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Update: Teaching Online

My Global Online Academy course started Sept 4, so after almost a year of preparation, I’ve been officially “at it” for two weeks.  Or maybe three, since I had to arrange and hold Skype calls with my ten students before the course began.  Those were interesting when they happened, and frustrating for the 50% no-show rate.  Each no-show generated an exchange of 3-10 email messages involving apologies, clarifications, and rescheduling, but eventually, I connected with all ten of the students in the class.

Since then, they have taken surveys and quizzes, contributed to discussion forums and pinned their locations on maps… all the tasks I had been developing over the summer.

world map

Digital Journalism students: red = schools, green = personally important places

The systems and assignments are working out fine.  Nothing seems to be too hard, and some students have made lovely observations about the value of journalism to society.  A couple of them have some overdue work at this point.  That worries me because I know from experience that it’s pretty hard to come back from falling behind online.  The drop-ad period is over, so there will be significant consequences for anyone who falls off the train at this point.  It’s hard for me to help, though, when email is about the only tool at my disposal.  I can send a message telling a student what’s overdue, and if there’s no response I can email the responsible adult at his/her school.  That’s about it.  I can’t catch a student at the end of class or in passing on the sidewalk.  I just have to wait for a response.

Fostering community is a big emphasis in GOA courses, and it is possible in part because they are closed.  They aren’t MOOCs, where anybody can see what they write and chime in with interesting or rude comments.  This is a small, private school class, and it’s my job to help the students get to know and support each other.  To that end, I’ve assigned the first group project.  Actually, it’s a partner project, the idea being to start small and maximize the probability of successful interactions.

The assignment went “live,” with the rest of unit 2, on Sunday evening.  It included a short, upbeat video message from me along with this page:

image of course web page

Through the week I’ve been receiving and grading small assignments: contributions to the class current events forum, reflections on the purpose of journalism, and contributions to a discussion of group work (preliminary to actually doing some).  Here’s the short video that introduced the discussion of group work:

Now the partner project should be under way, and I have no idea if students are contacting each other or not.  The first thing they’re supposed to do is claim a decade of the 20th century by putting their names beside it.  So far, no names:

screenshot of project home page (blank)

So I just have to wait.  No sidewalk check-in, no appointed time for class to motivate a last-minute scurry.  I’ve sent an email message to try to bring the assignment to everyone’s attention.  That’s all I can do.

In the background, I’m arranging a “guest speaker” appearance by Tanvi Misra, a reporter for the Atlantic’s City Lab.  She’s young, I know her personally as my daughter’s college roommate, and she does fascinating work.  I’m really excited to offer my students a chance to connect with her, and in the classroom, the excitement would be building.  Online, I can’t detect any response.  Maybe I’m underplaying it, as I have a tendency to do.  But I don’t really know how to whip up enthusiasm in the online medium.  I could create a short video on the subject, but the absence of direct audience feedback creates a daunting potential to look idiotic.

So I’m struggling to feel the personal connection that I’m supposed to be fostering.  Maybe it will come.

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