TEACHING ONLINE: THE BRAVE AND ENERGIZING NEW WORLD
by Diane Finley
(Professor, Psychology) Article (Adobe Acrobat)
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the e-column of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, Division 2, American Psychological Association on February 1, 2004. Their Web site is http://teachpsych.lemoyne.edu/teachpsych/div/psychteacher.html.
For most of us, using technology,
and in particular, the Internet, has become second nature. It is a vital part of
our teaching and professional (and probably personal) lives. It is hard to
imagine teaching anymore without using some type of technology. Yet, many of us
use that technology sporadically and we see it only as something extra. We do
not see it as a vital component of the course and the learning. It is the cherry
on top of the sundae, not the ice cream. At the same time, it is clear that one
of the new trends in education is moving the entire learning environment to the
Internet. Yet, many professors are reluctant to move their entire course online.
For those of us who began teaching when technology meant an IBM Selectric
typewriter and a cumbersome Betamax (video) player, it is hard to imagine moving
an entire course totally online. It is difficult to accept that the online
classroom can really be as good as the physical classroom.
I started teaching in alternative delivery format as an adjunct for the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), a campus of the University of Maryland System whose mission is to work with adult learners. As such, they offer courses in many alternative formats, including ITV (interactive television, broadcast from a central location to remote students) and telephone. I taught for UMUC for several years in various distance formats, including courses by mail and by telephone. While each of these delivery formats had tradeoffs, they served the UMUC population, which was nontraditional. I had found that these alternative formats were not as satisfactory as face-to-face classes, and while I had some terrific students in those courses, I always felt as though the students were missing a part of the educational experience, especially in the mail and telephone courses that were becoming an increasingly large part of the offerings. Yet, those formats were necessary to serve the UMUC population and I did my best, as did my students.
As time progressed and technology improved, UMUC began to invest heavily in online education. When that happened, the chair of the Psychology Department requested professors to take the online training and become certified to teach online. I resisted until one summer session about six years ago. UMUC offers traditional classroom courses, but those are always given at night or on weekends in order to serve the students' schedules. In summer school, class meant two nights a week, four hours per night (not including drive time which, in the DC area, can add an hour each way). That time commitment caused me to miss multiple baseball games of the team with whom I do some work. One night, as I sat on the Beltway for an hour following a four-hour class, it occurred to me that if I taught online, I would not miss any games! So, I signed up for the training, still not convinced that online would be as good as face-to-face and sure that it would have the same problems as other alternative delivery formats. Was I wrong! What did I discover?
to the online environment requires a paradigm shift in how we think about
education. It requires the acquisition of new beliefs about what teaching is. In
doing so, we actually go back to denotative roots of the word "education" –
educare – "to lead out." We become facilitators, rather than providers of
knowledge, and students shift from passive to active learners. Of course, not
all students manage this shift successfully (nor do all instructors who move to
the online environment), but it is exciting and gratifying to watch those
students who do make the shift as they take charge of their own learning.
The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 19, No. 3