Ko and Rossen’s overview of online teaching

I found Ko and Rossen’s first chapter to be fairly interesting.  I liked their point about the lack of physical markers online; both my reading of the research on online learning and experience teaching online suggest that this is accurate, and that there are both upsides and downsides to it. We may not be able to rely on physical cues which can help us understand each other more easily (particularly in text-based courses rather than those with a strong visual element), but on the other hand, we may not judge Gerda before we meet her.

A couple of points interested me. It seemed to me that Ko and Rossen presented teaching online as freedom from stuff (like freedom from having to go to campus and having to show up at a given time) rather than as freedom for stuff (like using tools students use in everyday life or like doing something pedagogically interesting that you couldn’t do offline). I wondered if others found this to be the case (could just be me!), and if so, why the authors framed it in the way that they did.

They also contrasted teaching online with traditional teaching.  I recently read something that put moocs (massively open online courses) on the new and different end of a continuum and “traditional online and face-to-face courses” on the other. So I wonder whether our view of online learning as non-traditional might be changing. Could it be?

There were some points in the chapter that I was not entirely convinced about. The suggestion that it’s “people oriented people” who make the best online instructors, for example, is one of them. I’m not entirely sure what “people oriented people” means, so that could be part of my difficulty with the point, but I can imagine that instructors who rely upon highly intellective rather than highly interpersonal skills could be quite effective online. Perhaps the people-oriented people amongst us can shed some light on this point!

I also am unsure about the assertion that “there’s no need to start from scratch when teaching online.” While that may technically be true, I think it glosses over the fact that simply transferring a face-to-face course as it stands to an online environment may in fact be a terrible idea. In my own teaching, I find that I really need to rethink courses from a fundamental, philosophical level before going online with them. In my experience, online courses are fundamentally different from offline ones. Maybe others have been more succesful with a direct transfer of offline to online, but I’ve not been able to manage such a direct conversion well.

Last contrarian point, I’m not sure I buy the suggestion that “teaching online heightens our awareness of what we’re doing in the classroom.” Again, I think it’s a different thing. And I think that one disadvantage many of us face is that we haven’t taken an online course and thus actually don’t have any awareness of what this different thing is or how it works, particularly from a student perspective (one reason the PotCert is such a useful concept!). Perhaps teaching online does give us a point of comparison, however, and maybe that’s what the authors mean.

I look forward to hearing from others!

14 thoughts on “Ko and Rossen’s overview of online teaching

  1. I also found the authors’ view of online teaching to be very traditional. Of course, traditional was all I knew of online learning as well, until PLENK2010 introduced me to the wild world of MOOCs. Interesting that the acronym MOOC occurs nowhere in this entire textbook. (Another plus for using eText – quick search) So when interpreting what the authors say, it is probably good to know this about their point of view.

    I understand “people-oriented people” to refer to learner-focused rather than primarily program or content-focused. The authors describe such teachers as characterized by, “desire to reach out to their students, their empathy and interest in others, and their urge to bridge communication gaps.” (p. 18) However I agree with you that highly intellectual teachers can also be very effective online. In courses I have taken online, the dropout rate was about the same whether instructors were effusive and friendly, or coolly formal.

    The authors seem to back away from that “no need to start from scratch” position later in the chapter, recommending that online teachers, “fashion tasks and exercises that emphasize student collaboration and de-emphasize the traditional role of the instructor as the central figure in the pedagogical play.” (p.14) I keep wondering why courses for classroom delivery should be fundamentally different from this.

    • That is interesting (the no mooc point). I imagine that it is quite a task to keep a book on technology feeling up to date.

      Yes, I read the characteristics, but what is a people-person? An extrovert? An s/f on myers briggs? Something else? Another way to ask it is who do they see as not being people-oriented? It just seems to me a vague and unsubstantiated thing, which a problem I saw in other parts of the chapter, too.

