My motivation to want to teach in an online classroom is threefold. First, as many have already noted, online teaching is an expanding sector of academia, and so I would like to be equipped to participate in that in a constructive way (and not just because the times dictate I have to!) Secondly, in my field of theological education, the student body in the US is decreasing, while the demand for quality theological training is increasing to the South and East. While some face to face interaction is valuable, I believe, particularly in the training of clergy, enabling students to complete the majority of a degree online increases the availability of this knowledge. Finally, I would like to be proactive in exploring the possibilities of online teaching as a young scholar, instead of being forced to “learn a new language” when my department decides to move classes from face to face to online platforms. I hope that this “pre-thought” will be beneficial to my future students.
As deNoyelles et al (2014) note, teaching presence is crucial to a successful online classroom experience. In my previous roles where a great deal of communication took place in asynchronous communication environments (online discussions; email; etc.), communication has generally been successful and maintained a consistent relationship between teacher and student. This was always balanced, however, by in person interaction, whether in the lecture hall or in the types of spontaneous interactions that can take place when you share a campus space. This translates into my area of concern, shared by many, that it is difficult to communicate the engagement with and excitement for the subject matter that proves so beneficial in my own teaching. Online classrooms require that the student generate the enthusiasm for the material themselves, whereas in the classroom, the shared focused space can serve to make the instructor’s enthusiasm contagious. This is also an issue with the required responses necessary to gauge student participation. In a classroom setting, you can ask a question if you have one! In online classrooms you are often required to continually respond in several ways. Some students benefit from this, while this translates for some into “busy work.”
One way that I am hoping to address the above concerns is through exposure to technologies that best mirror the in person learning experience. Spaces such as voice thread allow for video and audio communication, while adobe connect can mimic (in some cases, and barring the always present technological difficulties) a conversational space. Both of these are spaces where the instructor can model engagement and create the kind of infectious enthusiasm that should happen in a class! In relation to the second concern, several of our readings have referenced the importance of transparency in communicating the learning objectives associated with activities. This might help to reduce the student’s sense of the more frequent small assignments as “busy work.”