The reason that I am interested in online teaching and conveyance of information is the potential to reach and interact with a vast audience. When I say interact I do not mean just presenting accumulated and my knowledge on a specific subject for consumption, but also to learn from and gain unique perspective from an expanded universe.
An example of how online teaching has both transmitted information and also led to improvement in many lives can be found in the field of pediatric cancer treatment. Doctors in university or research centers who treated or researched pediatric cancers were members of one of two distinct groups, namely the Children’s Cancer Group (CCG) and the Pediatric Oncology Group (POG). Membership in one of the two groups was mutually exclusive as the two groups were rivals for patients and research money. In addition, which of the two groups the doctors belonged to was determined by the institution they worked for, not by the doctor’s choice. Since there was little or no collaboration between CCG and POG until research was published (i.e. many months or actually years after studies on drugs or treatments were published in peer reviewed medical journals), research and treatment doctors were unable to accelerate research and/or treatment thinking and methodologies of fellow researchers in a “competitive” group. Further, it is easy to conceive that many collaborative discoveries were not begun or consummated because of the man-made division between the groups.
With the advent of online courses and teaching, both CCG and POG set up virtual classrooms and courses to teach both in medical schools and to practitioners at treatment centers “new” (or augmented) treatment methods, research protocols, and drug combinations and results. Almost by default, knowledge was spread much faster than in the past as individual members of each group could be “in class” and thereby learn from the “competitor” group. Online learning also promoted collaborative effort (and therefore results) as CCG and POG researchers and practitioners who were working on the same pediatric cancer could collaborate and accelerate the learning curve in the fight versus that particular pediatric cancer. In fact, this sharing of information led in some degree to the eventual combination of the two groups into one – and increased the usage of online teaching and learning by the new consolidated group both within the group and in a university setting.
Easing the suffering of children and changing medical treatment are lofty goals that I do not know that I can claim for my reason to entertain online teaching. However, the principles of combining the conveyance of information with increased learning and idea collaboration toward a type of result for both learners I am teaching and for me, like the principles in the CCG/POG example, is my driver. In my chosen field of organization change and corporate governance, I can use my education, experience and updates on accepted practices to teach, learn and collaborate through online education: the result of which could be increased or extended employment, augment to the health of organizations, and improvement to what we receive from organizations.
A major challenge to achieving my goals of combining the conveyance of information with increased learning and idea collaboration toward a type of result for both learners I am teaching and for me in online teaching will be overcoming the preconceived idea that business and finance are dry and/or boring. This perception is somewhat more difficult to overcome in online teaching as one has to stretch, make the content relevant, and inject some “personality” into one’s online persona. The personality or personal presence factor is one of my major strengths in a traditional or face-to-face classroom, institutional or individual setting. Achieving the same level of personal interaction or personality (hence keeping up a level of interest) may be difficult to achieve in online teaching. In my pursuit of improving my “personality” in online teaching I came across an article which I hope I can assimilate into my practice when teaching online. I include an excerpt of it below because maybe it can be a boon to my fellow learners and instructors.
Specifically, in an article published in October, 2010 in Online Education, Errol Craig Sull not only states that injecting personality is possible in online teaching, but is actually essential. (Sull has been teaching online courses for 17+ years and has a national reputation in the subject, writing and conducting workshops on distance learning.) In his writing Sull states that, “Online instructors are hired because they are judged as having the right combination of education, teaching experience, content expertise, and professional accomplishments. But once an instructor is in the classroom, these abilities and achievements can go only so far. There also must be a constant injection of personality.” Sull offers practical suggestions “for conveying a positive, supportive, and enthusiastic personality. Establish a friendly and inviting personality on day one of class . . . your personality on day one can be examined, experienced, and revisited throughout the course. Thus, any postings on day one that speak of you must convey that you care about the class, the students, and the subject, and that you are looking forward to the course and are eager to help your students. Never confuse personality with teaching strategy. One can have the right—the best—teaching strategies ever created, yet a bland or dull online personality can make those teaching strategies nothing more than two-dimensional. Once those strategies are sprinkled with heavy doses of an upbeat and just downright nice personality, they truly come alive—and the students will react in a more engaged manner. “
Sull’s suggestions are:
- Sometimes you may need be an actor who wears the right personality. Your everyday, “Hey, this is me” personality might not be the one that is right for online teaching, and that’s fine…as long as you can play the role of an online instructor with a great, enthusiastic personality for your students (as well as your online supervisors, support team, and colleagues).
- Students take their lead from you—the way you come across to them will determine just how engaged and motivated they remain throughout the course.
- Use your interest in the subject to help build your online teaching personality. You were selected to teach your subject partially because of your academic and/or professional expertise and interest in the subject, so share it with your students. Beyond what has been prestocked in your course, you can add articles, pictures, essays, cartoons, interviews, YouTube (and the like) snippets, and factoids that add richness and depth to your subject. The students will immediately know you really are “into” the subject, and your excitement and enthusiasm for the subject will spill over to your students.
- Control knee-jerk reactions. Students can write or do things that get us upset. And we can make egregious errors in our hasty reactions to these student mistakes and oversights that may not only cost us our students’ respect and rapport, but possibly our jobs as well. So hold back—take some time before you respond, and if you don’t have the time—such as in a live chat, a phone call, or a video conference—always remember that your actions and reactions are not merely yours but also the school’s, and because you are the instructor you are always held to a higher standard than your students are.
- Be careful of your vocabulary choice. Each of us has words we use on a regular basis; they are part of who and what we are, and they often simply pour out. But our online courses demand that we pay special attention to the words we write, the context of those words, and the perception of the message we are trying to get across. Once posted, our words will live on throughout the course, and thus we must focus on the vocabulary we choose.
- Help your personality come alive with audio and/or audiovisual. Today’s technology allows us to get closer to our students—and lets our personalities really shine through. Skype, MP3, Twitter, Facebook, Jing, Adobe Connect, Prezi, Wimba, and other tools can take us to our students in an audio and/or visual way and thus allows students to see and hear an instructor who is excited, enthusiastic, caring, and dedicated to his or her students, the subject, and the course. “
(Sull’s suggestions are excerpted from Teaching Online with Errol: Personality DOES Matter in Teaching Online! Online Classroom (Oct. 2010): 6,7.)