May 28, 2010
I “teach” online a lot and I love it. I’ve done a course on Social Therapeutics at Massey University (evidently in New Zealand English, though, a “course” is called a “paper”) and just launched one through the Zur Institute for 6 CEUs. But the bulk of my online teaching is through the East Side Institute—our introductory courses, online certificate program, and in-person/online combo called The International Class.
More of our faculty are offering online courses too, and I work with them on how to do it. I tell them (and hopefully help them) to see an online course as a completely new opportunity for social creativity.
I’ve learned from these newbies some of the things that “seduce” them into relating to the course as if it’s a face-to-face, real time learning environment that just happens to not be face-to-face or real time! Like silence (i.e., no posts) for a few days, or a response to a reading that is very far from what you expect, or a conversational thread that seems “off topic.” In a regular course, such things are no big deal, but online they can loom large indeed, sometimes enough to worry the course leader into trying to control what will happen, too quickly correct a misunderstanding, ask a lot of questions, or fill in a silence with erudtion—all of which don’t make good use of the uniqueness of the online learning environment.
In my experience, the slowness (or timelessness) of online discussion makes it easier to respond to the whole group even as you are responding to a particular person. You (and everyone else) can read and re-read what people have written, and see the process by which the conversation is being created. Someone can always revisit a topic, something that’s harder to do in regular courses. You can also play with each other’s posts. I’ve had students take a line or two from different people’s posts and create a new post that then becomes part of the mix (and can create another “student” in the course).
Taking playful initiative seems easier online. So does sharing. I’ve found that students tend to be more giving of their life experiences in ways that create a safe place for playing with the most challenging theoretical material. On their own, some have videotaped conversations with friends or colleagues on the readings and posted them for us to see and comment on. Others describe readings and web material that excite them and recommend them to everyone. Others create scenes, take photos, draw pictures.
If you want help with the online environment or have a story to share, post a comment!