I decided to have a conversation with my son because we think quite differently when it comes to technology. He enjoys a very traditional education. He is 21, a college student, and studying high energy physics. He is very serious about his studies and spends about 80% of his day-time hours studying and writing on his chalk board. He only uses his computer for watching TED videos or typing papers. Other than that, he prefers not to use technology. He rarely uses his phone and doesn’t text.
As an educational technologist, we think quite differently. And, I value his opinions. He is a current college student and I know there are many college students that share his feelings regarding education. As someone who believes in traditional, hybrid, and online education, I wanted to find out what he wants from his professors and education.
What do you want from a professor? Brett listed three things – quite quickly, I might add:
- I want someone who is organized.
- I want to be challenged.
- I want someone who takes teaching seriously. I want the person to be professional.
I wanted to find out why he feels so strongly about having a traditional education rather than an online education. This summer, he will be taking his first online course and I know it isn’t by choice. It is the course he needs, and is only offered as an online class.
I realized after talking to him, that many of his concerns are because of HOW he learns. He is a kinesthetic learner and learns best by doing. He also enjoys dialogue and enjoys taking part in classroom discussions.
Here are his thoughts regarding taking an online class:
“When you learn from a computer, it is not hands-on. If you are a visual learner and can stare at screen to learn, it will work for you. If you are a kinesthetic learner, it helps to be able to talk to drive to the school, take part physically in class, and talk to people while you are learning. When you go to a classroom, you are immersed in a learning environment. But on a computer, sitting at Starbucks, there are more distractions. It’s hard if you can’t control yourself to stay focused on a screen.”
I asked him what he feared most about beginning his first online course. “You are on your own, basically. If the subject seems hard, it’s tough-luck. It helps for me to be able to sit down in class and ask questions. Often times the questions steer the lecture because the professor can adjust and give feedback. If everyone asks the same questions, the instructor teaches it another way.”
Brett likes to be challenged and although he wonders about times when he might not understand, he also thinks he won’t learn much. “Online courses have to be dumbed-down to be prepared for students who can’t ask questions a lot. They are too generalized in order to appeal to the masses.” He thinks he won’t be challenged in an online class.
Hmmm… so what can I learn from this student perspective? As I pull back and read it over, I can conclude a few things that must be considered when creating an online course (or any course, for that matter):
- Know your learners. This is a very general statement and can be taken many ways. We need to know the learning styles of those coming into our course and make sure that the content is being delivered in a variety of ways. We also need to connect with the students. We need to get to know them personally!
- Students want a challenge. Most of us enjoy accomplishing a task that was challenging – whether putting a puzzle together, finishing a long run, or completing a challenging assignment. It shouldn’t be so challenging that the task cannot be completed to the best of someone’s ability – but it should not be so easy that it is simply a piece of cake (short lived and no benefits): (Please ignore the fact that it may taste great!)
- Help your students feel immersed in a learning environment. I know this is difficult with an online course, but it can be done. Make sure there is a “social” area where students can get to know each other. Take advantage of chats or synchronous class time including video.
- Be available. As an instructor, be present in the “classroom” and make sure students know you are available. Try to be available through video-conferencing because it will help students understand that you are a real person, too. Skype and Hangout are easy tools to connect to students. For an online course, create a video introducing yourself. Students will appreciate seeing your face and hearing your voice!
- Make sure there is a forum for questions. Set up a discussion forum where students can ask questions regarding homework or content. They may be able to help each other. As an instructor, give input as well – even if it is a question to help the students come up with the answers.
- Be organized. One fear Brett has is going into the course and not knowing what to do. He stated that he hopes he will enter the online course and that it will be “evident to someone who has never had an online course to know what to do.” Brett is organized and he is hoping that his online course will not only be well-organized, he is hoping that it will be evident how it is organized. Take a look at the online course through the eyes of someone who is unfamiliar with taking an online course. Is it simple to use? Is there a structure? Are there directions? How about creating a webcast?
Finally, I asked him if there was anything that he does like having online, even in a traditional classroom. He said there was. He likes having access to:
- “a rigid outline” including dates when assignments are due
- an “overall layout to see the whole plan in advance”
- grades (He said they have to be easily accessible and up-to-date.)
I plan on writing a follow-up blog after Brett takes his online course. I’ll interview him again and hopefully it will be a positive learning experience for him! We shall see!