Featured image courtesy: http://microbiologyon-line.blogspot.com/]
The Lovely Assistant shares her experiences with teaching an online Microbiology course. Part one of a two-part series.
In 2007, my faculty mentor gave the opportunity to develop an online Microbiology course, and I jumped at it. My youngest was an infant, and this was a perfect way to balance the needs of the alternately squalling and barfing little one and maintaining some degree of professionalism. The lecture portion of the course was to meet online and the lab still met on campus. I thought setting it up would be a snap: throw my lecture materials onto an online platform and BOOM! Instant online course.
Boy was I wrong. That first semester was a disaster. My students hated it, I hated it, and the department was skeptical as to the efficacy of online courses. Undaunted, I availed myself of every faculty development course on effective online teaching and testing and picked the brains of all of my colleagues who also taught online. The learning curve was steep, but after a few semesters, things settled out, and I was able to make minor tweaks along the way. My students appreciated not having to commute to campus twice a week, and I enjoyed the flexibility of answering student emails and holding online office hours while the baby napped (or alternately, barfed on me). Was it easier than face-to-face teaching? Hell no. Teaching an online course is much more than just doing voice-overs to your PowerPoint slides. I struggled with ways to effectively reach out to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners and to help them really engage with the material. I was doing virtual calisthenics. I put in far more time planning, preparing, and administering my online course than any face-to-face course, and based on student
complaints feedback, they spent more time in online Microbiology too.
[Hey! They're using The Maven's textbook! Image courtesy: www.ocean.edu]
Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by Rob Jenkins titled, “Who is Driving the Online Locomotive?” which discusses some of the pros and cons of online learning as well as some of the current data on online courses. According to Jenkins, by the Fall of 2010, 31% of all postsecondary students were taking at least one online class, suggesting that students are demanding online courses. However, the Community College Research Center at Columbia University just recently released a study that showed that the majority of students actually preferred face-to-face courses over the online experience.
The Maven weighs in: In my administrative experience, students drive the demand for online courses. The online sections of courses fill to capacity almost immediately, while face-to-face equivalents languish. Students may not prefer the online experience, but they choose online courses for convenience, which keeps them in demand.
What about faculty members? Jenkins cites some anecdotal evidence that most faculty prefer face-to-face over online, despite the fact that online courses reduce their commute and allows more flexibility in their schedule. He quotes a study from 2009 by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities in which the general attitude of professors is this: “70 percent of all faculty members believe the learning outcomes of online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior, compared to face-to-face instruction.”
Additionally, another survey conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education showed that employers don’t trust online colleges and universities as much as traditional ones. Who are the main drivers of online education? Administrators. Online courses allow colleges to administer courses and deliver content less expensively – no classrooms, faculty office space, restrooms, or parking spaces required! Ultimately, tragically, what drive educational policies are politicians, who in my opinion have absolutely no business in the classroom.
[Image courtesy: http://everyday-info.com/is-an-online-education-right-for-you/]
Fellow Mavenites, share your experiences and opinions. What has been your experience with online learning? What policies and procedures do you have in place to ensure an effective online education with meaningful learning outcomes? What do you see as the future of online learning?
Next in the series: Teaching Microbiology Online Part II: The Lab