Dr. Mayo debunks the myths of teaching online courses in a two-part series from the teacher’s perspective.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
Since online teaching is becoming part of our professional lives and offers great benefits for students, this month we will continue the discussion of online teaching and learning. Last month, the focus was students’ perspectives of online teaching and learning. This month and next, we will discuss strategies to make online teaching more effective and fun.
There are lots of myths about online teaching:
- It is much easier for students.
- It is much easier for teachers.
- It takes too much time.
- You never get to know your students.
- The students cannot learn in this mode.
- The students miss having teachers in the classroom.
Most of these myths are not true. It is not easier or harder for them or us; it’s just different. There is as much time involved as there is whenever we teach a new course. The first time is always more challenging and takes more energy and planning. The same is true for online teaching. Teachers can minimize how much students miss the classroom teacher if that teacher demonstrates commitment to both onsite and online classes.
Scheduling and Deadlines Count
One of the most important factors that contribute to successful independent study, which is something students must do in an online format, is the schedule. It is very easy for students to put off reading, writing, a project, or papers when they are not coming to class at a particular time. Even if you are using synchronous online teaching, students don’t often feel the same pressure to perform on time. Therefore, we need to provide specific deadlines for each assignment, paper, project, report or discussion contribution and hold to those deadlines. Otherwise, students often get behind, lower their performance, and miss the learning that comes from one assignment building on another during the term.
I have found during my online teaching that listing assignments along with the topics weekly can be helpful since they see how the week becomes coherent. I even specify the day of the week an assignment is due. That way, if I get it a day or two later it still gets done that week and helps the students move on to the next topic in the course and the accompanying assignments. Assignments can be another success factor for online teaching and learning.
Assignments can be Exciting and Effective
We have to expand our range of possible assignments when designing an online course. The common list of quizzes, tests, research or term papers, projects, and presentations needs to be broadened. Think about discussion participation, blog contributions, Facebook comments, mini-videos, recorded talks, and short essays on specific topics.
In the online course I am now teaching, I have students conduct a formal observation in a location they choose, using a coding manual and schedule they develop. They write up what they found out about the behavior they observed as well as what they learned about conducting a formal observation.
At first, students seem awed by the assignment, but the syllabus explains it in detail and I distribute a two-page explanation on to how to conduct it. They figure it out and learn a lot from the experience, more than they could get from an in-class simulation, and from doing it independently. Sometimes, I organize that assignment in teams and they learn a lot in that format too, but the geographical issues can be a challenge.
A third success-factor resides in the details you provide about assignments.
Details Make a Difference
You can make online teaching work effectively for you and for the students by providing many details about what is involved in completing an assignment. Tell your students what the assignment is about, what they need to do to successfully complete it, what form the finished product should take, and how it will be evaluated. Since you do not have the luxury of explaining it in a live classroom, unless you are teaching a hybrid course, you will benefit from thinking through the details and they will benefit from having them specified in writing. It is not sufficient to assign a research paper on a topic and assume they know what is expected. Sometimes details cover questions of tone, style and format. Other times, details include the purpose of the assignments and suggestions about how to conduct it. It depends on what they know and what prior assignments they have been given in other courses.
In my online teaching, I error on the side or providing too much information about assignments, since I am not in the office for them to see or in class for extra questions. It also gives them both support and reassurance that I have a thorough understanding of all the details of the course.
Try these suggestions and have fun. Next month, we will discuss other strategies to make online teaching more effective and fun for both you and your students.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.