When I first started teaching Professional Writing Online, my experience with online education had been relatively limited. I had taken online courses as a student here at USF working towards the Instructional Technology: Distance Education graduate certificate but never before had the experience from the other side of the desk(top).
To no surprise then, I struggled in my first semester to clearly communicate the course goals and objectives, indeed the specifics of my expectations to the students. Standing in front of a class and being able to respond to the detailed and otherwise idiosyncratic concerns of a student body through a back and forth dialogue comes much more organically to me as a teacher. So, while I articulated the goals in detailed project descriptions and responded to concerns via email, I still received less than stellar evaluations at the end of the semester when asked about my ability to facilitate learning (Figure 1).
While the majority of the responses were in the “Excellent” and “Very Good” range, it was unacceptable by my standards that there be three students (17%) who were overall not very pleased with my ability to communicate (“Fair” or “Poor”). As a teacher, and further a teacher of rhetoric and writing, not communicating the nature of projects clearly to students as effectively as possible is something that needs to be remedied — immediately.
I realized that the main issue here was that no matter how detailed I typed up the project description, no matter how specific I got in my project parameters and assessment measures, the real issue here was that students were not getting the interactive need of their education met. While I was having them engage in all sorts of engaging technologies (e.g., WordPress, social media, audio editing software), I was not grasping their attention and engaging them the way an effective teacher does. So, the following semester, I began integrating videos into my project descriptions for all my online courses. These videos supplemented the extant project and course descriptions and carried with them a purpose to further engage students in the curriculum by providing them with multimodal explanations and detailed visualizations to help facilitate learning in students who might not “click” as well with purely textual descriptions. My teacher evaluations the following semester immediately reflected this improvement, as the number of “Fair” and “Poor” responses dropped from 17% to 10% (Figure 2).
Acknowledging and actively engaging different learning styles and approaches is an important responsibility we have as educators. In my case, I was able to expand student comprehension by utilizing my own skills in video production to help create my own organic learning environment that responds to the varied needs and styles of an online student population.