I’d love to say that I’m such an engaging lecturer that I’ve never had a sleeper in the back of my classroom but sadly that’s not true. I have. And I know I’ve had sleepers in my online classroom too but I don’t have to see them. The benefit to my online classroom is that sleepers don’t really matter. Students have to be self-motivated enough to learn the material, turn in assignments, and take exams without having a scheduled time to show up for class. The student who might sleep through my lecture on models of nutrient uptake might find my online presentation really interesting and be actively engaged in our online discussion. A student who is engaged in the classroom might find online courses difficult because they must find their own time to view material and they don’t have me standing in front of them 3x a week saying “Hey isn’t this cool!” to get them excited about a topic.
Basically I think online courses are great because they are available to a wider population than can come to campus and take classes. I love the variety of people I’ve had in my classes. Teaching Perennial Plants to someone in Qatar definitely expanded my list of plants to consider, although most of the plants she had growing around her wouldn’t grow in Corvallis. The drawback I see and I don’t think you can avoid is that online you don’t have an instructor right there who you can stop and ask questions of. There are ways to make that difference OK but I think for some students on campus will always work better. It just depends on how they learn. And the reality is that there will always be sleepers not matter how engaging we are on campus or online.
Some thoughts on how I’ve set up my online courses…
1 – keep the course design simple. I use a Course Information section, a Course Documents section, an Assignments section, and an Exam section. Course Information contains the syllabus and calendar. Course Documents contains the topics we’re coving in class grouped in 3 week blocks. Under each topic there is text, ppt, and links to further reading, usually only 2 or 3 things per folder. In Assignments I have an explanation and a link for them to turn in their work. Exams contains, well, exams. I like this arrangement b/c students never open 1 section and feel overwhelmed by what they see.
I also prefer discussion boards to blogs b/c it keeps all the course interactions in 1 place. Students don’t have to leave the course Bb site and log onto another site to contribute to the course.
3 – I use discussion boards and I use groups for the boards. I arrange my discussion boards with individual threads for individual topics so that there is never an open ended “jump in” type expectation. As discussions develop I encourage students to start threads for ideas that they think are interesting or important and I start new threads when a new idea pops up. This helps avoid discussions that get so convoluted that you can’t remember where it started. Using groups of 10 or so also keeps discussions more focused and seems to give students more of an opportunity to make new contributions rather than just agreeing with each other.
Of course I’m teaching a science course so they types of discussions and information I’m presenting may be very different from a writing course or an art or music course.
Sarah Finger McDonald