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Nov 20, 2017

On on-line teaching

In face-to-face teaching, we use many communication techniques subconsciously. The most typical example is this: an instructor demonstrates a particular way of thinking, and asks students to apply it. With just a few facial twitches and vocal cord modulations, the instructor give all students immediate feedback on how close the student responses are to what the instructors wants. The process is very efficient, very economical in terms of instruction time, because it uses the natural patterns of relationship buildings we have as social animals. In an on-line environment, all these subconscious clues suddenly become unavailable. A whole set of tools developed through evolution and enculturation are suddenly gone, which is why it is such a shock for many first-time online teachers. And this is why so many very competent teachers become so skeptical about on-line teaching.

An experienced on-line instructor, however, have learned to compensate for the lack of the communication tools, in two major ways; first, such an instructor makes the clues explicit, and second, she or he develops new communication tools not normally available. The process is somewhat similar to the communication strategies deaf or blind people use to compensate for the absence of one of the communicative channels. It is also not that dissimilar from what writers did for millennia by describing feelings, scenery, and other imagery instead of showing them. A proficient on-line instructor not only is able to compensate, but also sometimes achieves more. All those who claim that their particular course cannot work online do not have credibility unless they actually try and fail. Human mind is infinitely flexible and imaginative, so yes, you can teach most of the things online if you apply some creativity to it.

The experience in on-line teaching will definitely help in a regular classroom. For example, I taught philosophy of education f2f for years, and I thought was good at it. However, as I was trying to teach the course online, I suddenly realized that I have no idea what it is I am teaching. Specifically, I could not explain to myself and to students how philosophical way of thinking is different from all others. Now, after figuring it out, I can BOTH explain it AND continue to use the subconscious communication techniques. It is a much better deal for students who are less able to read facial expressions, or interpret voice tonality. IN other words, f2f is not great for everyone; some students actually thrive online.

The F2f mode, with all of its advantages, is very good at creating an illusion that everyone got what you were trying to teach. They look you in the eye intelligently; they nod, and can give confident comments occasionally. However, if you dig deeper, it turns out a significant number of student understood very little. The on-line environment forces everyone demonstrate their mastery of ideas and concepts all the time. It is much harder to hide.

Another advantage of an on-line class is that it fits any schedule, and you do not need to drive and look for parking. Instead, a student can spend a little more time actually reading and practicing whatever you want to teach them. If you consider our poor record in graduating students on-time, on-line options for the hard-to-get classes seem to add an ethical imperative side. I am not proposing anything radical; we’re not going massively on-line. However, it looks like we should at least moderately increase our on-line classes for both undergraduate and graduate students

1 comment:

  1. To help build your case...