      Good point. I like how you make the connection between teacher role and selection of instructional techniques…

  2. Good stuff this post! I like the way you are questioning the text. On the issue of moving a course from onsite to online, I think you are right to raise questions. However, I also think letting the online tools you know about set boundaries on what you think you can teach is extremely counter-productive. Best, in my view, to figure out what skills and content are most essential to your work and then find the online tools that help you help students develop those skills and learn that content. In short, I am advocating for Pedagogy First. Wait, that sounds familiar…

    • I agree that pedagogical views and goals should drive selection of the tools and that functional fixedness of the tool should not completely determine what you do. My point was that one to one conversion of onsite to online course has not worked well for me. I have had better succes in rethinking things. I think that there are important differences between face-to-face teaching at a fixed time and in a set location and teaching in the absence of physical presence, separated by distance and often time and for me it has been important to take these into account when designing courses and activities. I also think that there are times that the technology can allow you to do things that you could not in an onsite course, and I have found it to be important to remain open to the possibilities.

    • Claire, just want to add that I resonate with your insistence on deeply rethinking things when moving online as our teaching space. I think the language of “course conversion” does a disservice because it connotes a sort of static, mechanical, one-time-and-done process, rather than a more fluid and ongoing notion of redesign.

      But I think it is a mindset of openness and redesign/iteration, combined with a heightened sense of the teaching and learning that can occur when one is no longer bound by the time and space constraints of the “traditional classroom” that does result for many faculty in a “heightened awareness” of what’s going on, and what the possibilities are, in classroom-bound teaching.

    • Jim, I completely agree with you (language of course conversion and all)! I also think that the process of design (let’s face it, you have to think about design, and design from start to finish, when you teach online) makes us think about what we are doing as well. But I think that until we experience an online course as students ourselves (which is one great thing about Pedagogy First!) it’s difficult for us to really get online teaching and thus be able to make those bigger comparsions.

  3. Enjoyed your post. Thanks for the observation on how the authors frame an argument for online ed based on “freedom from…” That framing certainly matches US common sense priorities, but I find what I just read from Todd Conoway about the democratic possibilities of sharing learning to wider communities more inspiring. (Not that I couldn’t take pleasure teaching in my pj’s, freedom from shoes!)

    And I agree with your point, ‘I think that there are important differences between face-to-face teaching at a fixed time and in a set location and teaching in the absence of physical presence.’ I’m also struck with the dilemma of losing shared time and presence. So how to help students show up online/in their own time in ways that fosters connection with each other and the readings/ideas is an interesting challenge for me.

    • Thanks for your thoughts! We could think of it as freedom for working in pjs and freedom for going barefoot! It’s all how you frame it, right?

      Yes, I think the shared time and space adds to a feeling of thickness of time, and I agree with you that figuring out how to get at that in a new way is a challenge!

  4. I agree that simply transferring a face-to-face course to an online setting, without regard to examining what may not transfer effectively, is a very bad idea.

    For the course that I teach, an entirely online version of the class is also available. However, due to the nature of the course, several exercises are omitted due to that fact that the classroom version of the class is much more interactive.

    For example, part of the classroom version of the course requires a presentation. Obviously, in an online class, presentations cannot be done. So, as a substitute, we have the students record themselves on video and submit the presentation online.

    Instructors must take the time to examine the material and determine what and what does not work when transferring a classroom to an online course.

    • Thanks for your comment! I agree that it’s important to evaluate what might work online and what might not.

    • @Drew
      I must take issue with “Obviously, in an online class, presentations cannot be done.
      Student presentations have been a major component of a number of courses I have taken online. At the lean end of the tech spectrum there were email handouts to print and follow in a teleconference. In our for-credit courses, Skype group video and Blackboard Collaborate with application sharing and web tours was about as elaborate as we got, but I have also attended many (and made a few) non-credit presentations in virtual worlds. Second Life and World of Warcraft, for example, provide meeting spaces where students can demonstrate their learning in visually rich and interactive ways that allow them to receive live feedback from peers and instructor. I realize institutional firewalls and rural bandwidth create challenges to using synchronous technology, but making online presentations with live feedback definitely can be done.

    • I assumed Drew meant the kind of presentation where you have say a group of students stand up at the front of the room, one talks, and the others shuffle their feet and look down. That’s a form of presentation that I think we would do well to move away from onsite or online. He did mention an online form of video presentation, too.

      But your point is well taken. There are some really cool ways to accomplish real-time presentations online, and it sounds like you’ve participated in some interesting ones.

      In one of the courses I’m teaching (onsite), I included student presentations as a course requirement. For the first time, I gave an option to do the presentation onsite or online. I didn’t specify real time, so it will be interesting to see whether folks choose onsite or online presentations, and if the latter, whether they choose synchronous or asynchronous.

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