This is Part 2 of a post featuring answers to questions about online teaching from Guest Contributor Jason Eggerman and Novice Professor Contributor Ciara Kidder. Check out Part 1 for their takes on discussion boards and lectures/content presentation.
How do your expectations for an online class differ from an in-person class (if at all)
Jason Eggerman: I’m not sure I’d say my expectations for my online classes differ compared to in-person classes. However, I think you have to be much more explicit about your expectations with online students. Students often come into the online environment with expectations of how online classes are supposed to work, so it’s important to be upfront about your expectations. For example, a student might think that online classes are supposed to be “self-paced” and allow them to work as far ahead as they want. My class is not like that, so I’m careful to explain my reasons to them for how I have structured the course. Similarly, students often come into an online class thinking that group presentations never occur in online classes. However, I know plenty of online instructors who require synchronous, group presentations. So it’s really not about having different expectations than an in-person class as much as it is about having to work much harder to clarify your expectations (and the reasons for your expectations) to online students.
Ciara Kidder: I have different expectations for my face-to-face and online students but primarily based on the student populations. I actually teach two different kinds of online classes, those in our traditional program, aimed at the students enrolled in the program who still come to campus and take other face-to-face classes; and classes in our adult and online program which caters to older students who typically have full time jobs and take one or two courses every seven weeks. When I first started teaching these classes I thought some about how those students differed from my traditional students, but it wasn’t until my spouse started taking courses in the program that I really understood what it was like, and I was able to see how other professors structure their courses and deliver the content, and the effect that had on his ability to do the assignments well and in a timely manner.
One thing that I changed immediately was the due dates for assignments. In my traditional classes, I generally keep assignments due during the week, to mirror their face-to-face classes closely, with only occasional weekend or late Friday due dates. I primarily do this because it can be easy to forget to do your online work while taking face-to-face classes at the same time; very much out of sight, out of mind. However, after watching my spouse try to tackle some of the bigger assignments (essays, exams) during the week after working 8-9 hours and waiting until after putting our kids in bed, and then rushing to get everything in by midnight; I re-structured it. First, I put due dates for all big assignments on Sunday at midnight. This gives these students the weekend to put in the hours needed to complete the assignments without losing a ton of sleep (theoretically, because obviously this isn’t true for everyone). Second, I still have a midnight due date, but I try to make it clear that I will accept assignments that are within a few hours of the deadline (e.g, by 3 am), again, trying to accommodate the students that can’t work on their assignments until the evening. This isn’t to say that I am not flexible with my traditional students, I know that many traditional students also work and/or have children, but I think the two populations are still different and that students going to school full time on-campus, have a different approach and expectation for school than those going to school completely online.
What is one major mistake you notice people make (or you made yourself) when teaching their first online course
Jason: I think the biggest mistake I see is not being “present” in the same way that you would in a face-to-face class. Humanizing your online classes, in my view, is the most important thing to keep in mind. I see a lot of folks who tend to think of “online” as just being a class where they load the materials into the LMS, answer emails when they get them, and grade assignments. There is no sense of community, no connection with the students, etc. There’s plenty of resources about how to increase “instructor presence” in online classes, so I won’t go into that here (see below for a couple of Jason's recommended places to start).
I think the other major mistake people make is just assuming that an online class just involves taking everything you do in a face-to-face class and putting it on a computer (i.e. filming a 50-minute lecture and posting it, or uploading a Word document with instructions for a paper you have students write). This isn’t really how quality online teaching is supposed to work. You really have to rethink everything and decide how you are going to create a meaningful learning experience in an online environment, in order to meet your learning objectives. That generally doesn’t just mean uploading things to a computer.
Ciara: One mistake I think people make is not acknowledging that online courses and traditional courses are different and that just because you have taught face-to-face and do a good job, that you can easily teach online. While doing one can inform how you do another, it is definitely important to realize that these are entirely different beasts. Online courses generally are a lot more work than a traditional face-to-face, even after the course has been prepped. A really good online class requires a significant professor-student and student-student interaction that is much easier to facilitate in a face-to-face course (I’ll admit this is something I am continuing to work on). One thing that I am planning to focus on in the next semester is developing either audio or video descriptions of assignments (See Jason, I know I need more presence). I have realized that students really need to hear you describe an assignment to understand the instructions (this is true of face-to-face classes too), even if the assignment instructions have been vetted with others or in a face-to-face class.
As I mentioned, the two can inform each other. I actually prefer to prep a new class for online before I teach it face to face. Online classes require you to be really familiar with the course content and the available resources as you prep it. After teaching General Psychology one summer, the work I did in creating the course actually allowed me to readily flip the class in the fall.
What is your take on expectations for your online classes and common mistakes? Comment below or tweet us with #TheNoviceProfessor!
Jason recommends these resources for increasing presence in your online classes: