Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On-line teaching -- 0-55 in two semesters...

I'll confess, I haven't always used our on-line course management software.

I had a bunch of excuses -- ranging from the program was unreliable to cancer... and, of all of them only the cancer one was any good.

Last summer I taught a hybrid course --- out of necessity. We had a schedule challenge and the way to resolve it was to do one hour per week on-line. That seemed to be manageable -- and if things went tragically wrong, I could manage it face to face with them.

That first class was very tolerant of my mistakes. When I'd screw something up in a quiz, they'd tell me... when something didn't happen as I told them it would, they'd send me an e-mail. I expressed gratitude at their willingness to be my 'experimental class' -- and they taught me a thing or two about how the system operates on their end.

This semester the classes are face to face, but all of the exams for Intro and Ethics are on-line. Logic had one week of on-line work -- but that was so that the students who were really behind could catch up.

Next semester I have a hybrid class -- because I want to reduce class size for some of the discussions -- so, I'll see all 50 ethics students on Monday, 25 of them on Wednesday and 25 on Friday. They'll do small-group (for us..) discussions on one topic and have another writing prompt in the discussion section of the course management software.

Writing the syllabus for this one was tricky -- oddly enough, the weeks when there is no class on Monday are ok -- because both halves of the class see me equal amounts of time. The tricky part was when there was no class on a Wednesday or Friday. I decided that the discussions that week would be 100% on-line... and there was often another activity, like watching a movie on their own etc. Not a perfect solution, but a fair one.

They're also doing presentations in that class -- and they're doing them to their discussion group, not to the whole group. I decided that was the way to go for practical reasons -- assuming a bit of attrition, we could do four groups of three in pecha kucha style every class meeting. Each presentation is 10 minutes long, with Q & A -- and the focus of the presentation would be a question I decided -- so there would be little overlap.

I've been thinking about teaching philosophy 100% on-line -- and I just don't think it's a discipline that works in an on-line environment -- at least not for students of our level, doing the kind of work we expect from them. One of our department's primary goals is to assign original source materials in philosophy -- that means that we can't assume they fully comprehend what they read. Over and over again I've had students tell me that class discussion, and my explanations of material are essential to their understanding of it.

Where the 100% on-line model breaks down is on my end -- I'm not sure I can fully and accurately communicate the meaning of the material on-line. What I say in the classroom depends heavily on what they don't understand. If I were the sort of professor who carefully writes out every lecture, then I could do that on-line without any trouble -- but, I'm not. Mostly I'll walk in having prepared a PowerPoint of about 8 slides -- and with a general idea of what I need to cover, but most of what I say in class comes from my knowledge of the topic and is extemporaneous... so writing it out doesn't work.

In many ways I think the hybrid class model is very good -- because it lets me see the students face to face, but also requires a larger degree of class participation in discussion assignments AND more writing than I otherwise have in a class of this size.

1 comment:

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

You are a wise teacher--technology has its limitations and shouldn't be employed "just because it's available." It should be used to enhance, enrich, facilitate work--any kind of work. Reading this I thought of all the dynamic, remarkable lecturers I'd have missed out on had I taken classes online as a student.