Online teaching has the potential to make education available to those who might otherwise not have access to it, and for this reason, I think it’s important for instructors to understand the best practices for teaching their discipline online. The liberal arts, in particular, are losing funding in favor of the STEM fields, and diversifying the ways that we can offer classes might help offset this trend. I’d like to feel comfortable teaching online, should the need arise.
When it comes to my own teaching, one thing working in my favor is my desire to be prepared and organized. By keeping the course organized and presenting the material in a transparent fashion, I think I am able to communicate expectations and overall course direction clearly, thereby minimizing student stress. This seems especially important in an online course that has fewer synchronous meetings than a traditional face-to-face course.
But I suppose I should be perfectly honest: the idea of teaching a philosophy course online is very intimidating. The texts we read can be very difficult, and a large portion of face-to-face class time is spent ensuring that students adequately comprehend the material they’ve read. Sometimes, comprehension requires a brief history lesson (to explain to them why that thinker is concerned with that particular issue) or connecting the text to the students’ own lives (perhaps by showing them how they have encountered the text’s central questions before). The remainder of the time is generally spent engaging with the text critically and learning how to appropriately analyze and critique it. As a result, philosophy courses tend to be heavily discussion-based, and it’s not always clear at the start of class time what issues students will need addressed.
For this reason, it would be very important in an online philosophy course to make sure that there’s opportunity for dialogue in between meetings, so that I would know how best to spend our time as a group. Discussion forums would be essential and might allow them to resolve some of their problems among themselves. Or, maybe students could complete a poll before the beginning of the synchronous class time to give a sense of where they’re struggling. I might also provide explanatory materials or other resources in advance. But I do worry that the wide variety of problems that can arise will mean that I’d have to reinvent the wheel with every single course, possibly completely on the fly.