Reactions to teaching online

So I’m feeling a bit stretched thin, what with teaching two online courses (an upper-division course in the history of the English language, and a lower-division no-prerequisites survey course in linguistics)—I’d originally signed up for one, but circumstances changed that to two a couple months before the semester began. But so far, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • In a number of ways, it’s easier to teach an upper-division course online than a lower-division one—in particular, the students are more experienced, and so they have a bit more of a clue about how to deal with taking college courses. The upper-division students are much more likely to give themselves enough time to complete assignments, for example.
  • There’s a sort of a perverse incentive in test-grading online—many of my classes lend themselves very, very well to short-answer tests, but it turns out that it’s harder to grade short-answer tests that students do well on when they’re online. That is, in a pen-and-paper test, I can just scan down, mark the occasional wrong answers, and then count up the marks on the page. Online, I have to enter the points scored for each question students get right—not entirely fun for a 55-question exam, and it makes me think that I’d be better off just writing impossible tests nobody can get more than three or four right on.
  • I am not a violent person. Blackboard’s grade book kinda makes me wish I was.
  • On the positive side, teaching online is forcing me to think about course content that I haven’t for a long time.
  • I’ve also learned (well, had my suspicion confirmed) that, contra what’s often given as the conventional wisdom, students aren’t fragile little creatures with attention spans approaching that of a hyperactive goldfish. They’re actually willing to wade through intensely detailed blocks of text, and react to it in a coherent manner—it’s at least in part a matter of letting them know that’s what they’ll be doing, and then having them do it.
  • It’s rather amazing how much more I’m able to cover more efficiently in my lower-division survey course in the online environment, and how much more difficult it is to cover the same amount of material in my online upper-division course as I cover in my face-to-face version. I don’t know if this is a lower- versus upper-division difference, or if it’s a difference between survey courses and courses with a clearer focus, or if it’s the difference between a course that relies more on a textbook versus one that doesn’t, or if it’s something completely different from any of that, but it’s intriguing.

(And now I’ve been writing this off and on for a number of hours—probably time to actually post it, eh?)

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