Friday, July 31, 2009

On-line teaching suggestions?

First -- and admission -- I'm just recently figuring out our on-line course delivery system. It's weird that it's taken me so long because I'm comfortable with the on-line stuff etc.. but, I also tend not to get into technology until I have to, so having this 'hybrid' course over the summer was the perfect incentive.

So -- I'm new to this -- today I will finish the grades for the on-line course.

BNCC has a really good educational design person who makes us do the work while he coaches us. So -- I don't have any problems getting technical help from him... but, what I do need is some teaching wisdom.

A few questions -- in no particular order...
  • How do you see that "ah ha!!!" moment on-line? When we're with our students, we can see that they understand -- how do you do that on-line?
  • How do you quickly assess discussion posts? We have the usual tool that shows how many they've read and written, but how do you assess quality?
  • What are your best suggestions for writing effective reading quizzes?
  • How involved are you in on-line discussions? Do you just skim them to make sure they're on the right track, or do you get involved in the discussions?
  • How do you keep from making stupid set-up mistakes? Do you have any rituals before a course opens?
  • What's the most clever thing you've done recently?
  • How do you actually deliver the content you'd normally deliver in lecture/discussion? I think this, and the 'ah ha!!' moment are my two main questions. Right now I could stand up and deliver a basic lecture on any part of my ethics and logic courses. I can do a passable job at any part of my intro to philosophy courses and at most of my bioethics course. All this stuff is in my head -- how do I get it out of my head without having to formally type it all...
  • Also -- what are the course caps for your on-line courses?


DocWalk said...

Please share the responses, particularly to the question of course caps. Our institution has really been grappling with that - we're open enrollment and . . . well . . . I'm curious what others are doing and the research we did was not very helpful.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I'd like the responses to be in comments... maybe if there are a lot of them I'll sort them out and make new posts of them.

This Ro(a)mantic Life said...

Don't know if you've checked out Teaching Online? There are some helpful posts there.

Bardiac said...

Hey, PF, these are great questions. I don't have any answers, but great questions.

I really like your one about communicating content. Let's take your basic intro philosophy course, for example. You're probably not saying anything incredibly original, anything that's not been said in similar form in the text. BUT, in class, you can help students understand differently, right?

I mean, the best students can just start reading the text and get it, and come in really read for advanced discussion, but those students are few and far between. The good students read the text, and have some ideas and questions, and really need your help to understand. The less good students need your help even more.

I guess my point is that they're not fully understanding when they read the text, or they wouldn't be in a class. So how do you communicate across a computer screen differently enough from the text to help them understand more fully? And how do you tell when they're understanding or grasping for it?

The only question I have half an answer for is that I've heard that teaching on-line you actually need way smaller class sizes because you're dealing with so much more writing from each student, and not working collectively as much. I'm trying to think whose blog I've read about teaching on-line, but coming up blank.

My capcha is "payers"! Hee, as if!

Sharon Crasnow said...

I've done a lot of online teaching, usually two sections a semester of intro and I've been doing it for about 8 years. I've taught hybrid critical thinking as well. And I am also at a community college. Let me take a stab at your questions.

The aha moment - well, you can sometimes see it in written assignments, but I mostly see it in discussion posts or in individual communication with students. The truth is that it is rarer to "see" it though and this is one of the things that can be wearing about online teaching.

Discussion posts - After a lot of experimentation what I am doing now is assigning posts that ask that the students 1) show that they have done the reading by explaining some aspect of it; 2)relate that reading to some contemporary event or something specific in their lives. They get full credit if they do both of these things and they have actually mostly understood the reading. I am generous with the grading but each post is not worth very much though there is one due every week and so they add up. I like the posts because I can see that they are getting better at understanding how to think philosophically about things around them as the course progresses. I read them fairly quickly but I do read them all and I comment either by posting a reply or individually to most of them. It is time consuming.

Reading quizzes - I'd love to hear suggestions. Mine are not brilliant. I give multiple choice quizzes that they have plenty of time to do and are primarily to encourage them to actually do the reading. I'd say this is maybe the weakest part of the course.

Set-up mistakes - This took me a couple of years to get right and I still make mistakes occasionally. I spend several session clicking though everything before the course starts. Of course, every time the system upgrades or changes you have to learn how to do it all over again. It is tedious but sometimes mindless tasks are comforting.

Delivering the content - I started by actually writing out the lectures that I had given. This was fun actually because they had always been spoken and it was interesting to me to work them into written form and put in picture. I still have those "lessons" as the core of the course. They explain things that I know students are likely to get confused about in the readings (though I supplement these with notes and powerpoints as well to simplify). They also give historical background and connect the different topics in the course to each other. More recently, I have augmented these written lectures with more online content. I use Philosophy Talk (radio show) archives, video, radio links, interviews on Blogging Heads, and so on. Most is supplemental material; some is required.

Course caps - Our caps were 35 until last year. We were urged by administration to raise them to match face-to-face, which is 49 for philosophy courses. The administration had tried to raise them without consultation with faculty several times which we argued violated the contract. They finally dropped the strong arm tactics and resorted to rational discussion and managed to convince us that students were shopping the online courses and were dropping them in droves during the first two weeks of classes and so we had to raise the caps just to have a decent number still in the class by census. We raised caps to 42, though I will usually admit a few more than that. I never end up with more than 30 in the course by the end, usually closer to 25. Online classes, particularly ones with the sort of writing requirements I have, are not for everyone.

The way I do it, online teaching is very time consuming. When it works its great. It can be really frustrating when it doesn't though. Wait - that's the same as face-to-face teaching, isn't it?