Monday, July 16, 2012

Distance Learning: My First Week Teaching Online

Last week, my online course began. As I posted earlier, I have never taught online before, and the idea of smooshing my 15-week course into a 5-week warp-speed summer course was making me very, very anxious. I was also upset that the powers that be forced me to use Blackboard rather than Wordpress, as initially planned. 
The Blackboard Homepage for My Online Course
I changed my syllabus 4 times, but in the end, I went with a blend between an activist writing and an iSearch project approach. There are very few assigned readings in my course, but the ones that I do make them read are mostly related to writing studies (Sommers, Flower and Hayes, Lamott). I also have them doing some writing about writing, disconnected from the major project. The end result will be a portfolio that includes their big project, some smaller pieces, a reflection, and a self-evaluation.

So now, I'm a week and a half in, and I think my fears have been assuaged. I'm sure it speaks to the students more to my own teaching style, but they are engaged, socializing without much prompting, and just really great people. I admit that I was shocked at the diversity of the group. The university where I work is known for being diverse, but in my face to face courses, I have typically had students who were fluent in English, mostly American-born. I think more than half of my students in this course are international students who began learning English just within the past few years. All of them, regardless of country of origin, have been willing to share their fascinating lives and feedback, and I just find that truly amazing. It's a wonderful group!

I also must admit that I hate Blackboard a little less than I thought I would. Our version allows students to create blogs, so I chose that option rather than discussion boards, and it seems to be working very well. It's easy for me to see who is writing, when they are writing, and when they get feedback. The students are commenting, mostly unprompted. When using discussion boards, I notice that certain people usually end up running the show while others stay quiet. The blog option seems to promote more agency, giving everyone a space to develop their ideas. I do dislike that it is nearly uncustomizable and that they look similar to discussion board posts. I think Blackboard could really step it up and allow students to take more ownership, but I do think that students who have never taken an online course find it simple to learn. I also don't like that the Blackboard blogs keep the class cloistered, as I am an advocate of public writing and sharing with an audience beyond the classroom. I like the idea of being able to get feedback from outside if you want it, especially when you're writing about a topic with which your classmates are unfamiliar. 

To cope with the super-short time span, I've been trying to do the assignments alongside my students. I give them a few days to do it on their own, and then late in the week, I post. I think that modeling for them what I expect is just one extra way that I can help them. I do worry that if I post before everyone they will feel that there is only one correct way to approach the task, however, which is why I wait. I also try to comment on everyone's writing, but wait until after the students have taken some time to speak among themselves.  

I'm looking forward to seeing how the class develops as the next three and a half weeks go by. I'm a little nervous that I didn't implement enough structured learning and that, in just 5 weeks, students won't be able to make the progress that I'd like them to, but I guess I'l just have to wait and see.


Flowers, Linda and John Hayes. "The Cognition of Discovery: Defining the Rhetorical Problem." College Composition and Communication 31.1 (1980): 21-32. Jstor. Web. 16 July 2012.

Sommers, Nancy. "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experiences Adult Writers." College Composition and Communication 31.4 (1980): 378-88. Jstor. Web. 16 July 2012.

"Writing an iSearch Paper." Writing Workshop. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, n.d. Web. <>

No comments: