Teaching in the Unknown – Faculty Preparedness for Teaching Online and MOOCs

After reading several articles and blog posts about the Fundamentals of Online Education MOOC, (MOOC MessTwo Thoughts on the crash of the “Fundamentals of Online Education” MOOCThe MOOC Honeymoon is Over: Three Takeaways from the Coursera Calamity) I am even more convinced that being a student in a “new” environment is key to being a successful teacher in that same environment.

There is a push in education to move more and more teaching to the online environment.  I am amazed at how many of those online teachers have never taken an online class.  In the case of a MOOC you have the combined “online” environment with a massive number of potential participants.  Just as a teacher teaches differently to a class of 12 than to a class of 60, so too, does the teaching need to change in the environment of a MOOC.

My first experience with online education was my MA degree from Pepperdine.  It was not until much later that I realized what a high bar Pepperdine had set for me in creating my own expectations of an online course.  The community of learners that became the 2 Blue Crew, still has connections, over 10 years after we graduated.

Upon hearing about MOOCs – Massively Open Online Course, I decided to try one.  I enrolled in PLENK 2010, facilitated by Dave Cormier, George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Rita Kop.  Little did I know that these were among the pioneers in MOOCs.  This course set the bar for what I would consider a MOOC.

In both cases, my online experience and my experience with a MOOC, I have come to the realization that these experiences were unique.  I have endured being a student in other online courses and have listened to colleagues talk about their MOOC experiences, and I am grateful for my own introduction to online learning and MOOCs.

So back to the point…

I have thought for many years, that good teaching is good teaching regardless of the content or the environment.  Part of me does still believe that but when you change the environment, some of the familiar tools and strategies are suddenly missing.  You can’t simply “look” at the students to know that they are engaged and “getting it.”

I often tell the faculty I work with that teaching your first online class will feel a lot like your very first semester teaching. The part I don’t tell them is that your first semester teaching online has a lot of unknowns, especially if you have never taken a course online.  Think about, we go to school about age 5.  We’ve experienced a lot of “school.”  all those years of being a student and understanding how a class is supposed to work, making note of when it doesn’t work.  There is no way to replicate that tacit learning from being a student in time to teach your course fully online next term.

But we can encourage faculty (and anyone else involved in designing online courses and MOOCs) to be a student in these new environments.  We need to provide opportunities to experience things from the student side of things.  And, as pointed out in this Faculty Focus article Role Reversal: Learning from a Master Teachermaybe we should all put ourselves back in the student role from time to time and learn from the amazing teachers around us.



One Response to Teaching in the Unknown – Faculty Preparedness for Teaching Online and MOOCs

  1. This is exactly what I felt when I first switched to online teaching from teaching F2F for twenty long years. It really disturbed me a lot that I can not see the students reaction to my lecture and also not very sure whether they are paying attention or not. Slowly I have developed my method of pausing and asking probing questions, asking them to recapitulate etc.The article mentioned here is the first of its kind that I have seen and am sure that it will help online teachers a lot.

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