Friday, July 13, 2012

Don't let your education get in the way of your learning

Both my husband and I are currently taking online summer classes at the local community college.  I am taking mine in partial fulfillment of my PhD requirements (German) and he is taking his for professional development (Economics).  The summer semester is wrapping up in a couple of weeks, so I thought I would write about our experiences so far.

As part of my PhD, I am required to take two classes outside of my department.  These classes can be essentially anything, so I decided it was time to cross learning German off my bucket list.  I <3 any time I can   "double dip" or multitask.  Usually, the outside classes are supposed to be graduate level, but there is an exception for language courses.  With the blessing of my graduate committee (the three people who basically own me academically), I enrolled at the local community college, purchased my books, and anxiously awaited the beginning of the term.

One chapter of German flashcards

My German class is taught online.  Yes, I too think it's odd that a beginning language class is being taught in this format, but I have to work with what I've been given.  After dealing with massive technology problems on the part of the instructor for the first 1.5 weeks (out of a 7 week class), things are going smoothly so far.  Every week I create a pile of flashcards for the assigned chapter, listen to the online lectures with powerpoints (part of the reason why this class is going well), create my audio recording of me butchering the German language, complete my online workbook, and take an exam over the previous week's material.  In total, this class takes about 15 hours of work not including the time I spend reviewing my flashcards.


My German "Max" drawing with labeled body parts
My only complaint thus far is the lack of useful feedback from the instructor.  The first thing I do each week is take the exam over the previous material because I think it's more useful to test myself over what I've learned before tossing new information on top.  Then I email the instructor in order to find out what I got wrong.  I don't usually miss more than a point or two, but I'm sort of a perfectionist.  Also, every test I've taken for this class has had a major technological issue that has resulted in the computer grading my exam incorrectly.  This week, I emailed her for mistakes and she told me that for "test security" reasons could not tell me what I missed until the rest of the class took the exam.  What a bunch of hooey!  I understand that as a teacher you don't want the students to cheat.  But this is a little extreme.  How am I supposed to learn from my mistakes if I don't know what my mistakes are?  I am frustrated, but as Justin reminded me of a Mark Twain quote, "Don't let your education get in the way of your learning."

Justin's online learning experience has been somewhat better.  His instructor was well organized and provided clear instructions.  However, she requires the students to take their exams in person at the college, which seems a bit absurd.  We're both online class pros and have taken classes while on vacation.  One of my favorite sayings is "Have netbook, will travel."  Essentially, this teacher is saying that she doesn't care that the class is online, she still wants students to conform to her expectations.  She is also ignoring one of the awesome characteristics of online classes.  Namely that online classes can be done at any time.  By requiring students to take their exams in person she is requiring them to conform to the college's 8-5 PM schedule.  It just seems inconsiderate.  I would understand if this was a face-to-face class, but the fact is that it isn't.  Justin seems happy that the class is almost over.  He is taking it as part of his professional accreditation process.  Thankfully, this is the last class required.

A few take home lessons from this experience for me as I move forward with teaching (some of these I already do):

  1. Clear expectations are a must.
  2. Take advantage of the technology help desk *prior* to the beginning of the semester to make sure that your class is setup correctly and that you aren't going to cause your students to panic.
  3. Provide timely feedback.
  4. Understand the constraints that your students might be facing and attempt to be flexible (i.e. online classes should only have online requirements)
  5. Use voice recordings to add personality to online classes.

2 comments :

  1. You are right on about this Amanda. I started an online class 2 years ago and had a lot of technical difficulty. I had absolutely no feedback from the teacher about whether or not my assignments were correct. I simply quit the class. That's $300 I can't get back plus a really bad experience that doesn't make me wanna try that again.

    I started a fun online class June 20th in creative writing for $99 and I'm having a blast with it! The teacher is extremely interactive and I have gotten way more than my money's worth from it just half-way through it.

    "Be the change you wish to see in the world." ~ Ghandi

    love, mom

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    1. After the first week, I told Justin that I would drop the class if I could. Unfortunately, dropping the class would me pushing back my other academic goals so I had to put on my smile and deal with it. I've had online classes that have been really awesome and a few that haven't been. It really seems to depend on the structure of the class and if it is organized. Nothing makes me more crazy in an online class then not knowing what's happening next.

      I think it's really cool that you're taking a creative writing class. I can't wait to see how that comes out in your blog.

      Love you too!

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