Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Time Consuming Preparation for Online Classes

Prep for an online class doesn't end once the course is initially complete and delivered that first time. As in the traditional classroom, there's always room for improvement. Every act of preparation requires time and effort. It's not like in the f2f classroom, where you can come up with an idea on the fly and give it a try to see if it works. Every act must be intentional and the steps for each act must be carefully planned and prepared.

Every semester I choose one thing to improve, even if there are a gazillion things that need help. Because of the time commitment, I find that any improvement I make needs to be ready before the class starts because once that happens, all my time goes into my students.

This this current semester, for example, I took something I learned delivering the curriculum from the masters-level academic writing course I teach, and incorporated into my undergrad composition class.

In the graduate-level class, students journal about what they read and start to connect the theories of the readings into practice in their writing. One thing I noticed about the online freshman composition class I teach, is that there is no grammar component in the class. My masters-level students have often lamented in their journals that the grammar and style concepts they were learning should have been taught to them in undergrad. Knowing this, I decided to transfer this concept to my freshman, hoping that they'd see a benefit in journaling about what they read. While there are still many changes I'd like to make to the course, this was the change I thought would be most beneficial to my students, so I went with it. If it's successful, I'll leave it in the curriculum, and if it's not, I'll either modify it or discontinue this exercise.

Another improvement I'd like to make in my online classes is to add weekly podcasts to the announcements. Preparing podcasts can be extremely time consuming. Personally, I can't just sit down and record--I need to write a script first. I record using Audacity, which allows me to edit out any bumbles I make. So far, the majority of my podcasts have been introductory to give students another way to get to know me as an instructor. One summer semester, I recorded a podcast for each week. I'm not sure how effective they were, or how necessary, but for some students, hearing instructions in addition to reading them can be beneficial.

Composition classes are scary for many students, so I like to convey an open and relaxed atmosphere to empower students to write instead of worrying how I'm going to react to their writing. I would like to create more effective assignments and podcasts in the future to further enhance my current curriculum.


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