Online Learning Grew on Me

(I’m a little late with this one. It has been a crazy but good week so if you bear with me, at the end of this post I’ll share a bit of what’s been going on!)


flickr photo shared by shareski under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

My first experience with online learning was pretty horrible. I had moved across the country for a graduate program and had been offered a teaching assistant job for a new online class. The class was full of pre-recorded interviews between the head TA and the instructor, students had a coursepack, a weekly reading response assignment, exams, and a weekly question on the forum that was not for marks. There were 7 TAs and 800 students to begin with. By the end, some of us had 60 students, some still had closer to 100, but the course had dropped around 200+ students. The instructor did not participate at all (in fact, if he received student email, he notified them to contact their TA). We were told to spend less time marking and providing feedback. There was no real interaction with students as most of them opted out of the weekly forum time and had no interest in posting questions to the forum during “office hour.” I was overworked, under-appreciated, underpaid, and pretty skeptical that anyone was learning anything.

As you can guess, I was pretty sure online classes were horrible and just a way for universities to do a money grab.

Now I work with online courses daily and I have been taking online courses for my MEd. The EC&I 833 course is different than most of the courses I work on. For the most part I work with asynchronous courses – there is no requirement that students be doing something at the same time. I do see benefit from the synchronous sessions, getting to talk to other people in a more conversational format. It gives you the feeling of actually being in a class with real people. Heidi mentioned how much this is worth the frustration of the scheduling for her. In general, however, we instructional designers tend to recommend mandatory sessions, suggesting recommended sessions that are recorded and posted. Why? Well because scheduling conflicts can prevent students from taking a course which is not what we want. My unit is, after all, called Flexible Learning. Also, the Registrar’s Office has mandated that mandatory sessions be pre-scheduled in the system before students register. It’s a pain to do for our admin people and the goal is to have a course available to as many students as possible when it is offered online. So we tend to suggest instructors make the sessions worth attending rather than using the “show up or you could fail” approach. Nothing against Alec for making his sessions mandatory. Considering that we are having weekly presentations, we definitely need to show up since this is the content delivery model and I bet almost all of us would show up regardless. But not all instructors actually make those times useful.

From taking online courses, I can definitely say that I love them when they are done well. The technology definitely does play a part in that. Zoom, as Jennifer notes, is really easy. I’m with you, Jennifer! I bring up Zoom to instructors regularly because it is user-friendly (except if you are trying to advance slides and type in the chat at the same time, that just gets a bit more complicated). When the technology is comfortable, it lets everyone focus on the learning. And sometimes the technology has to become part of the learning but that time isn’t factored in which can be discouraging.

I am working with a colleague to develop an online class now and it is nice to put into practice things that I have learned or experienced so clearly, I’m a convert. I love being able to attend class in my pyjamas, eat my supper, and hang out with my classmates from the comfort of my own home. I just hope that I can continue to find good ways to practice positive and empowering pedagogy in the online environment!

(So, now on to why I’ve been so busy! I was in Saskatoon twice last week, first day for my husband to get a tattoo, second day for me to get one!

And then I was swamped being awesome on Halloween as I helped some ladies in my unit do some marketing. Four of us made our costumes and went around campus dressed up, giving out candy to promote courses with flexible deliveries

Ghostbusters!
Ghostbusters! One of our Graphics and Multimedia Specialists was so excited he made us trading cards

So my apologies for being late with this post but I’m hoping those make up for it.)

One thought on “Online Learning Grew on Me”

  1. It’s also important to note that the U’s system hasn’t been (and may not still be) great when it comes to registered for and communicating mandatory online sessions. For many years, I would tell the registration people that I had mandatory online sessions, and sometimes they would appear in the registration system for students, and sometimes they wouldn’t. And when they *did* appear, it would often be that you needed to click a second time to reveal that these sessions existed meaning that many students missed it upon registration. Even the terminology we used – web-delivered for instance – doesn’t say much. Web-delivered tells the student the medium, but doesn’t do much to say whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous. We need clarity and consistency around the terms that we use across this across the university for all of those making decisions and for those affected.

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