You might think that because I’m an online instructor at OST, I prepared for this work during my years in college, studying methods for managing virtual classrooms, and eventually graduating as a fully formed online educator. You may be under the impression that after that, I was all set to digest the information I help you learn, anticipate your questions and answer them with ease and expertise all day long. How wrong you would be! The truth is, while I’ve been involved in online learning for quite a few years, sometimes it feels like a mystery to me, just like it can for students–especially in the beginning. While I understand the ins and outs of our school now, I know that sometimes students may become confused, befuddled or even stumped by the unique challenges they encounter. But ultimately, that confusion is good! It’s what being a student is all about–running up against a challenge and overcoming it through your wit, will, and when you need it, a little help from your instructor. And because learning is exchanged in both directions, I continually get valuable insight into the online learning experience from my students, which in turn helps me to be a better instructor.
With that in mind, in order to help each other improve our skills, I’m hoping to start a conversation with you about your experience with OST. If you have something to say, please, tell me, tell us, tell any of your OST instructors; that’s why we’re here. Even if you think you don’t have anything to say, say, “Hello!” Say, “I’m lost.” Share what’s on your mind, for any reason. Don’t leave us whistling in the wind over here wondering how you’re doing out there. We want to know what’s happening. We’d like to be connected with you and hear about what works for you in our courses and what doesn’t. During that process, we’ll make our school and each other better.
Let’s start what I hope will be our ongoing dialogue. I’ll go first and let you see things from an instructor’s perspective.
You may be surprised to find out that those of us who open your emails and grade your quizzes are rarely sitting within the same zip code, let alone the same building. We devote lots of time and effort to communicating online amongst ourselves; our exchanges are generally in a conversational and casual tone. This tone carries over into our chats with students too. (We send hundreds of messages to students each day, so please cut us some editorial slack there. Otherwise, we might feel compelled to throw in a “hence” or a “therefore” now and then, just to prove we can.)
Since the school’s inception, we’ve experimented with all sorts of tools and methods to keep our faculty, staff, and students connected in the online campus. Here’s a short history of where we’ve been and places we are always working to perfect:
At first our default setting was the “less is more” approach: If we didn’t hear anything was bad, that was good. Sound familiar? If so, I’m sorry. We are all working hard to improve that element of our students’ experience. Sometimes less is enough, but rarely is it more. You can help us improve this aspect of your education by chiming in freely with your thoughts, questions, and opinions.
After hearing from our students and gathering information as individuals, OST staff and faculty make it a priority to gather once a year in the same zip code. We do this to connect with each other, share what we’ve learned in our respective corners of the world, and then brainstorm ideas to improve OST, as a collective. We just completed our third annual OST “we rock, but we gotta rock harder” meeting (that’s just a working title, of course). Let me just say, we have a tremendous team working to make OST a truly interactive learning experience; we always come away feeling energized and excited. And I’m not saying that in any cheesy marketing way either–I mean it. Many great people got together and shared a lot of fire, soul, inspiration, and coffee (and also for some reason this year, bacon) to make our school better. I wish I could invite all of you to experience that: OST Students/Instructors Conference? Put it on your wish list, it’s on ours!
My last thought for now, concerns our efforts to improve communication by experimenting with various technologies. We’ve tried a lot of them and continue to use many: email, Google Docs, Twitter, Skype, Facebook, as well as programs created by our own team. If there’s a promising communication portal out there, believe me, we’ve been there. We are still working out the ideal formula. What works best for you? What’s on your wish list? We can figure this out together too.
In my next post, I’ll share what we’ve learned from students so far, what they hope to see when they open a graded project, and how we’re trying to meet those expectations, and, of course, anything else you’d like to talk about. Until then, thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you soon and often.