Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Online teaching #1

I am half way through my intensive, 6 weeks long, SPAN 101 fully online course. Two very preliminary conclusions.

a) Because I didn't have pedagogical support at all, I read a lot of articles about online language teaching on my own. One of the things that is repeated over and over is the importance of community building, and to design activities to be done in groups. I carefully followed the advice. Well, I am sure it works for a semester long course. But in a 6 weeks course, it is a mess. I started receiving emails from students complaining they couldn't reach their group partners almost immediately (and those were the ones that actually bothered to complete the activity). Sometimes, it was the members of the same group, saying they couldn't reach each other. Six weeks go fast, so I would be very careful asking for activities the students can't complete on their own, because it is hard to come up with alternatives.

b) Organization is essential. I just spent hours trying to find where students uploaded a recorded assignments. Although the instructions were very clear as to where they should do it, half the class managed to upload it in the wrong place. Make everything as obvious as possible, and repeat yourself over and over if necessary. Chances are, somebody will need the triple message


  1. I took some online classes (contemplating a career change), and while it's true that the best online classes had lots of group work and the worst had none, group work was by far the most annoying part of the experience. When it worked, it was because the other members of my group were smart and motivated (the fact that we were all working mothers meant that the best times for us to work were often at 11pm when we were motivated to work efficiently). But it could also be really tedious (I remember one work partner who had read, in the fine print, that if we couldn't solve the problem we were assigned we would still get credit if we stayed in the chatroom together for the maximum amount of time. She wasn't sure we had the right answer, so she insisted we run down the clock to be on the safe side.

    The most efficient form of student interacton I encountered was the the discussion board tied to the problem sets in a chemistry class. You had to post a certain number of questions/requests for help to the board, but you also had to take a stab at answering a certain number of other students' questions. If a question hadn't been answered (or had been answered wrong) within a certain time frame, the instructor would step in to respond. Not sure if that's adaptable to ASL but it certainly gave me a richer sense of my fellow students than any other activities.

    But yes, repetition is key! Unless the LMS is REALLY streamlined and crystal-clear (and most aren't), it's easy to take wrong turns.

  2. How does the group work for this online version of beginning Spanish compare to what you would do in a non-online version? Is it a question of making it more formal, assigned groups, etc., or is there a qualitative difference?

    I've not taught online before but I do like to use online resources in my courses and I wish there was a way to turn *off* other upload options. In Bb I just have things as Assignments and that's the only place they can put it, but I don't know how it would work with your system (for the record: I hate Bb. But it's what we have).