By Eric Ritholz, Online Learning Coordinator


Recently, we piloted the first session of an intermediate level Online Learning Initiative called ‘Methods for Online Teaching’ (MOT). The next session begins on Feb 28th, 2022. The Discussion Board had very rich discussions on a variety of issues related to the delivery of courses online and I want to share some of the opinions I offered during this training program.

Online course design (already heavy on the frontloading) can’t simply be the first step in the process; rather, it needs to be ongoing to address the needs of both instructor and student.

A lot of what is covered in the MOT is familiar ground.  I feel really confident about this because no ‘magic bullet’ or new technique is going to replace an instructor’s experience.  It is, however, good to confront our own processes and come to conclusions about how they can come together and complement one another.

 … when I saw the comment about students suggesting and voting on changes in the course, I had to draw my focus to that.  I know it is sometimes difficult to figure out the measure of how much empowerment to put into a course, but I’ve often been surprised by how much the students benefit from this.  Not only that, but an open channel of feedback combined with the willingness of the instructor to enact change based upon it is a sure path to improvement.

I think that focusing on the student response, feedback, and ways to encourage not only the students’ engagement but their ownership of figuring out how to accomplish the task is a good path to creating a community of inquiry framework and that broad perspective can and should be applied not only these activities but many others in many different types of courses.  The process differs course by course, but that is the goal.

Notebook with a clock and bag on the table

We need to consider this issue of applying new methods to achieve the same goal of student/instructor dynamic.  What does instructor presence need to achieve?  What new tools can substitute for in-person when teaching in the online environment?  Experimentation is very important as it is not just about applying any tool that substitutes for the in-class dynamic, it’s about style, process, tone, and mood that not only serves the purpose but does so in a way that matches the individual teacher’s style.

In my opinion, what is important speaks to the following:

  • does it help you know how they think or feel about the current task?
  • are they doing something?
  • are they doing something interactively with the instructor?
  • can you easily ‘course correct’ on the fly without a complicated process?

I love it when students are comfortable making mistakes.  So, what better way to demonstrate that than to be comfortable with my own.

The key concept here relates to Learner Presence as the example you gave demonstrates a student wanting you to take responsibility to personally walk them through a series of tasks.  My first thought would be to introduce more flipped learning elements where they have to figure things out on their own and guidance is provided in using what they learned in application to the task requiring that prior knowledge.  I say this knowing that no one answer will solve all issues with this.   Another flipped technique (time-intensive) is to have the student share their screen and have them do the handholding, explaining to you what they think they are supposed to do based on the instructions, even so far as having them guide you to the instructions from the beginning (who knows, it might be a basic navigation issue).  Feedback from other participants here, faculty at Hostos, and the higher education community on the whole needs to be brought to bear to confront this massively underrepresented aspect of learning.

Although time is precious, either through example or exercise, drawing attention to the question of ‘how do I learn?’ has a big impact on a student’s motivation and productivity.

I agree that it is very useful to have both informal and academic spaces available to online students (both with Netiquette rules, of course).
Composition notebooks are often overlooked for the great resource they are.  I would like to add my own subjective thoughts on the subject for your use or at least your entertainment.

The cost and quality of a notebook often have an inverse relationship to its use.  The more expensive it is and the nicer it looks the more blank it remains.
along the same line as the cost is conservation of space.  I’ve always emphatically encouraged students to skip lines and double-space their notes with constant reinforcement.  Why?

Notes are meant to be organic and extra space allows for correction, comment, and addition.

More empty space allows for faster reading both in terms of review as well as scanning over a page quickly to spot a needed detail, fact, or explanation.

I have commented on the value of mistakes.  From the perspective of ownership and self-efficacy, each student has to make their own decisions on how they handle mistakes, even in their notes, and I wish to point out that although it is counterproductive to force a habit, it is definitely worthwhile to promote effective methods even if they might not sink in for another semester or two.

How does a student deal with mistakes in their notebook?

I write in pencil and erase: cleaner, takes up less space, but ultimately encourages a learner to forget the mistake and repeat it.

The biblical flood of ink and lead: ensures that the wrong fact or method isn’t mistakenly learned for a test but ultimately encourages a learner to forget the mistake and repeat it.  But this is in my opinion worse as it promotes a subconscious disdain or shame about making mistakes that no student should ever feel.

A thin blue line through the mistake: this, IMO, is the very best method, as it allows the student to continue to see where they went wrong, acknowledge that they have already found and corrected the mistake, but makes it less likely that they will forget it.

I try very hard to remember when I describe my favorite methods that what is best still needs to fit an individual based on both their needs and their effort. I can list off and demonstrate a dozen methods but in the end the desire to do it better in whatever form is the best way. It reminds me of the adage (a grizzly soldier’s saying) “what’s our enemies’ best weapon?” to which the green recruit replies, “the one that kills me, of course.”

Taking a step back and looking at the goal of all this, simply put, is to teach one simple lesson in the hopes the student will benefit.  That is, often the quickest way of doing things is the hard way.  If you don’t take shortcuts, you get the full benefit of an endeavor.  Taking better notes, working with your classmates, and so on, may seem to take longer, but when all is said and done, it is far faster than learning concepts you skipped in one class because you are expected to know them in the next while doing what is expected in the next class ad infinitum.


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