Week 5 of my first online course teaching Note

By Kristopher A. Nelson
in February 2018

300 words / 2 min.
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Teaching an online course is like taking an online course.

Please note that this post is from 2018. Evaluate with care and in light of later events.

As I noted previously, I was first involved in online instruction in the last millennium—and have always been a skeptic. This semester, however, was the first time I taught my own online course from my own syllabus… and I was worried.

For good reason, it seems.

The course is, in content, just fine. I’m using a good textbook, sprinkled with video lectures to focus on some key points, and with reasonable discussion and essay questions. The online students seem pretty much exactly like my in-person students.

But compared to my in-person classes, it’s (relatively) boring, disconnected, and unengaging. I enjoy it about as much as I’ve enjoyed the online classes I’ve taken as a student, which is to say, it’s utilitarian and functional rather than inspiring and illuminating.

The technology is OK (though clunky and failure prone). Everything is OK. But that’s it. Just OK.

And I’m buried under even more email and electronic paperwork and routine than usual because of it. Just what I need!

If my goal were to drill facts into self-motivated students, this would be enough. But that isn’t my goal for a history class. My goal is to teach people to think, to make connections, to be better citizens, and to view history as exciting, productive, and engaging.

I come away from in-person lectures and student interactions with more energy (even though it’s exhausting.) Meanwhile, my online experience is dull, drab, and draining… and pretty much matches exactly what my students complain about when they say they’ve disliked past history classes. My in-person meta goal is always to transform that prejudice, but online history reinforces it. Le sigh.

Still, I’ll keep plugging away at it. There ought to be a way to make it work.