Over the past year, online learning and I have become very intimate. Even though I had taught online for a year prior to joining the Instructional Design and Technology team, online learning and I were not so in synch. I often felt like we misunderstood one another. I struggled to understand it’s intricacies and challenges and would sometimes leave our meetings feeling frustrated and just a little bit empty. But like with any relationship, my relationship with online learning needed to be fostered and given just a little attention and love.
No one walked into their first face-to-face course an already stellar lecturer. It’s pretty likely that you stumbled, stuttered, sweated, or–in the case of my father–kicked a trashcan so hard that it bounced off the wall and smacked you in the head. Those horrible first experiences every faculty member treats as learning opportunities. Those are days that we carry with us to remind ourselves that it does get better and that teaching does get easier. We don’t walk away from our relationship with the face-to-face classroom playing the blame game. We don’t blame the lecture medium on our bad experiences–we blame ourselves.
Why is it, then, that we are unwilling to use similar experiences as learning opportunities in an online classroom? Why is it that we are happier to place the blame on the LMS, the software, the students, the online medium, rather than on our own performance? Recognizing this difference was my first step in improving my own online classroom and my relationship with online learning. I had to treat my relationship with the online classroom the same way that I treated my relationship with face-to-face courses, learning to treat every misstep and bad experience as an opportunity to learn something new about my social presence in the classroom and my course design in general.
That’s what I love about online learning and teaching–practice makes perfect. When I take a step back from designing and take a moment to appreciate how far I’ve come as a designer and educator, it’s amazing to see what progress has been made. As my experience with design improved, so did my rapport with online students. Additionally, I started to feel and recognize that my students really were learning in my class, and they were learning a lot. I felt successful in my mission. That’s not to say that every experience I have as an online instructor/designer is successful. My relationship with online learning is still a work in progress, but I work hard everyday to strengthen and improve that relationship.
Valentine’s Day is the best time of year to reflect on your relationship with the online classroom. What can you do appreciate your experiences and get excited about your future together?