Think writing skills are important? Why teaching online is a great option

Found in translation: How teaching an online course taught me we are all Shakespeare Language Learners

writing-skills-online“Unless you’re in Taiwan,” I wrote in my introduction to my classes, “we won’t meet in person this semester.” I posted a picture from a trip my family and I took down the east coast of the island; behind me, steep mountainsides plunged into the Pacific Ocean. “This is my back yard,” I wrote. “Just kidding.”

I knew I was risking a bad first impression as a tourist in a t-shirt, but I didn’t know how to present myself to my students that first semester, fall of 2012. I could hardly believe what I was doing in the first place. As an educator, I want to have a “connection” with my students—I want to get to know them, listen to them, learn from them—but now I was as distant as I could possibly be, online and on the other side of the globe. When I look at this picture now, however, I see myself as yet unaware of how this unusual circumstance would change my perspective on what “connectedness” means, both as it regards my students, and as it regards the teaching and learning of my subject, Shakespeare.

What brought my family and me to Taiwan is that my wife, a Ph.D. student, received a grant to study Chinese. We have two children, a daughter who was then 15 months and a son who was then four, so this was the last year we could re-locate without the added question of where he would go to school. I don’t have any on-campus obligations as an adjunct faculty member, so my boss allowed me to spend a year teaching online.

When you think of global, online education, the first thing that may jump to mind is the term MOOC, the “massive open online classes” that are widely publicized—and criticized. My classes were not these, but rather, closer to what are now being called SPOCs—small private online classes. Enrollment is limited to the same number I’d have in the classroom, thanks to the efforts made by the college’s collective bargaining unit. This allows me to have frequent, personalized correspondence with my students—once or twice a week, at least.

(Next page: As international as the students)