Online Teaching: From Fear to Opportunity
When I signed up for GS 762: Online College Teaching, a class offered by the Graduate School’s Certificate in College Teaching program, I noticed that many of us in the class initially dreaded online education. We wondered, “Would it make classroom teachers obsolete? Would it destroy the profession of teaching? Would face-to-face interaction be a thing of the past?” Panic has now subsided for the most part, as scholars and students recognize that online education is likely to augment, not destroy, traditional learning.
In fact, despite all our fears and apprehensions—many of them warranted—it appears that rather than eliminate our profession, technology is giving us new opportunities and new challenges. Effective design and assessment still require human involvement; conversations still need to be directed, moderated, and guided by a living, breathing, human being. And the personal connection between student and teacher simply cannot be replaced by a machine.
As a historian, I can now easily share and explore primary sources with my students, from the nation’s founding documents to massive oral history repositories filled with the testimonies of civil rights leaders. What now takes a few minutes once would have required a trip across the country. I can have students do primary research in meaningful, hands-on ways. I can use data mining (for example, using the MONK Project) and data visualization techniques (such as interactive maps like this one) to contextualize the past. I can use Zotero to organize and share my sources and to teach students responsible research practices, and I can deploy apps like Evernote to teach students how to collect, annotate, and share historical research. I can, in other words, help students do history actively. The digital tools now available to us, in other words, make teaching history more exciting, more relevant, more interactive, and ultimately, more meaningful.
Of course, an overabundance of tools and options can be overwhelming. What I took away from this course, more than anything, then, is that online educators need to be evaluators as much as innovators. I have used various online learning platforms, including Blackboard, Canvas, and Sakai. I’ll leave the relative strengths and weaknesses of each for another time. My point is that each has benefits and disadvantages, powerful tools and annoying kinks. The key to success, it seems to me, is making use of what works, tossing out what doesn’t, and coming up with an effective strategy that maximizes the tools’ potentials.
By paying close attention to the tools at our disposal, their possible uses and drawbacks, and by taking stock of the alternatives, we can come up with an effective online teaching strategy. This requires lots of work, discipline, and trial-and-error. But isn’t that, ultimately, what being a scholar is all about?
Ph.D. student, History
Eladio Bobadilla is a PhD candidate in the history department, where he studies immigration, ethnicity, and nativism. He is a devoted Blue Devils basketball fan and supporter of Real Salt Lake and the US National Soccer Team.