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Training for Online Teaching

For the last week, I’ve been immersed in development of the online course, Digital Journalism, that I’ll begin teaching in September.   Twenty-eight other teachers were engaged in similar work under the guidance of the full staff (7 members) of Global Online Academy.   The context for this work was Islandwood, an educational retreat center in the temperate rainforest of Bainbridge Island, Washington.   Most of our days were spent in lodge-style buildings that are not luxurious but are very clean, with amenities such as hot water, wifi, and locally brewed beer in generous supply. After hours we availed ourselves of hiking trails on several hundred acres—a wonderful escape from computer-based work.

Islandwood hiking trail

Hiking trail

The size and intensity of the vegetation, from ferns to Douglas Firs, overwhelmed even my southeastern sensibilities. I got some insight into the experience of people from drier climates who sometimes feel smothered by North Carolina greenery.

All week, the Islandwood staff and GOA staff took care of every detail so that we teachers could focus on learning. Struggling to organize a unit? Talk it over with your Instructional Designer. Is it time for dinner? Just sit down at the table.  Need a profile picture or a plan for getting to the airport? The program manager has camera and master schedule.   It was a seamless operation.

workshop in progress

Working on course development

Each day during the workshop, there were a couple of general sessions about topics we all needed: the history and structure of GOA, the student handbook, strategies for getting a class started. There was also a rotating schedule of 1-hour tech workshops that we could sign up for. The rest of the time we worked individually or collaborted with other teachers at our own discretion. Laptops, smart phones, and tablets saw heavy use, though some worked on whiteboards or pads of easel. We were placed in a resource-rich environment and allowed to organize our own learning process. It’s a model that felt respectful and empowering.

I went into the week with many questions. One of them had to do with relationships that had developed through digital communication. What would it be like to meet people with whom I had interacted long distance for many months?   The answer: not different, but I got a richer sense of them. I got to see them in context, in spontaneous moments, and in interactions with others. But there were no true surprises, no sense that our online relationships were illusory in any way. Based on this experience, I’m thinking about ways to bring local context into my students’ online interactions; I think it will help them come together as a class.

When I signed up for online teaching, I realized that my digital toolkit, which seems pretty robust as a supplement to the traditional classroom, looks pretty puny when it’s all I have to work with. I can now say that it has grown substantially.   Among this week’s victories were gaining familiarity with Camtasia and a program called YTD (used to download YouTube videos).   Here’s the result.

There’s a lot left to do to get ready for class to start.  The real deadline is mid-August, when I’ll get a thorough critique from a GOA Instructional Designer.  It feels good to know what to do and to know I’ll have an advisor going the distance with me.


Categories: Education
  1. Stacy Markowitz
    June 28, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    I continue to admire your risk taking and spirit of adventure. I have to take 2 online classes as part of a grad program I am beginning next month. I have not been looking forward to it because I much prefer face-to-face classes. Watching your clip helps me feel less apprehensive. 🙂

    • June 29, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Hi Stacy. Great to hear from you! My experience with online classes as student: it’s easy to let them sift to bottom of priority list, and it’s a bigger loss (compared to F2F class) when they do. It feels pointless to contribute to forums when others have moved on, for example, though it’s sometimes a requirement. I finally learned to reverse the priorities and put online learning above other work. If I fall a bit behind in my physical context, I do end up recovering.
      Hope your classes will be rewarding!

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