Online Teaching Q&A: Part 1
Online college courses are on the rise:
"In the most recent year for which full data is available, about 5.4 million students, or 25.8 percent of the college student population, took at least one online class. About 2,642,158 students – 12.5 percent of all college students – took online courses exclusively, and the other 13.3 percent of students combined online studies with traditional courses. These statistics show that online studies are gaining popularity. In 2007-2008, just 20 percent of undergraduate students took any online courses at all, and only 3.7 percent took online courses exclusively, according to the National Center for Education Statistics" (BestCollegesOnline.org).
Anyone who is looking to be competitive on the job market or just looking to try something new, should be thinking about whether or not to teach online. Teaching online is not for everyone, but its an important skill that will only become more in demand. To help you think about whether online teaching is for you, here are some answers from Guest Contributor Jason Eggerman, and Novice Professor Contributor, Ciara Kidder about online teaching.
On discussion boards:
Do you use them? How do you manage them? Do students hate them?
Jason Eggerman: Yes, I use discussion boards in my online classes. I’m fortunate that our online classes are capped at 25 students, but even so, I try to make the discussion boards more manageable for students by putting them in groups. So, when they engage in discussion, there are only a total of about 7 or 8 people in their group. Then I can bounce from group to group and see how the conversation is going in each. I also participate in the discussions (which is the most time-consuming portion of my online classes). I make a point not to dominate the conversation, but I like to interject a few comments here and there. For example, if the conversation is straying a little off topic, I try to guide it back in the right direction. Or, for example, if a student comments on being interested in something, I might reply to them with a YouTube video or a NOBA article related to what they are talking about. I find that students really enjoy having the instructor participate in the discussion (instead of just grading it).
I don’t think students “hate” discussion boards, but I do think they hate pointless discussion boards. I’d say that’s true of any activity or assignment though. Students hate things that feel pointless and don’t help them learn. I try to be mindful of this when using discussion boards. So, for example, I try to make sure the prompt is a meaningful, engaging prompt that they will want to talk about. I also set up the requirements (and instructions) to make it clear that the purpose of the discussion boards is to have a discussion (not to complete an assignment). For example, the students are not allowed to start commenting on their classmates’ posts until after the due date. In other words, everyone gets to put up their post first, and then the “peer interaction” days begin. Rather than requiring the traditional “two comments,” my discussion boards require three comments per day for two consecutive days. I explicitly explain that my goal is to foster back-and-forth discussion, and that you can’t have that if someone just posts to comments and then never comes back to read what others had to say. So, if a discussion is due on a Monday, students are expected to comment/reply three times on Tuesday and then comment/reply three more times on Wednesday. It’s not what they are used to at first, but by being explicit about why I’m doing it, I typically get them to buy in. Overall, feedback at the end of the class is very positive. They say things like, “I enjoyed that the discussions in this class were meaningful, and that we actually talked back and forth. It wasn’t just about posting comments to get the assignment done.”
Ciara Kidder: Ah, Discussion Boards. For a few semesters I had dropped the discussion board requirements from my courses, because they did seem trite and hated. However, after talking with other online teachers and getting some ideas about how to make them better, I have begun adding them back in, but I am still figuring out the way that works best for me. One thing that has worked well for me is to treat the discussion board like an in-class activity, one that requires doing something beyond answering a question. For example, in General Psychology during the biological psych unit, for students’ first post to the discussion board they share a story of an event that recently happened, such as going to the movies, or a discussion with a friend. Then, as they reply to one another, students must identify different areas of the brain that are participants in the story (e.g., the amygdala was increasing your heart rate during the scary parts of that movie). These kinds of activities allow students to interact in similar ways they would in the classroom and helps them further understand and apply the material. Another approach that I have heard about but have yet to try out is to offer several prompts within a discussion that students can pick from. When done well, students will answer different questions, so their replies end up more varied and interesting rather than just "I agree" type statements. I have also seen versions that require students to end their post with a question. At first students don't like this, but with practice, the questions they pose get better and helps further the discussion and facilitate more back-and-forth.
To manage discussions, I have moved to a model similar to Jason’s with separate due dates for first posts, and then replies. I will likely add a third due date for second replies in future courses, but need to think about how this will fit with other assignments in the course.
Do you give video lectures? Recorded lectures? No lectures at all?
Jason: It depends on the class. For Lifespan, I record audio “podcasts” that tend to each be about 5 to 10 minutes long. They correspond to sections of the textbook, and are meant to mainly be commentary. I’m very clear about the fact that these are not “lectures,” and that reading the book is key for getting the content. Instead, these podcasts are sort of “my take” on things. I bring in additional information that maybe isn’t in the book, give my opinions on things (where relevant), share stories from my personal experiences with development, and give them “heads-up” about sections in the text that might be particularly difficult to grasp.
For General Psychology, I have a few video lectures (screencasts) and will be making more as time permits. These are also generally 5 to 10 minutes long. For some things, however, I use existing videos. For example, there is no reason for me to record a lecture on the anatomy of a neuron (dendrites, axon, etc.) when there are already plenty of excellent videos on YouTube that I can just embed into my module on the LMS.
Ciara: How I present content is mixed. In History & Systems, I created “lessons” which included videos from YouTube, sometimes of others’ lectures, and highlights from the text. The lessons also include some multiple choice questions and a longer short answer response that was more thoughtful. This gives students a chance at formative assessment and is done throughout the content presentation so they can be re-directed to course material or alternative resources as needed. In other courses, I link the readings, provide additional pre-existing videos, and then some kind of activity to guide the reading, like a quiz or a “reading guide”, which is a series of True/False statements the students must answer and then provide direct evidence from the text to support (with APA style citations for practice). I think how you present the content should depend on several factors such as course level (lower v. upper level), content difficulty, and your own comfort with the material.
What are your thoughts about discussions and lectures in an online class? Comment below!
Stay tuned for Part 2, where Jason and Ciara tackle expectations for online courses and common mistakes.
Jason Eggerman is a full-time, tenured instructor of psychology at Spokane Community College in Spokane, WA. Prior to starting at Spokane Community College in 2011, he taught as an adjunct instructor at multiple community colleges in San Diego County from 2007 to 2011. Jason grew up in Colorado and Wyoming before obtaining a bachelors in Psychology from Black Hills State University in South Dakota. From there, he obtained a masters in Psychology and a graduate certificate in Community College Teaching from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA. Jason currently serves as a member of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Membership Committee as well as a member of the steering committee for the Northwest Conference on the Teaching of Introductory Psychology (TIP-NW).
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