The question stopped me in my tracks. I was speaking with a student after class about his struggle to keep up with our material. The usual topics came up: staying organized, keeping on task, coming to class and paying attention. Then he said, “Do you have a unit plan?” I responded, “A unit plan?” “Yeah. My online classes have unit plans. It has all of our assignments and directions in it.” I told him no, we introduce assignments and work each week in class. He shrugged. In the moment, I heard his question as an excuse in a long list of excuses. But, as I considered it, a larger issue became apparent.
Online classes have long been the substitute to face-to-face classes. They were the alternative to the norm. What students understood a class to be had to be adjusted when they took a course online. Students had to deal with never meeting their professor, reading all the content themselves, and gaining a full understanding of the expectations and assignments on their own.
As an online learner and teacher, I always struggled with that final component: assignment expectations. In a face-to-face classroom, the teacher presents the assignments and is able to articulate what they want students to do. They rephrase directions, respond to questions, and personalize the document. Even if the student themselves doesn’t ask a question, he/she gets to hear this classroom dialogue. Individuals come away with a better sense of how to succeed. When I was expected to read through pages of assignment directions, I usually found myself skimming to topic sentences. Often, once I finished, I would realize I had missed a key expectation. Or, if the assignment was shared with the class, I would notice a gap between my work and my classmates’. Sometimes that gap was quality, sometimes it was approach, and sometimes it was both. When I started teaching online, these some issues occurred with my own students. I always viewed teacher-centeredness as an asset to the face-to-face experience and something that would be a permanent disadvantage of the online platform.…Read More