When I signed up for the @ONE suite of courses for the Online Teaching Principles (OTP) certificate, I didn’t expect they would help me to improve my on-campus classes. The OTP courses are about teaching online, right? Right. Yet I discovered these courses would help me become a better face-to-face teacher, too.
Sometimes, modality doesn’t matter.
Take, for example, creating a more equitable classroom. I thought I had this nailed. I teach from the heart. I get to know my students’ names, interests, and majors. My motto is “Reach students where they are,” and this motto informs my teaching.
Looking back, I realize now that I wasn’t providing opportunities for my students to be wholly present in spite of my best efforts to engage them. I had not designed assignments that would allow students to draw upon their cultural strengths or heritage, and I kept my own heritage and personal experience out of the classroom. My syllabus was professional and complete but devoid of personality and probably a little off-putting.
As the instructor, I was also the concierge. I would provide every text up until the research essay. I had hundreds. I would provide the answers. I had hundreds of those, too.
After the first week of class and the icebreakers were in the past, it was full speed ahead. There was little time to pause and ask students to reflect. There was little group work.
There was room to improve my on-campus classes, too.
It’s clear to see that these practices had the potential to be counterproductive if they weren’t already undermining my good intentions to create a welcoming learning community—whether that community sat ten feet in front of me or across the internet.
But that’s with the benefit of hindsight—hindsight gained after completing the OTP courses: Equity & Culturally Responsive Teaching, Humanizing Online Teaching & Learning, Dynamic Online Teaching, and Digital Citizenship. These courses helped me to improve my online courses and, bonus, my on-campus classes, too.
The principles espoused in the @ONE courses cross the lines of modality.
As I reflect on what I’ve learned, here are some key improvements I made:
- My syllabus is more student-centered and, I think, more welcoming. It’s also readily available online using mobile or desktop browsers. I continue to improve it.
- I designed more activities that draw upon what my students already know and make reflection a key step of the learning process.
- I gave up my role as the concierge. Well, almost. I still rely on a key OER text or two, but now, my students are increasingly responsible for locating and creating texts as they strengthen their digital and information literacy.
- I ask more questions. My students start collaborating in groups from the beginning of the course until the end, and I’ve seen this work pay off in more ways than one.
I’m still learning and improving both my online and on-campus classes, and the OTP courses continue to inform my practice. In hindsight, I shouldn’t be surprised that regardless of modality, the principles of effective teaching and learning are the same. Welcome students and empower them as learner-explorers. Give them guidance and plenty of opportunities for fearless practice. Connect them with each other. These principles help create a stronger learning community—online or on-campus. Completing the OTP courses reinforced these principles and helped me to see new ways I can put them into effect regardless of teaching modality.