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Anyone taken or taught college courses online?

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by hrodbert696, Jun 28, 2012.

  1. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    I'm going through the process of qualifying to be an online instructor for a nearby school (already teach traditional brick-and-mortar campus classes) and I'm just curious what people's experience has been. Everything the school gives us is rah-rah, go-go, and every link and resource is supposedly critically important. Any tips on what works, how worthwhile the courses were, what was just busywork and what was really important?

    I'm used to writing my own syllabi and this institution's approach basically has us executing pre-written course "shells" that we're given. I'm a bit skeptical but trying not to let my doubts prevent me from keeping up with the times, here.
  2. Tat2dHeart

    Tat2dHeart Only two strings away from an attitude problem.

    I did quite a lot of my junior and senior year of my undergrad and all of my MBA through distance learning. It's a topic I could talk on for a very long time, so rather than bore the entire forum with the infinite details, I will suggest - PM me for those that are important?

    In general, however, success in that venue from a student perspective is mostly on the student getting the work done. What I gained most from my instructors was when they were able to provide the following:

    * Clear written instructions
    * Fast responses to e-mail/forum queries
    * Set office hours (for phone or IM discussions)
    * Flexibility (I was working full-time while I was taking these classes and sometimes had work conflicts that needed to be accommodated)

    All in all, I did well, but it was a huge investment in time on my side. If I had to do it over again, I don't think I'd change it. I gained other skills as a result that have been very beneficial (e.g., time management, better written communication, etc.).
  3. jamis


    Jan 5, 2007
    Worcester, MA USA
    Couldn't agree with Tat2dHeart more. The biggest issue I found was other students not taking the initiative. Although not meeting in a regular class many students would get lazy and wait until the last minute. One thing I might suggest is clear, concise instructions and more defined due dates throughout the course. If taking online classes for the first time many students benefit from this type of schedule. Eventually they realize they have to actually work harder for many online classes. It really does depend on the type of course. But the more dates you require the better the overall class will perform. If done right, online is extremely beneficial for the student and if successfull, the schools will benefit also. Best of luck. Thanks for teaching. It's a noble profession.
  4. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    I have never taught any online classes, but it's something I've been looking into. I'm approaching ABD in my education, and I'm considering adjuncting while I finish my doctorate. While I'd like to teach in the classroom, I'm open to online as well. It seems like colleges really like online classes, since they allow a fairly easy way for credit-hour production without actually using up class space. Of course, most of the online classes and programs that are associated with a traditional brick-and-mortar institution are much more regarded than the usual online schools that are thought to be diploma mills.

    I've taken two online courses, one at the undergraduate level and one at the Master's level. For the most part, I enjoyed them. However, they do require a bit of a different approach as a student. The structure of not being in a class makes courses feel overwhelming at first, because there's usually more requirements of the students about things like taking part in weekly threaded discussions. Also, you really do lose something with not having a lecture component; I guess that could be overcome if you have recorded lectures for students to access. I don't know if I necessarily learn less without a lecture, as I'm an autodidact, but I do feel that it somehow cheapens my education. Also, threaded discussions are never as fulfilling as the discussion you'd have in an in-person seminar.

    As an academic, though, I'd suggest doing for at least a little while. It's something you can put on your CV, which may be important latter on.
  5. Illini10


    May 15, 2012
    Elmwood, IL
    Good advice from everyone.

    +1 on clear instructions, fast responses to e-mails/phone calls, clear due dates for assignments and a firm policy regarding missed assignments.

    Stress in your syllabus that online courses are difficult and require the student to stay on-task and follow the course schedule.

    I earned my Ed. M. online through UIUC and enjoyed the experience. We had discussion posts every week, two or three major papers/projects per course, online F2F time in a virtual classroom every week and various reading assignments (textbook and online). The better the course was set up, the easier it was.

    Also, short turn around for grading and feedback is huge!
  6. I have taken several online/hybrid classes at two or three different junior colleges (speech, government, history).

    Personally, I like online classes where I show up the first day to get the outline and schedule and then only show up after that to take tests. I don't like turning in online homework things or using some chat room or forum to interact with the class.

