What’s it like to actually teach online?

I entered the online college classroom where I teach – the one that exists in that ethereal world inside the computer, on the internet and across the wi-fi airwaves – to see that students had scrawled the words “Bonjour!” and “Go, Sox!” on the virtual whiteboard of our French I course.

The early students gathered for our synchronous (“real time”) session chatted via their microphones before my arrival. It was the same virtual space where I’d soon review material and engage these enthusiastic learners with an assortment of new tools, the Concord Monitor reports.

Students would write answers on the virtual board. They could raise their hands by clicking on a hand icon. Many simply pressed the “talk” button and shouted answers or questions into their microphones. Seeing the “Go, Sox!” scrawl that day, I steered the conversation briefly toward “le foot” (soccer) and the “Coup du Monde” (World Cup) before easing them into using some newly acquired language skills.

The Community College System of New Hampshire in which I teach offers 381 online courses. During the 2008 academic year, there were 5,497 enrollments in 100 percent online courses.

Last year, CCSNH had 11,676 enrollments in 100 percent online courses, an increase of 112 percent. It is the fastest growing area in enrollment and one that opens education and careers to those who may have been shut out previously, especially students who have jobs and families or live far from campus. Mothers, working students, and traveling businessmen all land in my course.

On the virtual board, I show the e-book with audio and video to refresh a concept. I can share my desktop or a web page.

I present slides for them to write on when asked a question. Later in the semester, students give multimedia presentations, showing slides and talking to the students scattered around the region in front of their computers.

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