by Linda Stine
Shortly before this semester began, I woke up from a typical anxiety dream: it was the first day of class and I could not find my classroom or my students; I was running around frantically, unable to ask anyone for help because I didn’t speak their language.
This time I chuckled a bit, once my heart rate slowed down, knowing that my anxiety was more real than symbolic. In two days I would be starting my first online class, and I really wouldn’t be able to “find” my classroom and students since they would be out in cyberspace, in a world where neither I nor my adult students were really comfortable with the language. (How do I explain the importance of regularly attending class, for instance, when there is no physical class to “attend”?)
As a writing teacher, I know that online courses can be successful, if only because most interactions – student/student, student/teacher, student/course content – will have to be conducted in writing, and I’m a firm believer in the adage that the more the students write the better they will write. So it’s a great adventure, for sure, and one I am eager to experience. I suspect, though, that my sleep will be troubled frequently this semester as my conscious worries spill over into my unconscious.
Below are just a few of the teaching/learning worries that have been keeping me up at night.
- What can I do in my online course to set the tone of support and encouragement that a physical presence, a listening ear, and a smile can create on a first day of face-to-face class?
- What have I left off my syllabus or my assignment directions that students will need to know and that I normally would just explain orally?
- And speaking of my syllabus, it’s already 11 pages long! I know that online syllabi have to be more comprehensive than in-class syllabi, but will the students actually read it? Will it feel too overwhelming? Have I broken it into clear headings to help them see the sections? Do I need to keep referring to it in emails to remind them that it’s there? Should I have started with a graded “test” that required them to go through the syllabus and answer questions?
- What happens when technology problems (mine, theirs) occur? Will the students have the necessary self efficacy to persevere? What can I do to prepare them for the inevitable problems, beyond telling them to have back-up plans?
- While I tried to include links to videos among the homework “reading” assignments, the course is primarily print based. Is that going to be a problem for students who learn better by hearing and seeing images? Should I have posted each module’s “lecture” as a video rather than a written summary? Or at least as an audio file? Does the medium matter as long as the content is clear?
- What questions haven’t I even thought of yet that should be added to my worry list?