Monday, September 23, 2013

The Art to being on the Online Yellow Brick Road

The 'Art' aspect of being an online facilitator is starting to take shape.  It has been an interesting week of readings, webinars and reflecting on what has been occurring in my online course.

I was outlining my post when I realized I had started the week reading about Ken Bain's book, "What the Best College Teachers Do" which I read a number of years ago.   How was it that all this common sense information didn't seem to translate for me into the online world.  I was so deeply entranced by how the webinars I had either participated in or watched discussed presence and being present. Lost to me was anything to do with Bain's book and the article, "What the Best Online Teachers Should Do", (2011).

Presence - John Thompson showed a slide on teaching presence, cognitive presence and social presence but really never went into any depth on any of these.  I wasn't there to ask why mention if you aren't going to discuss?

His discussion revolved around common sense that is people want to know  to know that you care so, for example, use their name in discussion postings or move deadlines if there are issues occurring in their lives.  He also threw out there and as two ways of creating an online presence.

Whereas when Larry Ragan from Penn State discuss presence I wrote down standards, frequency and classwork however his lead-in to this discussion was "Don't worry about me . . . (I'll check in once a week.).  So I guess I am taking away from this discussion is that an online facilitator needs to consider what their interpretation is to online presence and let your participants know.

Is online presence - 24/7 as John Thompson talks about or what Larry Ragan says, "Check in a minimum of once a day but more like 2 or 3 times a day."  Personally, I have been teaching for over 20 years in a traditional setting and I can understand why some people balk at the hand holding in online courses.  I do give my participants my contact numbers for weekends since most of them will be working on their course material on the weekend and encourage them to phone if they run into difficulty since I absolutely ban myself from looking at work email during the weekend (too much other stuff that can get into your head if you look at it). If I was going to sum this up - tell people what your expectations are and then make sure that you are modeling them.

I appreciated Larry Ragan's flooring analogy and the fact that on-learning is not like moving from carpet to hardwood but really a transitional shift more like teaching blindfolded: Here is the course go for it.  Considering the research shows that most instructors teach like they were taught (the model factor or like they like to learn) it is amazing that institutions put people on-line without any type of training (except perhaps on the LMS).  Perhaps even more amazing is that we muddle our way through trying to get a sense of what excellence works for.

Perhaps John Thompson's quote, "Students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." sums up this week in the sense that we are people and we want to know that we matter.

The one factor that never went far enough for me was the "excellence in 'online' teaching"  Bain talks about it in the classroom as "sustained and deep understanding, a fundament change in the student's world view and mental models, a desire to learn more, and effective communications."  If we were going to be pushed to be excellent "online instructors" is the human touch the only key?


  1. I'm not sure what you mean by "hand holding". In all the online courses I have taught I have not been able to "ban" myself from weekend email. As you stated many online students have others lives, like work, and have to do their school work on the weekends. I feel it is important to meet their needs and be available on the weekends. However, through my experience I have developed a routine where I can be available and still have time for myself on the weekends. As I practice living in a networked world I get better at it.

  2. I like that you talk about online teaching as an art..because it really is and the canvas is always changing. I agree..the training (or lack thereof) that you describe is fascinating isn't it. But I think that the idea that you and the rest of us are in this MOOC shows that we want to do better for ourselves and the students =)