When I began to teach online, I already taught for five years at local community colleges. Though I had taught before, it did not prepare me for online teaching. I have learned that teaching online is different from teaching on the ground in many ways!
The five surprising lessons that I have learned as an online instructor are:
1. You learn about people in many walks of life.
As a ground class instructor, I thought that I knew what it meant to teach diverse group of students. I had students who were Chinese, Russian, Dominican, Haitian, and Ecuadorian. Though they were racially diverse, they were almost always recent high school graduates, members of the working class, and are New York residents.
Since I began teaching online, I have met people from more diverse backgrounds than I could have ever imagined. From the stay-at-home mom who wants to be a better role model for her children by returning to college to the truck driver who is looking for a new career after getting laid off of his job of 15 years, I have learned that though a college education may mean different things to different people but it is very important to all of them.
2. You learn how to communicate more effectively.
Since I do not “see” my students like I do in my ground classes, I have to work hard to make up for the lack of a physical presence in an online classroom. Despite the lack of physical presence, technology has, ironically, enabled me to communicate with my students effectively.
I send out video announcements to motivate students about the coming week. I conduct seminars in real time to review the major concepts that they are required to learn for the week. I provide audio recordings to share supplemental information to students. I e-mail students assignment guides to help them complete their assignments. I reach out to students by phone, text, instant messaging, and e-mail.
3. You learn how to fix your computer issues.
In the live classroom, technological issues were uncommon. I rarely, if ever, brought a computer to class. Unlike an online instructor, I did not need it to teach. As an online instructor, my experience is very different today. I have experienced numerous technological issues. After countless calls to Tech Support over the years, I have learned how to address the most common ones. When students complain that they cannot hear me during seminar, I have learned to adjust my volume on my computer. I understand that I have to close out every website that I have opened when my connection is slow. If lose my connection, I know that I need to contact my Internet Service Provider to find out if the lost connection is a result of inclement weather and, if so, when my connection would be restored.
4. You learn to become more efficient.
When I taught at a ground campus, I had no hard deadline for grading my students’ assignments. The only deadline that the school was concerned about was the one for final grades at the end of the semester. You can imagine how overwhelmed I felt when I first learned that I had to grade student work within seven days. With three to four assignments per week for 25-40 students per class, this was not a small feat! In order to meet my deadlines, I learned to grade as soon as the deadline is over. Using a comments template, which I have developed after teaching the class repeatedly, has also made grading go a lot more quickly. By using a grading rubric to evaluate assignments, grading has become a lot more efficient for me, too.
5. You learn more about what you're teaching.
Making the class relevant to my students’ lives was my goal when I was a ground instructor. When I started teaching online, it became a requirement. Most, if not all, of my students attend school online, so they can prepare for a new career, so they want to be able to learn skills and knowledge that they can apply in the future. In our advanced technological age, information is widely available 24/7. With so much access to information, online students are also more inquisitive than ever before.
Students will ask me about an article that they have seen online. More than ever before, I need to make sure that I am prepared to teach by staying updated with current events. At seminar, students may ask me about a recent case!