Teaching Online at EMU: The Learning Curves

Despite the fact that I’ve been involved in using technology to teach writing for a long time now, I’ve never taught an online class before, at least before this semester. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the big one for me is that at EMU, these courses are offered through Continuing Education and they tend to staff them with faculty who teach the courses as overloads. I wasn’t willing to do that, but then (for a variety of different reasons that really aren’t that interesting anyway) I was told that I could teach an online class as part of my “regular” teaching load after all and I’m going to start teaching one online class on in a couple of weeks.

After both procrastinating and working on other things I needed to do this summer, I’m finally starting to get my online class together. EMU Online uses eCollege to support their online classes, and eCollege is pretty decent software. I have some issues with it (see below), but it sure as heck is better than WebCT, which I tried to use for another class back in January. Incidentally, there’s actually some campus politics surrounding this because there are “forces” around here who want us to use WebCT to teach online. My hope is that the pro-WebCT people lose this battle.

So far, I’ve got three observations:

  • Once again, I am reminded that a little HTML goes a long LONG way. Every once in a while, I encounter colleagues at EMU or online or at a conference or whatever who say that there’s no real point in learning or teaching basic HTML skills, in part because software like Dreamweaver makes it easy to avoid messing with the code. And you can get away with not using an HTML with eCollege, too. But it sure helps to know at least the basics of HTML.
  • Despite what I do know about HTML and CSS and other computer geek things, I still have to get over a learning curve to make this software work, at least work for me. eCollege isn’t nearly as frustrating as WebCT, but it’s frustrating enough.
  • eCollege (and just about every other software I’ve seen for teaching online) isn’t really designed to teach a writing course, at least the way I tend to teach writing classes. This is kind of hard for me to explain just now, but I guess what I’m getting at is this: eCollege seems to me to assume that a college course is made up of individual units which students work through, more or less independently, and then take a test about to demonstrate knowledge. Sure, there’s plenty of opportunities for interaction between students and between the instructor with the software, but it doesn’t seem that easy to me to exchange drafts of essays in small groups. Of course, that might be just because I’m missing something in the instructions for how to do this.

Oh, and eCollege supports streaming audio and video. I still think I’m just going to upload mp3 files weekly or so. Eventually, I’m going to figure out how to post a “real” podcast for this class– one with an RSS feed and the whole bit– but I probably won’t publish it as part of the eCollege shell.

One thought on “Teaching Online at EMU: The Learning Curves”

  1. I have used eCollege and Blackiboard in my seven years of teaching online. I prefer eCollege for the most part. Please email if you ever need advice on using it.

    I teach spcial education, but I earned an MA in English from National University completely online. In our writing courses, the instructors divided us into groups of about four students. The students in a group had certain week to post essays/stories and then all students commented on all submissions for that week. It was great to receive feedback from each classmate.

    Hope this helps.

    Online Instructor’s Lounge

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