Online Instruction: You Are Not Alone

You might think that because I’m an online instructor at O’Reilly School of Technology, 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 O’Reilly School of Technology. If you have something to say, please, tell me, tell us, tell any of your O’Reilly School of Technology 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, O’Reilly School of Technology 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 O’Reilly School of Technology, as a collective. We just completed our third annual O’Reilly School of Technology “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 O’Reilly School of Technology 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: O’Reilly School of Technology 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.

  • Manuel LP

    Really a lovely teacher and one of the best that I have in Oreilly Online Courses. I would never complain about all my teachers but I must be sincere and Lorri is awesome. She really makes you to do the right thing and the best of you. Thanks so much!

  • http://twitter.com/anne_molly Anne Aloysious

    I would like to say thank you for your help on the courses I’m taking. Your critique & suggestions have been very helpful & I am really grateful to have you as my online instruction on the OST courses I’ve signed up for.

  • Colten Rowland

    I’m not new to digital media. However since undergoing instruction from OST I feel like a handicap person rising from a wheelchair and ready to run for the first time. The web development world’s complexities can only be truly understood having experience at the code level. I’m near completion of my HTML/CSS course and I hope to eventually see more advanced courses of the same topic. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can loose your home, your job, your bank account and almost anything you can think of. In the midst of a financial crisis or even the best of economic times. But no one can take your education away from you. With my O’reilly experience. I can start working the minute I get a down payment from a client. I don’t have to order supplies. I don’t have to wait for them to be delivered. I don’t have to be dependent on anyone but myself. Thats why I’m here!

  • Joe

    Lorri wrote:

    “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. … We are still working out the ideal formula. What works best for you? What’s on your wish list?”

    The setup in the Learning Sandbox works very well for me. I’m almost never in a hurry for answers.

    I’m not sure what to make of the other technologies in relation to communication…I take it that O’Reilly is considering using those to augment the built-in to Sandbox?

    If O’Reilly is considering something like, say, Twitter or Skype, then perhaps an (encrypted, IMO) IRC channel. I’d probably just hang out in an IRC channel; socialize, ask questions, give support where relevant. Than again, I might just lurk.

    But I think I would be more interested in IRC than, say, Twitter; Skype seems a bit heavy; and might be overkill, but it’s hard for me to say.

  • Lorri Coey

    Thanks everyone for taking the time to read and comment. You’re awesome, but then I already knew that.

  • Lorri Coey

    I love your analogy and I’m so glad we could be part of your path to being a web developer.

    Keep on running!

  • Lorri Coey

    Joe,

    I’m glad to know the messaging system is working for you. Answering student questions is great (that’s where I get to keep learning new things).

    I’ve experimented a bit using Skype one-on-one with students, virtual office hours of a sort. And Skype is our current go-to technology for keeping in touch with each other.

    An IRC channel, could be. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Lorri