I’ve been teaching online and in person a loooonnnnggggg ass time. So I thought I’d send out just a couple honest pointers about teaching online in case you suddenly find yourself doing so. And I’m gonna do so from a real perspective, not from the POV of trainer/administrators who really want online learning to be the future, because it will save them so much money with which they can write themselves bigger paychecks.
1) If you’re teaching synchronously, or using Zoom or Google Hangouts or something, the differences between that and in-person classes are fewer, but more substantive than you might figure. You will have to be way more organized than you were before, so get your ducks in a row. There are lots of awkward lags, and silent moments are more uncomfortable than they were before. You will likely have to do more calling on people. Discussion will likely have to be more structured — maybe have everyone say something, rather than let it be whoever speaks up, because the very slight lag really screws up the social cues that we are all used to. And if you’re the type of person who likes your lectures to involve the students, prepare for even more “Bueller” moments. People are way more wary of speaking, because speaking on an online platform takes up all the air in the room instead of just most of it like in a classroom, so people are less likely to do it. For discussion sessions that are not on Zoom but are in Canvas or whatever, you need to make it VERY clear when you will be checking and answering discussion sessions, and you need to do so when you say you will. If you don’t set boundaries, your entire life will be devoted to these discussion sessions.
2) If you’re teaching asynchronously — or not meeting up at all — the differences are huge. Asynchronous classes, imho, are only good if you’re teaching a skill that doesn’t require discussion — say, accounting. Most importantly — and people will argue with this, but it’s just true — you will need to cut the amount you expect of your students in half, at least. When I first started doing this, I naively thought I could expect students to do the amount of work they would in a normal class. 3 hours of class time + about 3 hours of homework. Well, it turns out this isn’t the case. Most students can only do so much self-directed work per week. This is a fact that administrators don’t want to get out, because asynchronous classes are big money makers. But I have yet to see an asynchronous class be anywhere near as rigorous as a regular class — this is true in my experience and in other people’s experiences. This might not be as true if you are at an institution with very self-directed students. But still. Also, you will need to be extremely organized. Like, almost pathological level organized. Because you will not be there to answer questions each week, so if everything isn’t crystal clear, you will get 100 emails per week. It’s also vitally important to encourage discussion and make it mandatory. But then, and this is so important, YOU AS A TEACHER NEED TO READ THE DISCUSSIONS AND INTERACT WITH THE STUDENTS, and you need to say exactly when during the week you will be doing this, otherwise it will quickly become your whole life. Most online discussion sections are mandatory but then just graded automatically, and rarely ever read by a teacher. They will do what you model. So get in there and ask leading questions based on other questions, just like you would in a classroom, but also, set clear boundaries.
I hope this helps some folks.