Flexibility is Key When Teaching Online




As the new year and new term kick off, I’m facing a great deal of time in front of a computer for the next few months. I’m co-teaching Introduction to Learning Technologies for the GMCTE, which includes a blended face-to-face and online component for on-campus registrants and a purely online open course for everyone else. At the same time I’m taking an online course in qualitative methods for my PhD and taking the four-week long online workshop through BCcampus on adopting open textbooks, which directly connects to both my work at the GMCTE as well as my PhD. That’s a lot of screen time, even for me.

I’m trying a balancing act around all of this, plus the rest of my work at the GMCTE, a reading course for my PhD and family life, while trying to carve out just a little bit of “me” time to keep my sanity. I’m not unique and I’m not asking for pity. I’m simply giving you an example of what an online learner may look like.

SturmanWorkshop-024-130302Whenever I speak with instructors about teaching online I stress the importance of flexibility. Frequently students taking online courses, especially at the graduate level, are working full-time jobs. They may need to do their course work in the evenings or on weekends. They may live in different time zones that may put them an hour off of your schedule, or maybe 12 hours off. They may work shift work. They may only have access to the course from a work computer or a library. English may not be their first language so it might take them longer to complete readings and post to the discussion forums, or the time for reflection that online courses can offer compared to face-to-face may make it easier for them to communicate with others. This is also true of any students who may be reticent for one reason or another to speak up in face-to-face classes.

It’s important to remember, as an instructor of an online course that you need to take care of yourself as well. If you have a large class or even a lively small class, discussion forums can become daunting. Students often have expectations that you are always connected, something that face-to-face students seem to expect more and more these days as well. Make it clear in your syllabus as to when you’re likely to reply to students emails, discussion posts and even phone messages. Some instructors will reply at almost any time, while others keep stricter online “office hours”. Pick what’s going to work for you, but keep the needs of your learners in mind.

The GMCTE offers a four-week online course on teaching online that covers these topics and provides practical solutions to many of the concerns that instructors teaching online may have. The instructional designers at the GMCTE are also well versed in teaching online and would be happy to meet with you one-on-one to discuss a course you’re teaching or are considering teaching.

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