Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..
I’ve spent the entire summer upgrading and retooling all my online courses for the fall semester that kicks in tomorrow and Monday. I’m always excited about the start of a new semester, even though I’ve been teaching college level art and photography classes for 30+ years. I officially retired from full time college administration and teaching 2 years ago however I’ve worked my way back up to taking on a full load of online classes this fall to include Computer Art, Art History, Photo and Art Appreciation.
I now teach for 6 North Carolina Community Colleges from home, local coffee shop or anywhere my travels take me for that matter. It’s empowering to be able to teach my classes from anywhere in the world – as long as I have a wireless connection and my laptop computer I can access and teach my classes and connect with my students. That goes for students as well. They are no longer locked into showing up at a specific time and place to further their education and work towards a degree program.
With the freedom and flexibility of the online environment comes responsibility on both the student and instructors part. The online learning process takes a real commitment and discipline to keep up with the flow of information, discussions and assignments. Active participation and engagement are key elements for success when taking online classes. In the virtual classroom, nearly all communication is written, so it is critical that learners feel comfortable in expressing themselves in writing. This takes some practice, but the more you write the better you get at it.
People don’t realize the incredible amount of time and effort that goes into developing and designing a totally online course. Especially if you want it to be interactive, engaging and close to replicating the classroom setting. Students also need to be aware that online classes are not fluff and take a considerable amount of time and effort each week to meet the course requirements.
Teaching in the online environment is very different than engaging students in the classroom and I have to rethink how I teach and access my course content. Students on the other hand have to remember that the instructor will not be spoon feeding them the information. Online students must read the chapters and posted lectures, in addition to watching the powerpoint presentations, videos, and podcasts, then submit their quizzes and discussion responses. This all takes time and as I mentioned before disciple to set time aside each week to do the online course work.
Meaningful and quality input into the virtual classroom is an essential part of the learning process. Challenging ideas and concepts is encouraged; you will not always be right, just be prepared to accept a challenge. Teachers do NOT want students regurgitating course material, lessons and posted lectures back at them. We are looking for critical thinking and synthesizing that material into new ideas and thoughts based on solid research.
I firmly believe that high quality learning (and teaching) can take place without going to a traditional classroom. Its just a matter of incorporating viable and time tested best practices for online learning into your courses and staying engaged on a daily basis.
The online learning process is normally accelerated and requires commitment and discipline on the learner’s part. Staying up with the class and completing all work on time is vital. Once a learner gets behind, it is very difficult to catch up. Basically, the learner needs to want to be there, and needs to want the experience. It goes back to taking responsibility for your learning. I think this is a key factor with online education. Students must take on more responsibility for their learning.
Many of the non-verbal communication mechanisms that instructors use in determining whether learners are having problems (confusion, frustration, boredom, absence, etc.) are not possible in the online environment. If a student is experiencing difficulty on any level (either with the technology or with the course content), s/he must communicate this immediately. Otherwise the instructor will never know what is wrong and just assume the student is losing interest.
So tomorrow is the start of a new semester and I’m just about ready to go. I look forward to meeting new students and taking them on a learning journey. I am passionate about art and photography and work hard at sharing that passion with my students in all my classes.
Last fall I attended and presented at a Distant Learning Conference in Raleigh and came away with some additional thoughts and concerns about distance learning and online teaching / learning.
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