Anna Luce

Moving Online: What You Lose (and Gain)

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.)

5 thoughts on “Moving Online: What You Lose (and Gain)

  1. I like your discussion of what is lost and gained when moving courses online. Thanks to tools that allow for synchronous (real time) communication between students and instructors, we can now offer many courses online that previously weren’t suited for the online environment. For example, we are about to offer a Business Presentations course online, using a combination of recorded student presentations and the web conferencing tool built in to our learning management system. This web conferencing tool enables students and instructors to share video, audio, shared documents, personal and group chats, and various other interactive tools.

    In addition, I would like to add the following to your list of what is gained when putting a course online:

    • You get to know all of your students. I once worked with an instructor who said he got to know all of his online students, by hearing from all of them on Discussion boards, instead of just getting to know the two or three students who are willing to speak up in his face-to-face course.
    • You can engage students with the use of multimedia. The online environment opens up many opportunities to embed interactive multimedia in your course content. For example, instructor introduction videos, audio or video feedback, embedded YouTube video clips, embedded surveys or polls…
    • You can use the “News” or “Announcements” tool in your learning management system to communicate with students and provide feedback—and then re-use this material in the next course. Your postings may include relevant news stories, praise for student work, reminders—one of our online instructors calls this “touching his students.” You can even use this tool for class feedback. If you find that you are saying the same thing over and over again in each person’s feedback, save it for the group! You can write, schedule, and reuse these News postings in the next offering of the course.
    • You can use the “Discussions” tool in your learning management system to have students answer each other’s questions…set up an “Ask the Class” discussion and encourage students to post questions in the Discussion area so other students can benefit from their questions and also to encourage the class to answer each others’ questions when appropriate.

  2. Thank you for this informative discussion. Definitely as indicated there are lost and gains as we move our training online. One question I have is if we have an option of either remaining to face to face instruction as we test on whether the quality of online learning is the same as face to face learning. Research has proved that the quality of both face to face training and online training is the same, however online learning requires much thought in preparation and design so as to gain this benefits and ensure that face to face benefits are also realized in the online training.

    In my case in Kenya, online training major gain is the ability to access training from across the boundaries, in the online training, one is able to access rich resources and multimedia more that can be available in a face to face training. Most of the rich resources I have found them as an online leaner as they are not there in my context. Therefore for me, I would consider specific context benefits that leads to a valuable differentiation.

  3. Julia and Nathan, thanks so much for your comments.
    Happy to hear about all the positive things your instructors are experiencing moving courses online, Julia!
    Nathan, yes, online learning does make border crossing a more attainable goal!

  4. Hi Anna. I find your information informative. I have been an online student for 3 years now. Iam now taking a course Learning Theories and Instruction. This is a required course in Instructional Design Certificate. The issue I hear most is the transition from face to face to online is lacking of physical contact. Once the learner can grasp the usefulness of technology that will be reduced.

  5. I do have a question for new teacher who are transitioning to online teaching. What are the reactions that you have, now you will share the power of learning with the student.

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