Teaching Online at EMU: Thoughts after (less than) a week

Despite the numerous things I resolved to do in my last post, it sure seems like most of my week has been dominated by the “Figure out this online teaching stuff” resolution (though I am happy to say that I was at the gym three long mornings this week, too). A few thoughts this morning about the process so far:

  • I think I might need to start keeping a private log/journal about some of what has been happening with me and my students’ work in this class. I say “private” because it just wouldn’t be cool to talk about individual students here.
  • The learning curve is flattening a little, but there is significant stuff I still need to figure out. Like the grade book feature, for example.
  • For the most part, I think eCollege is pretty good and pretty straight-forward software. But I guess I have two complaints about eCollege so far. First, as I mentioned before and as is typical of all CMS systems that I’ve seen, it doesn’t quite match my teaching. It’s a bit like putting my ball into their box: I can do it, but it doesn’t quite fit. Second, the eCollege interface is just plain ugly (IMO). Take a look at this demo class page: my class shell is uglier than this with ill-fitting fonts and a kind of neon green color scheme. Icky, and as far as I can tell, there isn’t much I can do about it.
  • The best thing about eCollege so far is the support. I email these people and I get an answer in a few hours. Simple as that. And I guess this is the real tension about using some sort of institutionally supported software (like eCollege) versus open source products (like moodle, as Jenny is using, or drupal or whatever): on the one hand, open source products give users tremendous flexibility. On the other hand, if you use open source software, you are on your own, basically.
  • Teaching online reminds me (unfortunately) about how much of my teaching is in my head and depends on a physical presence. I take notes and have some things written down or typed up before I go into a class, but most of what I teach is based on memory, and most of the exchange happens with me speaking to students and with students speaking back to me and to each other. Being “there,” present in a non-virtual form in a classroom, makes a difference. But beyond that complicated problem that I’m not going to go into now, there’s the more practical issue of getting stuff out of my head and into a format that my online students can interact with. That ain’t that easy.
  • eCollege (and most of these other CMS products, of course) have some interesting double-edged teaching tools that make me think about my face to face teaching, too. For example, eCollege allows me to track in minutes how much time students spend in different parts of the class. I can tell that some students have already spent hours online and I can tell in what parts of the class they have spent their time. And I can also tell that there are some students who have spent very little time with the class so far. Now, on the one hand, this kind of electronic surveillance is obviously kind of creepy. But on the other hand, we conduct this kind of “surveillance” in face to face classes, too. Teachers make judgements (accurate and inaccurate) about the extent to which students are participating in a class by the cues they give. Students who sit up straight, nod with the discussion, raise their hands, volunteer comments, etc., we judge to be engaged. Students who are reading the newspaper, slumped back, nodding off, silent, etc., we judge to be not engaged. Either way, we make these judgements with a more simple form of direct observation/surveillance.
  • I’m thinking about proposing a presentation/talk for Computers and Writing that is basically about all of this. I’m not sure I can articulate this that well yet, but I guess I didn’t think the learning curve and the work would be as hard for someone like me, who has been invested in teaching with technology for a long LONG time now. But I’m beginning to think that it might be even more difficult for me than it is for some of my colleagues who are more or less starting from scratch. We’ll see…. I haven’t seen the CFP for C&W 2006 yet…

3 thoughts on “Teaching Online at EMU: Thoughts after (less than) a week”

  1. Ha! The class is English 328: Writing, Style, and Technology That link is to the face-to-face version of the class, but I gave the same assignment in both. I’m having students keep blogs in these classes, and the first assignment was to write a version of the “100 things about me” meme. By way of examples, I linked to both yours and Collin’s. So that explains the extra visits… ;-)

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