This semester, I’m teaching a graduate class that examines technology used for online teaching. The class is a blended course, so I use a mixture of online and face-to-face instruction to interact with students and teach the content. The course is designed to help face-to-face teachers develop capacity with the tools and processes of online instruction. In the class, my students are studying ways to foster online learning communities and use technology to support instruction and assessment online. Besides discussing pedagogically based content, the students are also using technology to create screencasts, review technology and manage their own synchronous and asynchronous classroom spaces. It’s the second semester that I’ve taught the course and it’s the ideal mix of the theoretical and practical aspects of online instruction.
In one of the modules, the students examine recorded synchronous lessons conducted by real K-12 online teachers. My students examine how the teachers are fostering interaction and engaging the students in the learning process. The recorded lessons really run the gamut in terms of instructional strategies. Some instructors use more lecture-based forms of instruction while others work hard to foster a student-centered learning environment in the online room. Since the lessons differ in content and grade level, it helps to provide a variety of virtual field experiences for the students in the class.
In their reviews, my students outline the effective aspects they recognize in the recordings and also suggest different ways that the instructor could have changed their lesson. While my students are asked to root their reviews on the readings from the module, many of the students discuss the strategies they use in their face-to-face classes and wonder why the online instructors haven’t incorporated similar approaches in their online classes. While I try to keep the class focused on reviewing the lesson sand making connections to our course readings, some of the reviews can be a little critical. While no one in the class is disrespectful, a few lent a very critical eye to the strategies incorporated by the online teachers in the recorded lessons.
Last week, I had the students in the class conduct their own synchronous lessons. In the assignment, the students were to create a fifteen minute lesson in a synchronous classroom and then invite at least two participants into the space. The students then shared their lessons with the other members of the class where they were reviewed by their peers. As the class reviewed their lessons, one of the students posted:
“We were WAY too hard on those online teachers! They really were experts at what they were doing. Eesh! Really cool to do this assignment this way – watch lessons first, judge the heck out of them, and then try our own and realize how hard it is. Well played, Ollie. Well played.”
While it wasn’t my intention to create this level of dissonance, I was hoping the students would see the instructional value from structuring the class this way. I wanted them to see firsthand how difficult teaching can be. Regardless of whether it’s done in an online or face-to-face learning environment, teaching is harder than it seems.