3 Lessons of online teaching

Continuing with the theme of “looking back” and reviewing how my last year went, especially in my work, one project stands out from the rest: teaching.  

It was the new project I decided to tackle after five years of being away from teaching; teaching interior design course at OCAD University.  

It is still vivid…I still remember the anxiety-filled, my FIRST CLASS. 

After checking and rechecking the video setting on my computer and questioning the various outfits for my first class (only the tops since the online course), I took a deep breath and finally hit the JOIN button on the school video setting.  

That was how my online teaching adventure started.  

As the weeks progressed, the anxiety I felt on the first class was quickly replaced with the busyness of running classes; preparation, assignments, reviews, constant email responding….etc.

As I was just getting “comfortable” with online settings, the semester ended, and we were facing the Christmas holidays.  

After ending the semester with a flurry of activities – assignment review, grading, responding to grade questions – I came to recognize certain wisdom that can only come from an actual experience in the era of online teaching.

Less teaching, More communicating

It is a strange concept to grapple with; Isn’t teaching an ultimate form of communication? 

By clearly articulating the knowledge, experience, and ideas I gained over the years as a teacher and sharing those with students, the process of both teaching and learning happens in class settings…right?

However, in the online setting, the ideas of teaching/ communicating seem to work independently.  

From the first day of class, students emphasized the importance of recording each class. Their reasons are to review the class materials; or see them in case of missing classes.

As the weeks progress, students and myself rely on the video recordings more; low-class attendance, automatic video reminders…

While preparing for each class, I noticed I focused more on my presentation skills…or worse, my choice of top-only outfits on videos.

In the old days (before the online classes), I would detect the students’ comprehension level through their participation. However, with the online setting, it was near impossible to get any type of reading (or reaction)…unless counting the emoji buttons or raised hands as their symbol of understanding. 

Warning lower grades due to inactive participation was not an effective strategy for students, nor was it helpful. 

I questioned how much learning was happening in this vast, unambiguous online classroom setting.  

Self-motivation is a crucial skill in online learning

Self-motivation has been the hallmark of any efforts, goals, achievements…anything worthwhile requires this fleeting but invaluable quality.

Photo by Leon Macapagal on Pexels.com

Especially in one’s learning, motivating oneself is the necessary ingredient. At the online learning level, self-motivation becomes the absolute must-have rather than the essential skill.

With the built-in freedom (?) from online class (ex. click to join the class or not temptation), it is only through students’ own interest that they can click the button to be in the class.  

Rules/ Guidelines from the school and myself would not mean much if the students do not “click” them through the rigour of the learning process.

A few weeks ago, I saw self-motivation in action; from one of my students.

It was the last class week before submitting the semester’s final before the Christmas break. I gave each student the chance to talk about their project/progress to their classmates and myself. It was a way to get some feedback on their work to improve before submitting their work the following week.  

One student showed up during office hours scheduled right after the class. When I asked the student why she did not talk about the project during the class, her answer surprised me.  

“I feel so anxious on the screen…I was afraid I might forget to say all the relevant points about my project…and miss getting the necessary feedback”.

I was floored….

It turns out my ability to read my students has been very low. I assumed the student to be a quiet and diligent person who worked hard on her all assignments. 

I was wrong.

Her anxiety was exacerbated by her classmates looking on and judging her work. She knew having a private conversation with me would be easier and helpful for getting feedback. 

Once she started talking about her project and its design while showing me the drawings and images she worked on, it was evident she had been working hard on her assignment.  

I can see her efforts in the work she produced; the changes in her demeanour as the conversation went on. Her nervousness seemed to disappear and replaced with certain conviction; she was sure about the design decisions she made and felt comfortable convincing me.

Recognizing her motivation to produce good work was the wisdom I had always known; self-motivation is the key in learning…both online and offline classrooms!

Online learning is learning.

The learning process requires the same ingredients, whether in physical or digital classrooms; interest, knowledge, application.  

Seeking knowledge in their interested fields would be the starting point of any learning process. Of course, struggling through the difficulties is the unpleasant but required step every student (assignments, projects, grades etc.) and myself (grading, explanation for grades etc.) want to avoid.

The negative assessment of online learning is misguided. 

It is not the “learning” itself, but the “act” of learning differs in the online setting. All of us go thru similar ways to learn something new – struggle in the early stage, repetition of doing the work. Then somehow, the “new” becomes “our own” knowledge.

While we may be getting used to new ways of learning in the digital classrooms (ex. Raising hands with buttons rather than actual hands or attending the class without being seen), the actual learning happens the same old way as it had always been; in our head!

Final Thought

Like my students, I went through many challenges and struggles as I learned the new knowledge: online teaching.

The opportunity of being exposed to new skills and even outlook on online learning has been a valuable experience. It gave me a chance to gain new skills and reflect before the eventual offline teaching!

What has been the most significant change you went through last year?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s