Teaching Online Teaching Online – a one week course (lessons learned)

(see previous post for more design info)

It seems I struck a bit of a chord with my fellow educators as I sat in my basement at about 7am trying to figure out how to fix the design of the course I’ve been working on with my colleagues at the Office of Open Learning at the University of Windsor.

The task is a daunting one. It kind of reminds me of mandatory tech training that Bonnie and I have offered in k12. Here are a group of smart people, who have spent their lives teaching, who you need to make very uncomfortable before they are going to start feeling comfortable again. Those people expected me to show them how to make the machine go PING! and I was there talking to them about abundance and complexity. Exact same scenario this time. Day 1 feedback was (not entirely, but enough) “We didn’t even learn to DO anything!”

Plus. We had to do it online. Teaching online learning online is hard. Just sayin’.

We did make some adjustments based on that (and other) feedback. We reorganized what we were going to do on day 3 and 5. I’m going to do my best here to record the lessons that we learned in the first week. I will say… they are hopeful lessons to me. While exhausting, it was probably the most rewarding week of my educational career. I am left, once again, very thankful to Nick Baker for allowing us (and probably defending me in all kinds of meetings) to stick to our guns and do the course this way.

Conceptual work

Affodances of online spaces

I have a starting premise in doing this kind of work that there is no definitive research in education. I know people tell me I’m wrong, but it might as well be true when we’re working with people who are mostly not going to dig into the research. I can find research to support pretty much any position in education, I mostly chose not to for this course. YMMV

We started by introducing the idea of affordances. The internet fundamentally changes what is possible when it comes to learning. When we were still under the tyranny of paper, our access to diversity of perspective was hugely limited. Our ability to be flexible in what we were going to teach and learn were limited to the texts we could order into our classrooms and the things crammed in the heads of the learners and the teacher.

This has changed.

Information is now abundant. It provides an amazing opportunity to allow learning to be something that emerges from people outside of the textbook/teacher/student nexus.

The tool we used to contextualize this abundance is Dave Snowden’s distinction between the complicated and the complex. In situations that are complicated, it makes total sense to just go identify a resource (a person/text/video etc…) that can explain the step by step, complicated concept. When things are complex, however, the abundance of the internet provides an amazing swath of opportunities.

The third day we talked about how working in digital spaces is fundamentally different. We need to consider how we communicate our humanity- what is a smile in an online course? We need to think about how to give instructions so that they provide context. Martin Weller talked about how setting up roles in a group might take 5 minutes in a live classroom but might take a week when working asynchronously.

We talked about how some things are done better asynchronously than synchronously online. If you’re just going to be telling someone something, record it, send them a paper or something. No need to have someone live just listening to you.

We also talked a ton about different ways to communicate ideas.

The last day we talked a great deal about doing formative and summative assessments online. How with formative assessment you need to find a way to see people’s work early and often (by using iterative assignments for instance) so that you can provide formative help. In a f2f classroom you might be doing that all the time without realizing it, online you need to be more deliberate about it.

We talked about the weakness of online spaces for summative assessment, particularly for MCQ style summative assessment. We talked about the technical, pedagogical and ethical challenges of doing that and what alternatives might be considered to get there.

On the asynchronous days we encouraged people to think about how they syllabus was being constructed.

  • How to do introductions.
  • How to work with the library to get resources
  • How to think about your curriculum
  • Thinking about the connection between content and assessment in digital spaces
  • How to provide group feedback

The technology

While I definitely believe that the concepts are more important, digital spaces are, well, digital. The design of the course has learners doing assignments, discussion board work, working in collaborate, doing tests etc… all while discussing the concepts (in Blackboard). The idea is to give people practical experience using the tools so that when they search/ask for advice, they have the context that they need. We’re NOT going to have time in a one week course to teach people how to fix the settings in the gradebook.

Breakout groups

We did 3 3-hour live sessions. They were exhausting. But we did do some guided breakout groups. We actually broke them out into groups of five and had facilitators guide people through the process of search for Creative Commons images and resources. Those went well. We also used the breakout groups to let people process their feelings about the #onlinepivot. People are upset. It’s important they get a chance to be heard.

Other notes

  • We need to work harder to make better use of the asynchronous days
  • We need to make it MORE clear EARLY that we aren’t ‘explaining technology’
  • I modelled ‘establishing a social contract’ excessively. Made my
  • I performed a number of different models and approaches to show how you could work with students
  • We did a TON of live slides.
  • We talked a bunch about teacher presence
  • We took the opportunity to say ‘contact your librarian’ every day
  • We kept giving them the links to campus supports
  • We created a take away with all our key concepts, links on them
  • We provided ‘extra resources’ for those who were more advanced and wanted more stuff
  • I linked them to a bunch of http://oliah.ca videos.

Key outcome

They got it. In one week people went from being nervous, sure they were going to do 2 hour live lectures every week and thinking they wanted to make the machine go PING! to thinking about how they could have a great class online. Like they really got it. We treated them like smart people, told them they were going to have to figure out the tech, supported them as much as we possible could and talked all day about pedagogies of care… and they got it.

I mean. I’m sure some of them had that coming in… but there were people who made the whole transition. It was a long week of late night and early morning planning with Alicia, Ashlyne and Nick… but we made it. Looking forward to editing our design this week. I’ll post the final version after we refine it.

Good luck peeps.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

5 thoughts on “Teaching Online Teaching Online – a one week course (lessons learned)”

  1. Hello Dave,
    I really enjoyed reading about your experience! Since the pandemic hit and schools shut down, Ive also been thinking about how best to help teachers and faculty make the shift amidst the tons of guides and claims of expertise out there. Ive been a distance learning practitioner for 15 years now and know firsthand what it feels like been the only single mode distance learning institution in my country (Nigeria). What a great idea to invite others from elsewhere share, I will definitely watch your youtube posts! Looking forward to seeing the final Version of your design! Good job!

  2. Thanks for this Dave! I’ve very recently done a pivot of my own; going from PT lecturer in Feb to VP:Academics in March. The ink had barely died on the contract when our country went into lockdown. Suddenly I had an entire campus looking to me for certainty while we were all packing our sh!zness to work from home. No pressure, right? Long story short, your work remains a lifeline. Thank you!

  3. 3 hours is a long time.

    Would it make more sense to do 90 minute synchronous sessions every day, and pair that with the asynchronous parts the other half of the day? In other words, do 9-10:30 every day as a synchronous session, and then do the asynch stuff… well… at any point during the gaps.

    I love the idea of this course, and I think it’s something a lot of people would find useful.

  4. This is hard work! And it’s so easy to slip into talking about the tech—that’s what many faculty want to hear about now. But the problem is that the technology has its own educational agenda, so to speak, and it’s not necessarily the agenda that the teachers want.
    Your experience mirrors what we find in our “regular” (that is non-online-pivot programs) as well: One, we try to model more than we lecture, parallel-process style; the trick is to remember to explain this, just as we have to explain to our students in class that we teach even if we don’t lecture. I know I don’t always remember explaining this, and then there’s pushback. (There may be anyway because:) Two, if we want faculty to learn something really new, we’ll change their conceptual thinking, and this can lead to resistance. Usually, most find that it’s worth it after a week, but the struggle can be real. And I’m also ambivalent about this: Who am I to tell my colleagues that they should do what they don’t want to do? I have to be really persuaded that what I’m doing is the right thing.

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