This week I finished teaching my first online class, Politics and Law. I was lucky to work with 8 good-natured seniors, and enjoyed the experience. Throughout the class the greatest challenge that I faced was getting students to complete their assignments. In some ways this was nothing new, in most regular level classes that I teach most students do not do much work outside of class. The problem, of course , is that in an online class all of the work is homework. A large chunk of my communication with students was some variation on “Do your work!”; and, a lot of my reflection and adjusting during the course was aimed at making students more aware of their responsibilities. The two days a week in a Cisco TelePresence room allowed me to direct students to their tasks, but may have also encouraged students let things slide between classes with a (vain) hope of catching up while in the TP room.
To some degree I see this as the result of an educational system that, outside of advanced courses, often encourages passivity. Students are used to doing the work that has been handed to them, work that often shallowly assess student mastery of content. In an online class students need to actively find their work, and, hopefully, that work will require them to more deeply engage the content. The students themselves bear responsibility for not seeking the content, and, despite their difficulties completing work on time in this class, I think the experience will make them more self-sufficient learners. My hope is that the struggle was worthwhile for all of us.
Blaming “the system” or the students is ultimately not very satisfying, and I know that I need to improve the design of the course moving forward. I will be using this space to continue reflecting on how I can improve this design. I managed the course in Moodle (guest access allowed), and I continually tinkered with the layout to make it easier for students to find their work. Much of this will involve implementing even more of the ideas from the Instructional Design course that I took last summer. And, I’m open to suggestions.