According to Elizabeth St. Germain in Faculty Focus, one of the “Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design” is insistence on being the “sage on the stage.” St. Germain writes:
“In the old model of education, the instructor stood on the podium and served as the students’ revered and primary access point to the desired knowledge. Today, your students may be Googling your lecture topic while you speak and finding three sources that update or improve upon your presentation. The Web provides instantaneous access to an enormous volume of opinions, commentary, and knowledge related to your topic. As a result, your role is now more of a content curator—the one who prunes and trains the branches that extend from your expertise out into the world. The Web enables interdisciplinary links, associations, relationships, and openness. Your course should be a place where students come to participate in the connections that can be made between your subject and the outside world. Build these bridges into your online course materials, and become a facilitator of these important connections.”
I found this comment to be particularly interesting in relation to the hybrid online/on-site effort in which I’m involved. Our hybrid course is a team process rather than the endeavor of an individual instructor. My role on the team is primarily to find and develop usable content for the course, the subject of which is agricultural biotechnology. So, in that sense, my role is entirely behind the scenes and not as the “face of the course,” so to speak. However, in our team meetings, my colleagues who will be the primary instructors have expressed concern that students somehow get to know who they are, and see their faces from time to time. This makes me aware of the possibility of a kind of identity crisis for instructors of online classes, especially if the class has previously been taught on-site only. Not only is online delivery asynchronous, it is more branched, as St. Germain put it. The delivery itself is from multiple sources, not from the instructor alone. At the same time, the instructor has the power to act as a filter, directing students to particular sources and discouraging others. In the case of a hybrid course, where some students are on-site and others are online, students enrolled in the online version may have an opportunity to see videos of instructors lecturing. In addition, instructors have the ability to give video feedback to individual students. It will be interesting to follow the development of hybrid courses over the next two terms and to observe how various instructors integrate their online and on-site personalities.
It will be interesting to see if this is an ‘old dogs and new tricks’ issue. (I classify myself as an old dog at this point.) Is the identity crisis, if real, that we feel unique to our cohort who grew up in front of students, not to be felt by newly minted instructors for whom an online or hybrid course is the norm? I have not felt the loss of identity when I have taught online, but I have gone out of my way to be sure I connected with students, and that took planning, at least for me.
I am both thriled and scared to death to be converting our “agbiotox” course from in person to hybrid. As Kelly pointed out above, If we only meet once per week vs. 3 now, it will be hard to make a personal connection with students unless there is lots of time spent online in conversation. Thus, the amount of time it will take to do that is scary, I am fearing far more than the gain from not teaching as much in person. I also am thrilled and scared at switching roles from teacher to curator/facilitator/travel guide, which I love in theory but there is so much trashy information about agbiotox issues online I am afraid we will spend most of our time on defense rather than teaching–mainly dealing with myths, half-truths, and rumors students run across. Perhaps that will be the fun. Helping them sort through the rubble and gems of the online world. -Steve Strauss