    If I wanted to interact with my classmates and teacher a lot I would take a standard class. When I take an online class it's because I'm busy. I want to read the book only to study for tests at my pace. If I have a question I will email the teacher or stop by office hours.

    I had one class where the tests were all online too, with a three hour time limit. That was such a dumb idea. I didn't learn a thing. All I did was use the book and google to get a solid A in that class. So... don't do that.
  7. RosieB


    Feb 10, 2009
    Good responses so far. I've taken roughly 10 online classes in the past year. Most were very good. The best classes had a very well laid out syllabus with all assignments, tests and due dates listed, the grading scale delineated, late policies and instructor contact info well documented. They had both reading assignments and audio/video lectures to accommodate both learning styles. Some of the classes (like US history) had required discussion forum assignments to facilitate interaction between students. Others (like Java programming) were strictly a series of reading, assignments and due dates. Some classes had all assignments open at the beginning of the class and the student could work ahead if they wanted (Java). Others opened a new unit every week to keep the class on the same schedule (history). All these formats worked well because, even though they used the standard online shell the college provided, the format was tailored to the subject of the class.

    The one class that was a complete disaster used an existing populated shell from another class. The instructor tried to change the content for her own class, but it ended up being a mix of our class and the other class. We spent the entire class wondering what our assignments were and what our due dates actually were.

    The most important thing, from my viewpoint as a student, are really just being clear about what the assignments are, when they are due, and responding to questions in a regular fashion.

    I noticed a lot of instructors had a problem with students expecting immediate 24- hour responses to questions. All of out assignments were due at midnight on the weekend and LOTS of students would expect immediate answers to questions in the hours leading up to the due dates. Be very clear about your availability, especially in regards to responding to emails.

    Good luck with your venture!
  8. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    I've been teaching a graduate-level course online for some years, and I administer distance programs and work with faculty on course design and content.

    I'm going to comment on a post from the discussion above, but to be clear, this is NOT an attack or commentary on that post - it just gives me material from which to comment....

    IMO that's a poorly designed class and no student should be able to do this and pass the class. A class is not just a textbook, and it's not intended to be something that students can avoid getting involved with. No one could pass my class with that approach, because I require student interaction. I also require many essays and students need to write well and clearly in those essays.

    A class such as that described is a waste of the student's money, because it's nothing more than a textbook online. In my classes, 30% of the grade depends on student interaction, because I believe that all students bring something important in the class. All assignments are designed around interaction. Every student is "busy", but the single thing that makes classes better is interaction with others. A class designed to avoid that is of little value.

    Agreed. And the difference is that he didn't have to interact with anyone, nor contribute anything to the class...so it wasn't worth much.

    If you're teaching at the undergraduate level, chances are that you'll have quite a number of students - and that's different than my situation, in which I normally have 10 students or fewer in the course. Small numbers mean that I interact more with each student and demand that they interact more with others.

    You need to decide your approach, and you also need to put limits on it. There are good suggestions above, and I'll add some...

    1) Be clear about the class requirements. Hopefully the syllabus does this for you. Hold the students accountable for having read the syllabus and direct them to it rather than answering questions which are addressed in it.

    2) Make it clear that you will respond to questions within either 24 or 48 hours (whichever fits your situation), but that students can NOT expect an instant response, regardless of what time of day it is.

    3) Be conversational and clear. Greet students to the online class. If it furthers your course objectives, ask the students to introduce themselves.

    4) If the class is laid out for you, then do what you can to add your own comments and personality. Be a guide for the students, and help them deal with the material.

    5) Ask questions that elicit discussion. Participate in the discussion - not necessarily to give answers, but to ask additional provocative questions.

    6) If students aren't participating by the end of the first week, email them and let them know that you are looking for them, and gently remind them of the grade consequences (if any) that result from non-participation.

    Check Internet forums for discussions of online teaching - this is a very hot topic in education and you will gain lots of info. LinkedIn has some groups that are dedicated to this exact topic.

