When people ask what I do for living, I answer, “I teach.”
Most people are usually very supportive when they hear I’m a teacher, just like when they hear someone is police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, soldiers, and other service professions. I can almost read their mind as I watch the expressions flicker across their faces: That’s a tough job. Wow, I wouldn’t want to do that. She had to go to a lot of school. Glad it’s not me.
The cocktail conversation inevitably gets around to question #2: “Where do you teach?”
I know they are expecting me to answer XYZ Public School or University of XYZ. In fact, I used to answer that way. I spent 15 years in public education, face-to-face. Traditional. Hotdogs, Mom, and Apple Pie.
Now I answer, “Online.” Oh my, you should read those expressions now.
Disbelief. How does that work? Is that really even teaching? (and my favorite look) I hate computers *shudder*.
Not so traditional anymore. In fact, I do still work for land-based schools – I just do so from a distance. And it works quite well, thank you very much. And yes, it is really teaching. Some studies argue students are even more successful online than face-to-face. This is not your grandmother’s education anymore. You hate computers? (Here is one caveat to the revolution – online learning may not be for you then).
In the blog post There’s No Such Thing as Virtual, It is All Teaching, The Intrepid Teacher explains the fallout of a two week school closure due to the swine flu. He further explains a comparison between his school (without a CMS platform) and his wife’s (with Blackboard), and how they are managing to cope with educating their students despite the closure. He comes away with some interesting observations:
Teaching online, or being a virtual teacher, is more than a skill set; it is a mindset and a philosophy. Teachers who are well versed in a variety of tools, not just Blackboard will fair [sic] much better in times of crisis and will be better prepared for finding ways to reach their students than say teachers who rarely use technology at all. Teachers who themselves are connect and use many tools for their own learning will barely miss a step. While I understand the unease these teachers are experiencing, I think their apprehension speaks more to the limitations offered not only by blackboard, but of school philosophies when it comes to technology use and pedagogy.
This crisis has clearly illustrated that creating a valuable web-friendly ethos/community of teachers well versed with technology, is the first step in creating a sustainable system to deal with not only emergencies, but in helping to maintain strong ties between teachers and students beyond the classroom.
My online teaching partner and I strongly believe what The Intrepid Teacher has come to realize. To that end, we even opened our book with 26 reasons (supported by research) why online learning successfully reaches beyond the traditional classroom:
- Students must be active learners.
- Course materials remain current.
- Instruction engages learners with the content through multiple channels.
- Learners are engaged with each other as well as the instructor.
- Online learning is pandemic proof.
- Exploration of ideas builds one on another through discussion boards.
- Discussions are captured in perpetuity for later reflection.
- Anonymity of the online environment frees students to disagree and question.
- Learners benefit from discussions that build cyclically over time.
- Asynchronicity allows for students to work during convenient times and to use conducive working styles.
- All learning styles and disabilities can be met to allow for learners to thrive.
- Education is not bound by geographic constraints.
- Issues of gender, race, or physical characteristics are invisible to the online classroom.
- Economic issues are lessened.
- Time for the learner is maximized.
- Class sizes are smaller.
- Students (in well designed courses) showcase their learning in authentic tasks.
- Students have access to best schools, guest speakers, or instructors despite the distances.
- Online learning is a green industry.
- Global diversity of ideas are shared.
- Technology skills are further developed.
- Communication skills increase.
- Feedback is meaningful, timely, and expected.
- Instructors are able to devote more time to teaching and less time to administrivia.
- Successful online communities can feel “closer” than large scale traditional courses.
- Successful use of social learning theory and communities of practice create transference of learning beyond the immediate course in a positive, impactful way.
I have seen and experienced every aspect of that list of 26. What’s not to love about online teaching? It’s a great profession and more valuable every day.
“I teach online. Yes, really! Sure I can explain how it works…”