December 8, 2012

I Can Take A Class Through The Web?

This academic year, I broached into online teaching. When I was a student six years ago, I took online classes in one of Master’s degree programs, so I had at least been exposed to online learning. But that was six years ago, and technology and online work has changed so much. Plus, I am teaching it now. What a different learning environment online classes are!

I have taught blended classes (those that meet in a physical classroom for parts of the time and online for another part) for several years now. I have thoroughly enjoyed that kind of teaching because students experience face-to-face instruction while also having technology to experiment with. Plus, I teach writing (both academic and creative), so blended classes work so well with these classes.

Online, though, is a whole different experience. In an online class, there is the very real potential that I will never meet my students face-to-face. Naturally, we will email and have discussion threads on message boards or journal boards, but I may never physically see my online students. This was so weird to me at first.

See, I really like the spontaneity of physical classroom courses. I can come into class, have my students read a poem, and then write about it just because I felt that would be the best way to teach some aspect of writing. Maybe this poem came about as a result of the previous class period’s discussion thus was unplanned. The class really lives in the face-to-face format. Online classes do not have those same capabilities.

To some extent I can create spontaneity, but it is a bit facile. You see, in a face-to-face classroom, my students and I must think and respond in the moment. We do not have time to sit behind our computers to compose our answers. Even if I suddenly create a discussion, my students still have time to write, revise, and rewrite their responses as do I. In a physical classroom, they simply react. I react. That on-the-spot reaction produces some of the most fruitful discussions and activities. Both of these sometimes lead my students to writing incredible essays.

The spontaneity is absolutely inspiring.

On the other hand, though, the online classes provide the more shy students an opportunity to really come out and participate. For most shy students, the simple fact that other students look at them prevents their participation. In an online class, students cannot see each other. I have really learned so much about my shy students through the online and blended formats.

Furthermore, self-starting students who like to work at their own pace can really flourish in an online format. It’s pretty impressive to watch.

Additionally, in the online class format, I can have my students create videos, music, wordles, glogs, blogs, and so much more because of the technology. Beyond having students create these technology options, I can also create my own or send my students to different websites with already created materials. It is really cool. Technology, the internet, is really cool.

This technology adds to the online class, but has also given me ideas for using them in traditional, physical classes. I have become a more tech savvy, and tech interested, professor—both in class in a physical building and in an online class—because of the online format. What I have learned most is that learning and teaching requires willingness to create, to change, to add.

Though I will always love the face-to-face interactions and experiences, I am definitely learning to simulate those in the online format. I also am learning to love this form of teaching and learning. This educational technology is worth attention. However, I think online classes are a good supplement to traditional, physical classrooms as opposed to a replacement for these. My primary reason for this: not all learners are equipped for online classes, nor are all learners capable of succeeding in these classes. Online classes require a great deal of self-initiative, self-learning, and self-teaching. Not all of us are capable of that. The option and addition to education of online classes, though, is totally valuable for some of us.

Image Credit: wwwebmeister / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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