I am currently enrolled in an online course for teachers called ‘Learning and Teaching Online’. The decision to take the course has stemmed from the rebuilding of this blog into a website that will, hopefully, include online courses.
The class is extremely intensive with daily reading, forum discussions, and a journal. I was feeling quite confident about the class, and believed that I was ticking away nicely with the course work, until I fell ill. Then, it all got away with me.
Below is the entry for my class journal that I wrote when I was ill. If you’re considering taking – or even teaching – an online course think about the time, commitment and energy needed to complete it. There is a lot of rhetoric at the moment about online learning, but just because the information is delivered straight into your home through the internet, it is not necessarily the easiest option.
I started feeling ill on Thursday, by Friday morning it was evident I had the flu, and the dizziness didn’t leave completely until Sunday afternoon. What I find interesting about this bout of the lurgy is it reminded me that an online course is not ‘easy’.
When I was an undergraduate, before prominent use of the internet, my University offered correspondence courses. I had many friends who started these courses, but none who finished. Without direct supervision and student interaction, it was too tempting to fall behind in course work. In 2006, when I started studying for my PGCert in Teaching as part of an online programme, I had those old correspondence courses in mind. Quickly, I realised that online VLEs had little in common with the ‘receive your assignment in the post’ correspondence courses. Not only was the student interaction integrated into the course, but it was essential. As the programme was for those teaching English as a second language, the class-list included students from all over the world. Therefore, exchanging cultural teaching tips with those working in Italy, China and Spain was fascinating and useful, and it provided an element I would have never received in a traditional class environment.
I found my year-long online PGCert course to be a delight. Because the students were online during various time zones, I could participate in my down time, and with regular teacher interaction, my idea of a VLE based learning programme changed.
The beginning of this ‘Learning and Teaching Online’ course started with promise: interesting topics, fascinating co-students, and I could fit in the course work around my other responsibilities. Then, I fell temporarily ill. Suddenly, there was a real possibility of falling behind with my course work, and I wasn’t able to follow class discussions as closely has I had wished. The practical implications of taking a course (live, correspondence, or online) was becoming very real. If a student cannot complete the readings or participate in discussions – due to personal or professional reasons – it doesn’t matter how flexible, interactive, or monitored the course. Without staying on top of assignments, there is a real possibility of falling behind and potentially failing.
These little observations are important because it reminds me of the students’ mind-sets. They may be thinking that it’s ‘easy’ or that it’s similar to the old ‘correspondence courses’. They may think it will be no problem keeping up with the work, and this may be the case…until something happens to circumvent their progress. As the teacher, the best I can do is explain the benefits and draw-backs of the course from the start, as well as impress upon all the students the time commitment that will be necessary to complete the course. This is especially important when working with adult learners who may have never before entered a VLE. It is also important with younger learners, who take online interaction for granted. Essentially, if I remember that an online course isn’t always what we expect, then I’ll be more prepared for the false expectations students may bring to the online learning experience.