The Humbling Experience of Learning to Teach Online
By Melora Sundt, Vice Dean for Academic Programs
Part of USC Rossier’s series of faculty blog posts
September 11, 2012
For this and a few other posts, I’ve drawn from an unpublished manuscript that Kimberly Ferrario, Corinne Hyde, Brandon Martinez and I authored about learning to teach online.
Before RossierOnline, my experience with online learning consisted of a monotonous online traffic school course (I did not run that stop sign by the way!), and an uninspiring grant writing course taken years ago through an extension program. With that range of experience, I concluded that the online world was boring, isolating and impersonal.
So one of my greatest fears when we began designing RossierOnline was that it would be all those things. Getting to know one’s students is perhaps the best benefit of teaching. How could we get to know our students if our contact with them was limited by this online environment, I wondered. Turns out our partner, 2Tor, was ahead of us.
When 2Tor built our learning management system, 2SC, they spent as much time building the “co-curricular” world as they did the virtual classroom. The co-curricular world looks a lot like Facebook – it’s a social network. We each complete a profile page, post photos and videos, and write on each other’s walls. We can “friend” people. We can create “affinity” groups – online clubs or interest groups. As I write this there are 440 groups with more than 2700 participants on the 2SC platform – just for the Rossier programs. Students can get together through the virtual classroom side of 2SC and hold meetings and study sessions.
Before a class started, I would go into the social network side of 2SC and look at my students’ profiles. I’d see what books they liked, what tv shows they followed, and send them messages when I saw something interesting or something that we had in common. I discovered a lot of True Blood fans that way. I knew more about them (and they about me) when I “walked in the door” for that first virtual class than I ever had in a traditional course.
Seeing students live, on camera, in each class session was also revealing. I learned about them, not only from what they said or how they behaved on camera, but also from what was in the room behind them – posters, pictures, pets, family members. (Note – this topic lends itself to another discussion: odd things students do on camera).
So my concerns about a boring, isolating online world were dispelled within a week of working in the 2SC environment. And as I will always be a student affairs person at heart, this social, co-curricular virtual world makes that part of me smile. It confirms that while the 2SC virtual classroom opens limitless learning possibilities, like the traditional college it becomes that much better when partnered with a robust co-curriculum.