Teaching online outside of the box (sort of)

In the interest of self-promotion, I thought I’d mention I’m scheduled to teach two classes this spring, English 328 (which is already full) and English 444: Writing for the World Wide Web, which still has some spots in it. As an aside: enrollments are down in general at EMU, I think mainly because of the very poor economy in the area. The conventional wisdom is that when the economy is bad, higher education’s fortunes rise as people decide to go to school instead or as they come back to school for more training/education to help them get a better or a different job. The problem right now though that the economy in Michigan is so bad that people are spending their money instead on a moving van and getting out of the area.

And yet the online classes continue to fill quickly. It’s a format that makes a lot of sense for students in the spring or summer terms, and I think it’s a format that appeals because of the lifestyles of a huge percentage of our students: commuters, workers, multi-taskers. I don’t know if all of the students who enroll for online classes really know what they are getting into and I do have long-term concerns about offering these courses responsibly. But in the short-term, they are clearly helping raise enrollment.

In any event, I emailed someone in CE the other day to ask a couple of questions that might really fall into the “don’t ask, don’t tell” category of things. The first was how much did I have to actually use the course management system that EMU has, which is called eCollege. It’s not a bad CMS as far as those things go, but it is still very much “a box” that makes certain assumptions about how a course works, and it can be kind of tedious to use. Besides, for a course like Writing for the World Wide Web, it seems to me that most of the writing and work that students should do in that class ought to be “out there” on the web and not behind some firewall. My second question was, given that I was going to be teaching just online this spring term, was I contractually obligated to hold face-to-face office hours.

I didn’t get entirely satisfactory answers. Like I said, don’t ask, don’t tell.

The person in CE I emailed about this (and btw, I think all the people I’ve had contact with in CE are really good folks) said that it would be “ideal” for me to use the CMS for various course functions, but also that they would have “no problems” with me using other “instructional tools” as well. The office hour question was even more sticky; basically, I can do online office hours but I had to do “at least some” of them on campus.

Will see how it turns out, but at EMU, where the faculty contract has a way of sticking its nose into nearly everything, these nit-picky details are things that will eventually be systematized at some point, I am sure. In the mean-time, I’ll post materials on the EMU CMS, but I’ll also post it all as free-standing HTML files, on the blog, or on the wiki. Hopefully I won’t get into too much trouble….

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