    There is no one way to do this - but you can inject your own personality. It's even OK to ask the students for feedback during the course, and see what they can tell you. You're a person just like they are.
  9. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Thanks for all the responses so far, it's all very useful. There are two particular areas where I'm wondering what to expect or how to handle it:

    One is research. In my own syllabi student research is very important, and even in introductory classes I always include an assignment that makes students go in the library and find stuff - actual paper books as well as electronic resources. I don't know yet what role research will play in the prepared syllabi they're giving us. I suspect not much, since they've given us generic rubrics for standard assignments and research doesn't seem to be one of them. And I guess I can't assume online students would have access to a proper research library. How have courses you've taught/taken handled research, if at all?

    The other is mentoring. I always stress to people that most of the real learning you do in college happens outside the classroom; class lectures are just launching pads to raise questions and ideas to pursue in office hours or over the dining hall table. I always felt my best teaching moments happened in my office, not the classroom: desperate students needing help and ambitious students wanting more. I totally appreciate Pilgrim's point that discussion participation is essential - have people generally felt that online discussion threads or IMs have risen to the point of fostering mentoring relationships?

  10. Illini10


    May 15, 2012
    Elmwood, IL
    I'm not sure where you teach but we had access to the online journal databases at UIUC. My first year in my program I lived about 5 miles from the University of Illinois - Springfield Campus and spent an afternoon or two in that library as well. Students at the community colleges I have taught at have also had access to the databases there for research.

    As far as online mentoring goes, one of my favorite professors taught courses in assessment and curriculum development. Between e-mail, IM, forum posts, and assignment feedback I learned quite a bit from him and we established a great relationship. As long as you reply promptly and give great feedback I think you'll have no problem mentoring those who want to be mentored!
  11. smperry

    smperry Administrator Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2003
    Bay Area, CA
    I've taught the occasional graduate-level course online the past few years, but don't have anything to add. There are good comments in here already. I really enjoy teaching face-to-face, but I understand that it's way things are moving. I just served on a student's dissertation on online learning, there are some strengths.
  12. Would you guys mind posting the subjects of your online experiences? I imagine some of the things discussed above depend on the course subject. Some classes do not require discussion, others do.

    I just finished an MS in Chemical Engineering last December & thought it was probably one of the best things I've ever done. Online education is the biggest driver for me getting my masters, and where I did it. I work full-time, and was doing graduate work in my spare time. I also travel quite a bit, so it was nice not to be tied to a physical campus, and to be able to watch the lectures when I wanted. I started off at one school, but they did not have their full program online (for MS, Chemical Engineering, Non-thesis), so I transferred to another school part-way through.

    The on-campus support structure helps students work through difficult concepts in engineering, which is absent in an online environment. I still remember an example from early on: modeling the equations to characterize a continuous juicing process with filtration & product recycle. My grad school work was done solo, occasionally with help from people at work. It was difficult, and required several very late nights, but I got it done.

    A few classes required group homework submissions - that was ridiculous. We ended up breaking up the assignment, where each of us managed one of the chunks. In the end, I had to redo the assignments on my own so I could study for the exams. My supervisor or other higher-positioned folks proctored my exams, and we faxed / emailed them in afterwards.

    A great experience overall - particularly if you are self motivated & don't need (want) the on-campus environment to get work done.
  13. RosieB


    Feb 10, 2009
    I had a few research papers due for my online history and operating systems classes, though the research was all done on the Internet. From what I could tell, everyone had access to a library, too. Though there are a lot of actual books that can be found in digital form online now, so you could steer everyone toward sources like this.

    The classes also had required introduction forums so everyone could "meet" each other. The history class had 2 required discussion forums due each week - your own main initial post about the forum question and then at least 2 responses to 2 other people's posts, but not more than 4. You could not read the other posts until you made your own initial main post. This did facilitate discussion between students.

    All of my online classes have had a help discussion forum open for the duration of the class. Sometimes they got used and sometimes they didn't.

    I just remembered, too, that my system analysis and design class (that's all one class) had a required discussion forum where we had to work together to complete homework assignments. Someone would start a data flow diagram, or whatever, and everyone would add, correct or contribute somehow. There would usually be 2-3 questions assigned per week. We would start with the first one and when/if it got completed we would continue to the next one. The instructor gave us feedback and let us know when to move on to the next question. This actually worked out very well and we all learned from each other. There was much more discussion and interaction in that class than we had in a lot of my classroom classes.

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