Last month, I was lucky enough to be able to participate in the DePaul Online Teaching Series (DOTS) and talk with a number of faculty who are just starting to teach online. A common concern raised during our talks was what would be lost when translating face-to-face material into online or hybrid versions.
Faculty worried that they would no longer be able to recognize confusion on their students’ faces and might miss opportunities to clarify. They lamented that they would miss witnessing moments of discovery or realization when things finally clicked for students. They worried their students would have a difficult time forming connections amongst themselves, and that students wouldn’t feel like they had a real relationship with the instructor.
One instructor talked about how during one of the final meetings for a class he loves to teach, students rehearse and perform short sections of plays. This reminded me of a Shakespeare seminar I took in college where I stood before a group of awkward English majors and awkwardly delivered the memorable “ducket in her clack-dish” line from Measure for Measure while acting out the scene. I’ll remember that class—and that stretch of dialogue—for the rest of my life, because of the physicality of the experience and the way it truly brought the play to life.
I tried to find an image of a clack-dish, but the internet hasn’t expanded that far yet. So here’s Shakespeare.
How could we possibly create a similar experience in an online classroom?
These concerns are valid. While I would argue that there are ways to achieve high interaction between students online, and there are definitely ways to assess how your students are processing the material so you can provide appropriate feedback, modality does matter. There is no online counterpart that could capture the magic of theater in a classroom. Shakespeare was meant to be spoken aloud to a crowd hungry for entertainment. If an instructor feels too much would genuinely be lost if a course is moved online, maybe it shouldn’t be.
Because the truth is, it’s different. Anyone claiming to be able to accomplish precisely the same outcomes online perhaps hasn’t thought everything all the way through.
More than once during DOTS, our wise facilitator (Daniel Stanford) advised faculty to take a moment to “mourn” something that would have to change when they taught a course online.
And once we soothe our anxieties and mourn our losses, let’s recognize that there are genuine advantages to an online course. There are worthy pedagogical outcomes that are actually easier to accomplish with an online course. So, have a moment of silence for the chemistry we’ll lose by not breathing the same air and think about the possibilities. Here’s a short list of stuff online course do better than face-to-face course.
In an online course,
- … you can introduce your students to peers on the other side of the world and watch them work together.
- … students can rewind your lecture and listen to it again (especially the tricky parts that you might have to repeat a few times in a face-to-face class before it made sense).
- … you can see otherwise introverted students shine on discussion boards.
- …students can determine the pace of materials. (Students won’t get bored if you’re moving too slowly, or frustrated if you move too quickly.)
- … you can provide quick, private feedback if a correction needs to be made.
- … you can often reuse content from quarter to quarter. (Once you get that introductory presentation done for your 101 course, you may never have to deliver it again. You can just transfer it to your next online class and spend your energy on interacting more with your students.)