On Beginnings

Beginnings are important. Since I am posting about this here, I’m speaking specifically about education but I couldn’t resist starting things off slow and mellow with a little Cole Porter (as sung by Cheryl Crow in DeLovely.

My life, especially work life, is full of beginnings. Today is the official beginning of the new semester with all the pressure and panic that entails. In my case, it means that for the past few weeks I have been working hard with instructors to ensure their courses are ready for students. Some made it. Some did not. The hope is always to have the beginning be as smooth and pleasant as possible, especially for students. The syllabus should be ready, the students should have access to their course on time, all the things they need right from the start should be available (and things they shouldn’t see should be hidden). Needless to say no semester beginning is perfectly smooth but we do our best.

Sometimes it seems that instructors lose sight of the importance of these beginnings. It is oh so easy, especially for a course that has been taught numerous times before, even more when that course is online and you don’t have to physically hand out a syllabus at a specific date and time with a bunch of eager (or not) faces staring at you, to let the beginning slip. To forget to update the syllabus, to leave things to the last minute and be late. Sometimes glitches happen and it is beyond your control. Sometimes it is an accident and you are left trying to catch up. But it is still important, still worth putting in your best effort.

I also begin a lot of relationships with my work. I am constantly contacting new people, working with new instructors. I need to build those relationships in the best way possible. In many cases, I am the first introduction to my unit that these people have. I may be the first instructional designer they work with (although many of them are more experienced than I am). Even if they are not new to online courses or working with instructional designers, they may be new to working with me. I inherit courses that have finished the development process which includes two deliveries so those instructors are transitioning into being more independent with less support from me. I may need to help them along that path. In some cases I am trying to teach them skills that will help them be self-sufficient which gives more time for them to teach and engage with students. Occasionally I struggle with instructors who have “checked out,” who may not communicate well or understand my role (hint: I am not actually “tech support”). Regardless, the beginning is important. Sometimes I have a number of beginnings with the same person if I don’t work with them often or they start working on new courses.

These relationships are also part of the beginning of the semester, especially for instructors. A new semester is a new beginning with students. Perhaps with students they have never met, perhaps with students they already know. That relationship is, to me, a huge part of the teaching and learning process. Being ready for the beginning helps develop trust. If you begin the semester ready and excited for your students, engaging with them as soon as possible, that says something about how the semester will go.

I am beginning a new course myself as a student, EC&I 832. I already know the instructor and the TA (Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt, having taken a class from them before (EC&I 831) and having worked with them through my job. I already see that one student is familiar from previous courses. This course, however, is still a new beginning. This is the first delivery of this course and a new chance to work with the instructor and the TA. New chances to get to know other students, work with different people.

It is a time of beginnings and I hope to start it off well!

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