A Lesson for Online Teachers

This is a true blog post.  I haven’t thought thru this.  I don’t really have time to write this, but I want to get something down before I forget it, or decide it’s not valuable.

I’ve taught online for five years now.  Every time, I learn how to do it better. Online courses have a tendency to be isolating to the students.  I work hard to prevent that with layers of interactivity, study groups, and other things. Students have to be present on a regular basis or I notice and can reach out to them.

One thing I’ve done since the beginning is ask students to create short videos to introduce themselves to the class, just as I have done.  This works well, but during this summer’s Digital Pedagogy Lab Summer Institute (which I haven’t blogged about yet, but will), I had a little idea to take it a step further.

Every week I hold a Google Hangout for my online students.  The hangouts give me a chance to talk about what I think students should be working on, especially those topics that are challenging to learn.  Perhaps more importantly, it gives students the opportunity to ask me any course related questions face-to-face (or rather screen-to-screen).  These hangouts on air are automatically archived on YouTube so students who can’t be present can watch the recording. And they do.

So here’s my little idea.  It won’t work for every online course or every student, but it made a little difference in my context.  I conducted the first hangout of the term from a conference room on campus.  I invited any students who wanted to attend it person.  5 students showed up along with 9 others in the Hangout.  (I know of several students who couldn’t get in so maybe next time we’ll use Zoom.)

The students who participated in person were more active than most who participated virtually.  Every in-person student asked questions, while only some did online.  The in-person group provided an enhanced dynamic to the hangout which lasted nearly an hour.  I was able to go back and forth from the in-person to the virtual audience, and they seemed to stimulate each other.

When we finished, the in-person group asked when we would do this again? They seemed to really find it helpful.  They also formed an immediate study group, which I have formalized when selecting groups for the class.  I hadn’t planned on doing it again, but when they asked I said, perhaps we could do it the hangout before each exam.

Something to add to my online toolkit.

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