Teaching – and learning – online

Sorry about the radio silence; I’ve been on the road, with limited internet access. This morning I started catching up with my accumulated emails, and read the article about online learning in the Deseret News.

The reporter focused on university-level courses, but high schools actually represent one of the biggest growth markets for online education. I’ve mentioned that I am teaching an online essay writing class for about 40 high school students this summer. Although I’ve served as an adjunct online writing instructor, this is my first full bore class: scary Moodle classroom website and all.

I plan to reflect on this experience at various times over the summer, and hope that I may be able to lure some of my students into contributing as well. But let me kick off by noting one problem with online courses that most commentators – enthusiasts and critics – barely touch on.

The class is only as useful as the technology. . . and technology problems multiply when students are working individually and off site.

For the most part I’ve enjoying working on “Moodle,” which is an interactive online classroom program used by many colleges and universities. But my co-teacher and I, along with our students, have encountered various glitches along the way. Sometimes the program runs slowly. Sometimes students confront difficulties downloading documents. The grading program spits out zeroes for assignments that the computer can’t grade automatically . . . flooding my inbox with alarmed student emails.

So far we’re overcoming these problems, and our students and their parents understand that we’re running a pilot program. Still, I would encourage online education boosters who become frustrated with recalcitrant teachers to realize that neither technophobia nor entrenched self-interest drives all opposition to online education. Teachers worry, understandably, that the most brilliant lesson plan can be held hostage by a malfunctioning copy machine or a crashed computer.

I’m curious to hear about other peoples’ experience with online education. But I’d like to close by offering a piece of advice to the many educational innovators busily creating new online courses. KISS. Keep it simple – not because either you or we are stupid, but because computer have, after all, given a whole new credibility to dog-devoured homework.

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