One of the reasons I haven’t been more eager to teach online is my own views about what both faculty and students expect online learning to look like. My Twitter feed today had a couple good examples. Tweeted from a big online learning conference, the faculty (or at least faculty-developer) perspective:
— Keith W. O'Neal (@iMinisterYouth) November 17, 2016
I’m participating in the #HumanMOOC course on human presence in online education precisely because I do think this way. (Although I am in fact ready to learn.) But worse, I’m daunted by the perspective that exists among students as well, many of whom opt for online courses precisely for reasons that make human interaction difficult:
Why do online courses require group work? I take them online because I don't want to interact with other people.
— Pam (@Jasyla_) November 15, 2016
Clearly some students expect online learning to be impersonal, even anonymous. They expect little interaction with their professor and less with their classmates. They expect an easier course in some cases. They may use anonymity for nefarious purposes (harassment, academic dishonesty). Some of this is stereotype, but I expect not all.
So when I think about a class-wide video chat such as the one shown in the first tweet above, I think about how challenging that would be to make happen. The technology – both hardware and software – however seamless on my end, I envision it being a potential nightmare on the student end. If a student “can’t get their microphone to work” for several weeks, will they drop the class? Will my campus IT support be able to help, especially if the student is not physically present on campus? What if the student can’t afford the technology necessary for this kind of interaction?
And worse, my previous attempts at synchronous interactions with large groups of my students online have flopped spectacularly due to students’ inability to schedule the time around their other obligations. It’d be a dream to have all 25 of my students in an online course meet at one place and one time virtually for a class discussion, but I know that many of them will have opted to take the course online precisely because they don’t want to abide by a regularly scheduled meeting time. So these are big hurdles to overcome, but I’m open to having my thinking reoriented. There are, I’m sure, a lot of ways to human interaction in online learning beyond the synchronous video chat, and I’m looking forward to learning more about them.