Online Teaching is a Wrap–for Now

This past Friday I turned in my grades for my first online course–a survey of Western Classics.  Nine students read The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, Othello, Candide, poems by Wordsworth, Keats, and Dickinson, and Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart.  They watched online content, participated in forum discussions, and wrote a LOT!  I will see some of these students on campus in the next week, and I’m eager to talk with them about their experience.

From my perspective, it was a success.  It seemed to me that students connected with the objectives of the course, and they reported in their online reflections and essays that several of the readings meshed with their personal circumstances in some ways that surprised them.

Teaching online made me reflect on what I love about teaching, what I assume about the students I teach, and what I assume about my role as a teacher.  Because there is a necessary distance between instructor and student in an online environment (even with all the ways we can “connect” these days electronically), I had to devote more time and intention in the materials I prepared for them.  I also had to watch them read from a distance, which meant I could “coach” their reading but not control it.

The humility in this restraint brought with it the realization that I’m not really controlling students’ reading even when I’m teaching face to face–though I try by moderating in-class comments on assignments.  More important, there’s value in letting students struggle a bit in working out their interpretations of texts, even if I think they’re getting something wrong.  More than once I witnessed a student growing in his or her understanding of a work as they moved through it, revising their assessment of a character or reassessing a situation or theme after gaining a fuller understanding of the culture in which the situation was playing itself out.

Having said all that, I am still looking forward to seeing students in the flesh next week–I’ve missed the face-to-face contact.  That, too, has been a spur for me to think of ways I’ll adjust the online course to foster a greater sense of community the next time I teach it.  Maybe it’s a bit like being asked to explain something you know well but to do it in a different language.  Suddenly, you’re aware of just how idiomatic your accustomed language is and how you have to work harder to re-contextualize meaning and truth.  I’m eager to see how this experience informs my on-campus teaching this year.

Calm Between Two Storms

The school year for our kids is just about over, and I am feeling like I am coming up for air before taking a deep breath and plunging into summer activities.  Our foray into ballet, tap, and hip hop is culminating this week in Amy’s and Lauryn’s recital–record amounts of hairspray, bobby pins, and mascara will be used.

Joe has been on a camping trip all this weekend, and it has rained most of the time.  His troop’s plan to work on the campsite they will be using for summer camp had to be modified, I’m sure.

We are also looking at our activity calendar for the summer and deciding what stays and what goes.  Swim team?  Scout camp?  Church camp?  Family vacation?  I’m already into August and answering the question, “how was your summer?”  My usual answer is that it was a blur.

One new venture for me will be to teach a completely online section of the Western Classics course I regularly teach in a face-to-face format.  I’m excited to see how it goes.  It begins in June, and I still have a lot of preparation to do, converting things I usually do in the classroom to various online activities.  In the process, I am learning about new apps out there for putting various kinds of content online.  I thought I was pretty current, but it amazes me how much stuff keeps coming out all the time; some good, lots of it competing with other similar stuff.  Part of my job will be figuring out which ones work best for what I want to do.

Joe, Amy, and Lauryn Enjoying Their Summer

Joe, Amy, and Lauryn 2010, originally uploaded by Chuck238.

Even though life around our house gets a bit chaotic over the summer (less structure), it’s always amazing to me to see how much personal growth occurs in my kids when they’re around each other more during the day than when they are separated by their school lives (different schools, different grade levels, etc).

I had mentioned in my post about camp that Josh and Lauryn loved having Joe and Amy gone for a week, but I should also mention that Lauryn and Josh also LOVE having the attention of their big brother and sister, and Amy loves having real “students” populate her “kitchen classroom,” versus the imaginary pupils, who seem to get called up to the front of the room a lot for disciplinary actions (don’t know WHAT that’s about).

They are all getting geared up for our big two-week trek into New England in July, to visit relatives in Vermont, see Niagra Falls, and explore Boston. We plan to do all of this while building togetherness in a 10 x 14 tent.

THAT oughta provide a few blog ideas.