You know those commercials with the attractive executive sitting on a beach somewhere with her smart phone and a big umbrella-drink, taking business calls while pretending to be at the office? I think somewhere in the back of my mind that is how I expected this summer’s online learning to proceed.
I mean, I am always interested in improving my pedagogy, but an eight week course? Over the summer? I could be writing another article or learning Arabic or just spending time with my family. Yet, here I am in a minivan packed to the gills with four young kids on a three day road trip trying to focus on responding to scholar blogs while someone is throwing popcorn all over the place, someone else is yelling about getting hit in the head with popcorn, and the effort of reading while my wife drives is making me carsick anyway.
But enough about me. I think my point is that aside from whatever pedagogical goals we may have, I would guess that I am not entirely alone is thinking that a primary motivation is the need to supplement my relatively meager salary and participate in the illusion of freedom that always seems to accompany new technologies before we realize how much our lives need to change in order to accommodate and maintain them.
Freedom is the real promise of online learning, for both students and instructors, and I would rather not hide that behind some grandiose vision of how much better our learning outcomes will be. Maybe they will, but at the end of the day, some student who needs to hold down a job over the summer will be able to take this course in a way that wouldn’t be as feasible if they had to spend the day going back and forth to Emory campus; just as I may be able to go away with my family or get some research done off campus while still hopefully making ends meet. I would be interested to know how online learning is being used in more lucrative academic professions like law or medicine where the impulse to find ways to double task is not so pressing.
For me, at any rate, this initial introduction has shown me that in order to do this well I won’t be sitting on a beach someplace because this kind of teaching takes real work and focus–maybe more than traditional teaching, or maybe that will diminish as my learning curve hits plateau.
Ideally, I would like my online teaching to enhance students’ sense of themselves as participants in the educational process and not just consumers–people who can be involved in the production of knowledge themselves. But I’ll settle for a little additional freedom, if I can master the technology, because that’s really the truth of why I am here.