A 2017 study from Inside Higher Education showed online teaching is gaining popularity. In 2013, just 30 percent of respondents reported they taught an online course. This year, 42 percent reported teaching an online course. With the continual increase of online education offerings, teachers must tackle the inevitable: Transferring a traditional face-to-face course to the internet.
From the teacher’s side of the screen
“The first time I taught a course with an online component was before the World Wide Web existed,” said Professor William Hart-Davidson, an associate professor and associate dean of graduate studies in MSU’s College of Arts and Letters.
“We were using an online chat that you could only use when you were in the same computer classroom to conduct a discussion. I used that in combination with an email list. That was in 1993 or 1994.”
Hart-Davidson said his classes often, if not always, have an online component. Armed with more knowledge on the subject than most, he spends his time helping other educators learn the art of online instruction.
“One of the things I explain when I’m helping other instructors adjust to teaching online is that face-to-face interaction can afford to be a little more improvisational,” he said. “You can read how things are going. You can make a change on the fly. Teaching face-to-face is a very high bandwidth situation. There’s a lot of information flowing from one place to the other.”
Online teaching, he said, is quite different.
“When you go online, there are switching costs,” Hart-Davidson said. “You can’t change on the fly. You have to work a lot harder to see if students are getting it.”
Still, he said, online instruction can be rewarding in other ways.
“It expands the classroom to include just about anyone you can reach online,” he said. “When I teach online, I can have guest speakers from all over the world because my classroom is just the internet. That’s pretty mind-blowing for students.”
Hart-Davidson also believes online education can be helpful in hybrid courses, where some teaching is conducted in the classroom and some through online platforms.
“We have access to all of this information now,” he said. “The flipped classroom model is this idea that, instead of spending our face-to-face time hearing a lecture or a one-to-many presentation, we can put that information online. I can make a tutorial, put that on YouTube, and tell students to watch before they come to class. That way, we’re a step ahead.”
Hart-Davidson has one major piece of advice for instructors making the jump from the classroom to the internet.
“When you’re teaching online, you have to create instead of just assume a feedback culture,” he said. “You have to plan and explain to the people who are participating how they’re supposed to interact to give each other feedback. In a face-to-face setting, that works itself out. Online, you have to be more careful.”
From both sides of the screen
Danielle Campbell, a senior and teaching assistant at MSU, believes involvement is essential to success when instructing online.
“Online professors should still treat it as an in-class course,” she said. “Meaning they make themselves physically available, whether that’s over Skype or office hours or a study group. I don’t think teachers should view teaching online as an easy out, especially for those who have a repeat online course. They can basically republish the semester and not do any more work. But how the semester goes depends on the group of students.”
Campbell has been on both sides of online learning, teaching alongside a professor and working as a student.
“I definitely think there are pluses and minuses to both classroom and online learning,” she said. “I think the biggest drawback to learning online is that students end up Googling and plugging in answers. It almost feels like you’re not learning. It’s more like, how can I get an A?”
Campbell said teachers can help students by pacing an online course.
“I think it’s more useful when an online class has sections that are made available per week, so you’re not overwhelmed looking at the whole semester,” she said. “You login on Sunday and you have a deadline on Friday. I don’t think it’s helpful when a teacher has an online course and students go at their own pace. It just sets them up for procrastination and failure. In the real world, you’re going to have deadlines.”
In addition to deadline concerns, Campbell worries students that learn primarily online are missing other real-life experiences.
“I definitely think they get a different type of education,” she said. “Coming into class and working with a group really is the real world. Primarily online students aren’t getting that social experience and that can hurt them.”
From the student’s side of the screen
Kayla McClain, a student at Baker College, has taken several online courses. She, like Campbell, prefers the physical classroom.
“My online classes are accelerated,” she said. “You go through things really fast. You have the whole course laid out for you, so you know what to do and when. But some classes are different than others. You almost forget there’s a teacher sometimes until they add an announcement about what you should be doing. Once, when I asked a question, my professor literally restated the directions in an email.”
For McClain, taking courses online is a matter of convenience.
“I prefer the classroom, but there are times when it’s a lot better to be online for personal reasons. Most of the time, online classes can save me from having to go school an extra day each week,” she said. “Then again, in the classroom, it feels like an actual class. There’s face-to-face interaction. So, there are good and bad things about both, no matter what teachers do.”