doing, thinking, and feeling.  In this case, I was so blinded by excitement and optimism that I couldn’t see clearly.  Students will always fail, and I have to accept failure as a part of the learning process.

2.  I will invest more time and energy on my hardworking students.

I have been spending so much time on the students who are failing that I am neglecting the precious time I could be spending on my hardworking, A+ students.  I have been viewing these struggling students as needing my time more than the students soaring through the class.  It’s just not the case!  Each student needs my attention and support, and I need to spend more time engaging with my superstars.

3.  I will stick to my office hours, and I will wait 24-48 hours before responding to certain student emails.

Students take advantage of the fact that I email them back within an hour or two; that I will call them at 9:30 PM to help them with an assignment; or that I work 6-7 days a week every single week.  Sometimes, students don’t read directions and email me instead.  Sometimes, students don’t look on the platform and email me as opposed to looking for the answers themselves.  I’ve realized that when I respond to these crazy emails, students become more dependent on me and less hard-working, less capable of doing things themselves, and less proud of their own abilities.  I am going to implement a 24-48 hour policy on “the answers are on the course homepage” emails.

Though the online class will always be a challenge and probably the bane of my existence, I am committed to pushing through and continuing to be one of the best online superteacher who ever lived!

What challenges do you face as an online educator?  How often do you change your online class?  What do you do to evaluate your performance as an online educator?

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