From Reluctant to Ready: The Power of Support for New Online Teachers

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I’ve been teaching in the classroom full-time for 17 years and I feel things are shifting.  One of the classes I love to teach has had an enrollment drop as more online classes have been added.   I’ve heard many colleagues over the years complain about their online students and how they aren’t prepared.  I’ve also had colleagues who started teaching online years ago and set up their courses to do the absolute minimal.  For me, part of the joy of teaching is being with people and watching my students’ eyes light up when they get “it.”  These are some of the reasons why I really didn’t think online teaching would ever be for me.

Adapting to Change

I feel certain the pendulum will at some point swing back to students wanting to be in the classroom more than online, but I’m not sure when that will happen.  I do know that online provides opportunities for many students who can’t be in a traditional classroom and I love the idea of making classes accessible to them.  The bottom line is I knew if I didn’t jump into online teaching now then I was closing the door to learning a different style of teaching.  With a desire to teach for another 17 years, I thought it was too soon to not change with the times.

It’s accurate to put me in the “reluctant online teacher” category.  I am tired of the grind of the commute which continues to get worse every year and I see how teaching online will reduce the hours in my car.  Therefore, I decided I was going to give online teaching a real chance.  If I was going to take the plunge to build an online course I was going to make THE BEST course I possibly could, and I was going to do it the right way the first time.

Finding Support with the Online Education Initiative

My college is a member of the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative (OEI). As a faculty of an OEI college, I have the opportunity to teach online courses through the Course Exchange, which reserves a specified number of spots in my class to students at other CA community colleges. In order to be in the Course Exchange, however, I first needed to design my course and align it with the OEI Course Design Rubric. I thought if my course could get approval for the Course Exchange, then I would never have to worry about enrollment for my online course.

Therefore, I signed up for the OEI Course Design Academy online information meeting.  During the call, it was evident to me that many of the faculty in attendance had a long way to go before we would be ready for the Course Exchange.  More than a handful of us on the call had never taught an online class. To get started, we needed to learn how to develop a course before even thinking about the Course Exchange.  So I decided to enroll in an @ONE’s Online Education Standards and Practices (OESP), a 12-week, online course, to learn the ins and outs of online course design and teaching.

I took this course as if my life depended on it.  At about week 7 of the course, I submitted my online course for a peer review, which was the first step in getting my course in the Course Exchange.  I worked hard to develop a curriculum (I hadn’t taught this particular course in many years and I decided to build the content myself versus use a textbook that would cost the students a lot of money) and setup my Canvas pages. I used all the information I had learned so far in my OESP course and put it into my own course.  I was anxious to hear back from the OEI course review team.  A colleague of mine who already had a course in the Course Exchange told me not to worry. I was told that I would get a long list of things that still need to be done with my course, but the instructional designer would help me through it.

Invaluable Peer Feedback

The feedback from the review team, comprised of Aloha Sargent, a faculty member from Cabrillo College and @ONE course facilitator, and Helen Graves, an instructional designer with @ONE and the OEI, was so incredibly encouraging that it motivated me to make the changes.  Naively, I didn’t realize how much really needed to get done.  However, once I started the process, I knew I really was developing the best course I possibly could.  Helen Graves, my instructional designer, could not have been more supportive, encouraging, thoughtful or helpful.

Helen and I had a weekly one hour Zoom conference.  Without her, I cannot imagine how I would have developed a course I would be so proud of.  She took a tremendous amount of time going through my course with me and explaining how to make it accessible for all kinds of learners.  Along the way, she taught me how to use html code to do some very cool things in Canvas and help chunk the information into bite size bits.  As a result, my content was more clear and could be understood by more learners. Helen was incredibly patient and even made quick little videos during the week to show me how to do various things within my modules.  At times, she referred to her “A Team” colleagues who would magically and mysteriously help me improve my course’s 508 accessibility compliance.  I liked to imagine Mr. T behind the scenes helping with accessibility, but I think the real hero on the A Team for my course was Marisa McNees.

I’m Ready

Because of the OEI Course Exchange Process, I was able to make a course that I’m excited to teach. I am confident that I will have the chance to build a community and take care of my students in an online setting.  I imagine that it will be fulfilling for my students and for me.  I’m extremely appreciative of the instructional design and accessibility support available to me through the OEI , so I could continue to grow as a teacher.  This process not only made my online course better, it made me reevaluate how I share information in my face-to-face course and make it better, as well.  In the end, it felt like an indulgence to have someone take the time to give considered and thoughtful feedback and be as excited as me about the course I built.

 

 

Posted in faculty support, Uncategorized.

Katie is an Associate Professor of Art at Ohlone College. You can check out her artwork at www.katiefrank.com

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