Web Teaching Journal (Week 2) “Failures in Communication”

This is the second in a fifteen part, weekly journal on my experience teaching a web class. Each post explores how things are going in the current week and ideas for future revisions of the course. For my first post, see Web Teaching Journal: Week 1 (Why do it, My class, Moodle, Message Board Worries and Drops). To see entries posted after this one, you can also just pull down the categories menu on the right and select the Web Teaching Journals category.

When I used to have bad dreams about my teaching, they usually went like this: I’m teaching in a huge quad and my students are so dispersed that they are mixed with passersby and out of the reach of my voice. A variation on this dream had me teaching in a long “L” shaped room with the students at one end (around a corner) and me on the other. I’m sorry to report that teaching web classes is often like those nightmares. In fact, the one kind of teaching that really instantiates my nightmares in transparent ways are web classes. This one, at least in week 2, is no exception. Let me tell you what’s going on.

Students are not using the message boards as much as they should to talk to each other. I am still getting questions that have been covered on the boards and that’s disappointing. I prepared a SurveyMonkey survey to try to determine ways of tweaking the class but after posting it in my announcement board, even after force-subscribing all students to that board, only 5 out of 30+ students have taken the survey. (One student claims they are not getting email copies of the force-subscribed messages in my Announcements board, and I have no idea if this is occurring with other students…now you’re getting the flavor of my nightmares!). In short, I can’t get a read on what’s going on or get the students to tell me what’s going on via the survey. I put some CD-ROMs on my door for students to copy onto their laptops with a sign-out sheet next to them, and now one of the CD’s is gone and the sign-out sheet is blank. Apart from deadlines for quizzes and assignments, I’m not feeling like I’m reaching the students. Thank goodness for the 5 or 6 students who are dedicated message board users.

Apart from the first quiz, we’ve had our first assignment, divided up into separate categories. Some students had to write reactions to the readings, others had to do a web search and find, and evaluate web pages on selected topics. I instructed them to use the Berkeley “How to assess a web page” rubric but many of the students did not follow it at all.

The last time I taught this class in WebCT I did not have a lot of the feelings I’m having this week and last week. I can’t figure out what it was about WebCT that might have made the difference because, on the surface, Moodle seems so much better to me. Right now I feel frustrated, but more confident in several changes that I have made in the class. I feel more in control of elements at my own disposal. The problem is I’m not sure it will make a difference.

The crux of the issue for me today, one week since my last post is this: should I even expect some semblance of community and generalized communication in a web class? Maybe a web class should be pretty much automated and we should dispense with “community” and “interaction.” I know these are verboten concepts among teachers who prize experiential learning and active learning, myself among them, but I’m really not sure this class will work in those ways.

In closing I want to say two things. The first is that this class is not running on autopilot. I am one week or two weeks ahead of the students with regards to building the class. Don’t get me wrong: I have 95% of the components at my disposal, but I am building as I go to ensure a “presence” in the class. Perhaps this was a mistake. The second item is that this week I spent 5 or 6 hours dealing with this class, easy, that’s already double the amount of time I would have spent teaching this very same class live.

One thought on “Web Teaching Journal (Week 2) “Failures in Communication”

  1. One of the problems I have run into with students asking questions about the course on a message board vs. email is that students just can’t separate questions from the factors that cause them. I got a question from a student that went on this long deal about financial aid problems and how they are not doing great financially and then finally asked if they needed to purchase a software program mentioned in the syllabus. It was a question I get asked often, because I guess there is confusion over the word “optional.” It would have been a good question for the class, but the student couldn’t see that because their financial problems were the main concern for them, not the question that other students need to hear.

    To be honest, community can only form around things online that they would form around in real life. I don’t see community forming around a group of students sitting around a desk to ask you questions about the syllabus. Students want individual, personal answers on that stuff. They feel embarrassed to ask these questions in front of others. Asking them on a discussion board is seen as in “front of others.”

    I have taken many online classes, and taught a few. They all had great community and communication… after the first three weeks or so at least. Community also takes time to form. And, as a student, we all had to be forced in to it the first few weeks. I remember my grad professors commenting on every post the first week or so. And then our grades started reflecting how well we followed that feedback pretty quick.

    As a teacher, I also have found out that conversations do start out stale and rote at the beginning. Students are not used to thinking for themselves. You can see what I am talking about here: http://edtc3320.wordpress.com Takes a bit to get past that, and many never do.

    But, back to what you are saying, a lot of what you are saying pretty much describes what I experienced when teaching face-to-face classes. All the heads would nod when I explained stuff, and then a long line of students formed to ask the same questions over and over again when class is over. For class discussions, only 5 or 6 students at tops would get in to the discussion. I never felt like I was really reaching the students.

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