Friday, February 28, 2003

Spring break is next week. This means the on campus class doesn't meet (after being cancelled last week due to snow), but the online class chugs along as usual. When I attended training classes to learn how to teach over the Internet, we were advised not to go on hiatus, since some students attend campuses that do not have the same schedule, and also because students usually appreciate being able to focus on the course while their other classes are not in session. Also, the nature of the delivery method means students can access it from anywhere, whether it is the beach at Daytona, their parents' livingroom, or a Kinko's somewhere. This is my ninth semester of online teaching, and it has never been an issue before, so I figure that the trainer was correct in that advice. Then comes this semester, where a handful of students are really, really pissed. Maybe because it has been a long winter?

We are studying the philosophy of education in both sections right now. It has never been my favorite subject, because it involves some pretty dense lecturing to get the material across. However, this year I am using group exercises in class, and the online groups' assignments are to come up with discussion questions based on the themes of the class. (The on campus groups make presentations at the end of the semester.) Because of student feedback from last semester, I have been putting a lot of effort into the online group activity. The philosophy of education group came up with interesting questions that focused on preferences regarding personal teaching philosophies.

I was thinking about their questions, about how non-authortarian student-centered methods sound so appealing, but how a lot of the time authortarian teacher-centered methods wind up winning out. I really struggle with this. I much prefer, when teaching in the classroom, the formal organization of rows with me at the desk or lectern. Oh, I make an effort to walk around a bit, but mostly in the front of the class. I'm not a big status hog, but for some reason I've never liked the sitting in a circle approach, not now, not when I was a student. It is a trivial example, but it illustrates what happens much of the time, the lecture, or as we say, "chalk and talk." Me getting a sore throat and them filling up notebooks. I guess I'm not great at facilitating discussion, although when my evaluations come back that isn't what they say. Students think we discuss more in class than in many of their other classes, which really shows the in general emphasis on lecturing.

On the other hand, although I control the organization, the online class seems much more student-centered, perhaps because of the type of student who signs up, and also because of the delivery method. The discussion in online learning is greatly enhanced, in spite of losing the body language aspect. Everyone contributes, which most definitely does not happen in the classroom. Students are much more reluctant to speak up in class. I know I always was, even if I had something good to say. Lots of students simply are not glib, and a few dominate.

Interesting, the most student-centered activity in both classes - the group - is favored by most students in the classroom, and hated by many students in the electronic section. This is probably because the on campus students are more social, and it is a nice break from teacher-centeredness for them. Also because the preference is for independent, self-directed learning among the online cohort, and a bit because of the difficulty of "meeting" using the electronic delivery method.

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