For many years the role of an adjunct professor has been part of my repertoire. I teach one night a week, a bit during the summer, and occasionally I dabble in some online teaching. A few years ago, I wrote an online course for New England College and I revised it when NEC changed formats from Moodle to Billboard to V-Books. As part of that shift, many of us in the Education Department taped new videos to accompany the online written material. The difference this time is that the videos are not simply introductions to the lessons but they are an integral part of the course.
I took Tuesday off during this winter vacation week and in unison with almost 150 Powerpoint slides, I rambled on about curriculum, instruction, and assessment for six hours, with just a 5 minute break in between each one hour lesson. I didn’t have a script but I had the safety of bullet points on the slides and the “warmth” of a camera starting back at me. I don’t remember a lot of what I said in those 360 minutes (that’s a little tongue-in-cheek) but I recall stating a few times that I wish I had a class of colleagues surrounding me. Granted, the video segments are designed to make online learning more personal but it was difficult for me to interact with virtual students who don’t exist yet.
I have struggled with the value of online learning for years yet, I am now a convert. A recent article about to be published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior cites research that students in online courses prefer to be taught by someone who resemble themselves. Lori Foster-Thompson, a professor at North Carolina State University and co-author of the study, found that gender and race similarities were important, but just as important is if the student felt that the teacher has the same “feedback style” as the student. That is, a connection needs to be made between student and teacher. Strangely similar to a traditional classroom?
Clearly, online learning has a large upside already, even in the high school world. My colleague Tony Baldasaro from the Virtual Learning Academy in Exeter, NH will tell you how crucial their school is for scores of grade 6-12 students in the state. Students in remote areas who don’t have access to courses, or schools small enough to not justify particular courses can discover the learning they need within virtual learning.
When I’m sitting at my computer at home or taping video in a studio, I realize how different this experience is for an almost 50 year old guy. However, I’m beginning to understand that the experience on the other end, from a student who (for the most part) grew up at a different time, must fit into their multi-tasking existence just fine. In the end, it appears that their understanding of the course content is pretty strong, similar to what I see in the non-online classroom. Virtual, online learning is here to stay.