Online or Off, Is Good Teaching Good Teaching?

Too often, my right arm suffers from DSD—Dr. Strangelove Syndrome.  Involuntarily, it just goes flying up into the air.  Fortunately, it takes not the form of a Nazi salute.  Instead, it eagerly volunteers, “I will.  I will.”  The next thing I know, I’ve accepted yet another assignment or job and my task list grows like Pinocchio’s nose.

Signing up for Leading Edge Certification is a recent example.  According to its web site, Leading Edge Certification is a “national alliance of nonprofits, universities and educational agencies that provides educators a demonstrable way to show they understand how technology changes teaching and learning.”  I signed up for several reasons.

  •  TICAL is a member of the Leading Edge Alliance; I continue to work closely with TICAL.
  • The Alliance is developing a certification path for school administrators; I’d enjoy coaching them along that path.
  • I love teaching and I’m fascinated by—and sometimes skeptical of—online, virtual approaches to teaching.
  • I love learning new things and staying abreast in my field.
  • Seems like it would be fun.

This past Wednesday, my cohort had its initial and, I understand, only face-to-face meeting.  We spent the day with expert online instructors who provided both an overview of the course content and practical tips based on their personal experience doing what we’ll be learning to do: deliver online education, and training others to do so.  I had not really known what to expect; I just signed up “on faith.”  Now that I see what I’ve gotten myself into, I’m both excited and a bit anxious.  The curriculum, activities, and resources look fantastic.  Where I’m going to carve out the time to actually do what’s required is another matter.  I suspect faith will be the operative word here as well.

One of the things we did on Wednesday was to take a couple of self-assessment questionnaires that purport to rate our readiness to be online learners and online teachers.  I did OK on both, but not great.  My downfall was in the areas of self-discipline and habits of timeliness.   The assessments assume that a person who self-reports as getting distracted, having trouble juggling multiple demands, and inconsistent about meeting timelines will not do well as an online learner or instructor.  On the surface, that seems to make sense.  On the other hand, in my case, I’ve found that when I have firm, non-negotiable deadlines, I meet them.  My tendencies to procrastinate or to let myself get sidetracked are best checked by knowing that if I’m late for the flight, it’s gonna take off without me.  So for this sloth-like fly, the way this course is structured with “adaptive release” of the assignments and clear, no-nonsense deadlines may be a recipe for success.

What’s my highest priority at this point?  I really want to learn how people experienced as online instructors contrast online teaching with teaching in a traditional, face-to-face classroom.  I believe that “good teaching is good teaching,” but I also know that you always have to adapt your teaching methods not only to your students but to the context and environment in which you are teaching.   Like any teaching situation, the online environment poses its own challenges.  How do you read body language when you can’t see the bodies?  How do you give a virtual pat on the back?  How do you deliver the “gimlet eye?”  As an eager, idealistic online instructor, how do you avoid “online teacher burnout?”  I’m going to be on the lookout for skills, strategies, and tools that can help answer those questions.


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