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The Unforgiving Classroom

Again with the online instructional design!

Many folks who’ve never taught online think that it’s a cakewalk; just slap up the power points, upload the assignments, and sit in your PJs watching daytime TV until the papers roll in. It does not take long to realize this is not the case. And even those novices who undertake online courses prepared to work are surprised by how much time it takes to complete even small pieces of a course site. A set of instructions that takes you five minutes to deliver to student face to face, takes 45 minutes to write down. Why is this?

I’ve mentioned some of the reasons in previous blog posts: a reduction in the number of avenues from communicating, a lack of temporal continuity, etc. But there’s another reason why the online format is so time consuming. The online classroom is a rather unforgiving environment. You have to be organized and clear on the first try because that’s all there is. No clarifying questions, no puzzled faces to urge you to clarify. And whatever you put up there, stays there for the whole term, in all it’s imperfections. Because I am not present to provide emphasis on the important parts of my course, with vocal tone or time spent on a particular subject, I have to spend more time in the beginning laying those things out. But having to make them explicit really forced me to think about my goals and how each activity fit into those goals.

Also when I put things into text, suddenly I am aware of the weaknesses and bumpy spots in my argument, in a way that I might never be with my lecture presentations . Maybe it’s because I’m used to looking at my writing with a stronger lens. It’s like that experience everyone’s had at some point where it takes you a couple drafts to even figure out what you’re saying. Same thing in this situation; it takes me a few runs at describing an activity before I feel I’ve properly justified it for my students and situated it within the larger context of the course.

And I find myself thinking, when I am preparing to teach online, I wish I had done this for the face to face version. I tend to build more cohesion into online courses, because I am more aware of the need for connecting statements between different units, or providing students with a clear over-arching structure  (such as course goals and learning objectives.)

This process is time consuming, but it ends up saving me time when I’m commenting on student work, answering questions and grading. Because the goals are clear, and success is defined throughout the course, students know what to do when assessment rolls around. If they don’t, it very easy to refer them to the directions. And if there are misunderstandings, or areas students need rehashed I can directly quote something I’ve already written on the site.

So, for all the difficulty upfront, there are a lot of positives to online learning. In your experience, how does online class preparation differ from the face to face process?

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