Professor as online student: 3 big take-aways; 3 weeks in

This is the second installment in a short “from the other side of the webcam” series journaling my experience as an online student at Oregon State University’s Learning XD Design Design Certificate program. For context, check out my first post from June 3, 2020 and final post for this course from July 13, 2020.

I’m in week 3 of my six-week class in user experience design and I am feeling empathy for our students. What a different mode and energy are required for the online student. It is projected we are to spend 4-6 hours per week on our readings, engagement, and assignments. I can’t say for sure if that is accurate. Maybe I will track it better this week. While serving as a student for OSU, I am also serving as faculty for a Washington State University online graduate-level capstone course. Going back and forth between the two has been eye-opening.

Here are my three biggest takeaways as I sit on the other side of the webcam:

  • 1) Course organization is critical

    All online classes should be free of frills and organized. All unnecessary noise should be removed. All students really need to see when they arrive in the course space is a logical home page telling them where they are. Side navigation should include announcements, modules (or lessons), syllabus, assignments, course schedule, discussions, and grades. Other tabs for people (so they can see who else is enrolled), Zoom, or collaborations may also be valuable.

    Easy access to announcements, calendar items or to-do lists are handy. Otherwise, videos, article links, images, and other resources should be housed contextually within each lesson.

  • 2) Predictability is key

    Establishing a steady formula for each lesson (or week/unit) has been my practice for some time. It has been affirmed as a good idea as I attend this class as a student instead of a professor. Each week, without fail, we will have the following tasks:

    1) Overview of the week that includes learning outcomes and task list
    2) Weekly readings and resources (required and optional)
    3) Individual assignment due by Friday (because of peer feedback)
    4) Small group assignment (I am on Team Green with three other students) that includes peer feedback
    5) Full group discussion board that relates back to the readings (3 contributions throughout the week)

    This is just an example but I appreciate the absence of mystery. Because it is predictable, I can plan my week out accordingly. I know I need to read and contribute to the group discussion forum by Wed, Fri, and Sunday of each week. I need to have my individual assignment done by Friday and my peer feedback completed by Saturday.

  • 3) Instructor engagement is necessary

    Creating a “questions for the instructor” discussion forum is so important. It is also important that the instructor subscribes to this forum and pays attention to posts as they come in. If the instructor does not moderate this forum, enrolled students will slowly take over and begin answering questions on the instructor’s behalf. This can be helpful – but it can also put the instructor in a position to lose footing and credibility. The absence of the instructor in this space appears negligent. Engaging with student questions within 48 hours is the best practice.

I am doing pretty well so far – better than I expected given my assumption I would not perform at my best in the virtual space. I like the course structure, appreciate how it is organized, and like the fact I can essentially self-pace within the confines of posted deadlines. I need structure and timeline. Otherwise, I tend to procrastinate.

There is one key individual assignment in the course that builds with each week. I like this approach. One feature that would be helpful would be to see an example of a fully finished project at the beginning of the course. I am happy with the focus I selected but reading some of the peer student comments – several wish they had known more early on so they would have gone a different direction for their class-long task. Regardless, I feel a sense of accomplishment and progress as each new puzzle piece is put in place. I look forward to pulling it all together over the next few weeks.

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

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