[The final papers are coming in and the blue books have entered the building, so it must be the end of another semester. This week I’ll recap some inspiring moments from my Fall 2018 semester, and I’d love to hear some of yours in comments!]
On the pedagogical challenges and inspirations of teaching online.
Having completed my third all-online course, and my second online section of the American Literature II survey class, I can’t say that my overall perspective on online teaching has changed significantly. I still think there are fundamental elements of teaching, of classroom community and conversation, of the way our ideas and readings and voices can evolve in relationship to each other’s, that are quite simply absent from online teaching, and I’m not sure that there’s anything we can do to bring those elements into an online class. I’ve said for a long time that if the majority of my classes or my job overall were to move into an online setting, I would likely leave the profession for a different one, as a great deal of what I most enjoy and find most meaningful about the job would be eliminated in that case. That doesn’t seem to be an imminent possibility, but it’s certainly part of the long-term conversation, and one I think about every time I teach online.
On the other hand, I should and do think also and more fully about short-term questions of how to make these particular classes more successful, and for this third one I think I did do a somewhat better job sharing my frames and contexts with the students in ways parallel to how I would do so for an in-person class. I’ve written elsewhere about treating literature survey classes as an “informed democracy,” one where I seek through various means to provide the information and contexts that can help frame conversations that will still be driven as fully as possible by student voices and perspectives. The negotiation of those different layers is distinct in an online class from an in-person one to be sure, but the fundamental questions remain the same, and as I move into my next online class (a second section of The Short Story in the Spring) I will continue to think about how to present such contexts and frames clearly and helpfully (and concisely!) and then encourage student voices and perspectives as the course’s center.
Not surprisingly, the most inspiring part of this online course came directly from such student voices and perspectives. Due to both the nature of online classes overall and the location of this class within FSU’s Continuing Education (evening) program, many of the students in the class were non-traditional: older returning students, folks working full-time jobs, parents, and so on. These students brought their experiences and identities to every aspect of the class, from the weekly Discussion Board responses to the papers and more formal work. One paper particularly exemplifies both the personal and the analytical power of those student perspectives: a student wrote about the protagonist of Sui Sin Far’s story “In the Land of the Free” (1909) through her lens as a mother, and in so doing helped me see different sides to a text that I have taught and written about many, many times (as illustrated by that hyperlinked piece). To be honest, I’m not sure if I would have gotten this paper in an in-person class, and I know for a fact that this student would not have been able to take such a class with me. Which is a pretty inspiring reason to keep teaching online courses, I’d say!
Next recap tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Semester reflections you’d share?
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