Kicking off a new research project: “Online Teaching and the New Normal”

I’ve been working very slowly but surly on putting together a survey to kick off a new project I’m currently calling “Online Teaching and the New Normal.” I just posted a page about it here, and I’m trying to get the word out via social media. If you come across this post and can help me out by either taking the survey or forwarding it on to other folks teaching college classes online during the 2020-21 school year, I’d appreciate it.

A bit more background:

As I wrote about back in early September, I have put aside the project I was working on last year, “Investigating Classroom Technology bans Through the Lens of Writing Studies,” aka “Classroom Tech Bans are Bullshit.” In the midst of a pandemic and during a school year in which an unprecedented number of instructors/students have no choice but to move the entire school year online, it just seemed to me like some kind of discussion about whether or not students should be allowed to use laptops in classrooms had quickly become irrelevant. Or at least it feels pretty irrelevant right now.

Anyway, in early September and after an enormous percentage of college classes went online for the entire semester (at EMU, it’s about 90%, and I think there are a lot of universities like EMU are somewhere in that range), I was surprised and rather confused at how many college faculty decided to go with synchronous video (aka Zoom) as the primary mode of delivery. As I wrote about there, it just does not make sense to me to teach an online class in that format.

Online classes have been delivered mostly asynchronously because the goal of distance education going all the way back to the Chautauqua movement, home study and early correspondence courses in the late 19th century has always been to extend access to higher education to students who can’t attend college face to face for some reason. Courses that meet at specific times in specific places restricts that access. Also, until relatively recently, live video conferencing software (like Zoom) hasn’t been that accessible to students– and it is still a problem for anyone with sketchy wifi or crappy computers, but that’s another story.

The current moment is different because we’re moving courses online for students who otherwise would prefer to attend classes on campus and face to face, which means the scheduling flexibility component isn’t as important. A lot of institutions are requiring faculty to teach their now online classes synchronously, I suppose because of the demands (or perceived demands) of students and their families, but I also know that a lot of faculty had the choice and went with synchronous Zoom instruction on their own. But a someone who has been teaching online and researching it for years, this still does not make sense to me. Teaching online classes synchronously doesn’t take advantage of the affordances of the format; I wrote about this here and I even gave an invited talk/presentation about it for a virtual conference in Europe in November.

However, these previous assumptions could very well be wrong. And right now, the tragedy of Covid-19 is giving folks interested in researching best practices for teaching online a unique opportunity. Thus my efforts so far with this survey. As I tell my students in my first year research writing classes, the reason we do research is to test the assumptions we have, particularly those assumptions that are based on incomplete and debatable evidence.

I have no idea how this is going to turn out, and while I’ve only been asking for people to fill this out for a few days, it’s been challenging to get folks to participate. A lot of it has to do with the timing (I think most of us teaching college classes are concentrating on getting done for the term so we can get to the holiday break, which makes yet another survey about something a lot less appealing), though I am also trying to get these folks to participate in a survey (and potentially an interview) about something that they perhaps would rather not talk about. I plan on leaving the survey open at least through the end of the 2020-21 school year, so there’s still time.

And of course, if you’ve read this far and you are teaching a college class online and in the U.S., why not take a few minutes to complete this survey yourself?


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