Questions About Online Teaching
What is the role of the campus?
A campus is an extremely important element of college pedagogy. We don't consider everything that it does for us when we are there.
Our classroom pedagogy is reliant, dependent, and influenced deeply by the walk to our classrooms, the experience of the dorm and cafeteria, and the feeling of the hallways.
Many of us think about our classrooms as little islands that we control and have the responsibility for crafting a pleasant, productive environment where learning can happen. But how much of that do we control? Are we really the ones setting the total tone in the classroom for what happens there?
As we move more and more toward teaching online, we need to ask more about what the campus environment does for us, to us, and around us. More and more students each year are having a college experience where the campus is either diminished or non-existent to them. They are experiencing higher education through a phone, laptop, or tablet.
What elements of the campus do we want to bring into our online pedagogy? What elements of the campus do we not want to bring? What are the parts of the physical campus experience that are being accidentally carried over into online teaching due to ideology? Our lack of critical investigation as to what a lecture, a class, or an assignment can be could be exporting undesirable elements of the college experience into the digital experience. The physical campus and the classroom meeting are rituals and performances that indicate to us what is possible, what sort of assignments "fit" that structure, how much reading is proper, etc.
This semester I'm teaching 3 online courses, one has a once a week component, but I still consider it to be an online course. My biggest worry is that I accidentally replicate the physical classroom in the digital space.
Why is this a concern? The biggest problem is that when you think of assignments and assessments as a lateral, you miss the fact that almost all assignments and rubrics are designed around a physical classroom space where you are forced to meet in person at certain days and times during the week.
This accidental characteristic of the course—which is a necessary part of running a physical university—has important ideological impacts on course and assignment design. It's nearly invisible. Moving to an online course means you have to interrogate why you do what you do and what the point of doing it is.
There are many unknown possibilities here. I don't have any answers at all yet, and might not ever. Being vigilant to avoid the classroom lateral into the digital or online course is essential. The starting place for an online course is not the classroom, it's the laptop screen. Sitting in your apartment when you feel ready to engage the work changes everything. The old limitations are gone; let's see if we can figure out the new ones.
Over the course of this semester, I’ll be trying out a lot of things that don’t really serve to make me comfortable as a teacher. They serve to provide a resource, maybe comfortable, to the students. Those resources are there to help them produce work and produce texts that indicate they are processing and considering the course materials. That’s all assessment really is: Are the students demonstrating that they have considered the material? Are they attempting to incorporate it in practices that reveal they are thinking about it? It’s a very distant sort of viewpoint in the end. But what works for scouting out the physical class might not obtain online.
The one thing that stays the same here is the student. They approach your class, and the university, as a place they petitioned to enter. They want to gain from their experience. They are eager to experience what lies there. It is up to us, no matter what the form, to provide that experience to those who asked—who argued—to be there.