Online teaching presents different challenges

Since I’ve been teaching exclusively online for nearly a year and a half now, I thought it might be the right time to step back and make some observations. My thoughts are intended to be commentary on the online experience as an entirety, simply the way I’ve found it in that time.

Full Sail often comes under a lot of fire because it’s a “for profit” university and that makes the skin crawl for those in traditional academia. I’m not really sure WHY it does because by the time you add up all the costs, it’s all roughly the same. I know that THREE (count’em, 3!) universities made a profit off of my combined nine (9) years of higher learning…and two of those were “state” schools!

But that’s not the point. Those of you who know me know that once you get me started on a topic I enjoy, it’s tough to shut me up. That’s one of the reasons, I think, I’m a potentially decent teacher of writing—I absolutely love it.

But the online student is not able to sit in a classroom and listen to me and know that I have a tendency to be a bit sarcastic, not in a mean-spirited way, but in a that’s-just-so way. They’re not able to toss out and idea and back-and-forth it live for maximum creative feedback and to see me get worked up and excited when talking about stuff students have done well or fully grasped.

Thus, the biggest challenge in online learning, it seems to me, is to communicate the teacher’s passion for the subject. “Knowledge” can be presented in a matter-of-fact/here-it-is kind of way…and it isn’t always really exciting. To hear someone lecture on the same material can be to see it in a completely different way.

The biggest problem, though, is student engagement. The Full Sail model is one of “online” but not “part-time.” Many students (and probably non-students—maybe some of you reading this) interpret it to mean part-time and they put a bare minimum into the work, barely scraping by.

GIGO, right?

I sometimes have students complain about the amount of work…and I always bite my tongue because I want to respond “but YOU are the one who signed up to cram all this information into one month—why are you so surprised?” I generally respond with something a little nicer that still says buck up and get the work done.

For me, it all goes back to the spirit of effort we teach athletes. We often hear athletes, even during off-season, talking about how bad they want it. Which is to suggest or ask what is it they’re willing to do (and NOT do) in order to best prepare themselves for the game/season.

Writing is the same way, of course; how much are you willing to give up in order to spend time writing?

Students in the online model of learning who don’t fully engage are only hurting themselves. I now find myself asking those who are struggling to find time or to make time…

“How bad do you want it?”


Filed under General

10 responses to “Online teaching presents different challenges

  1. As an online student, I respect your viewpoint on it and I have similar feelings when I hear my classmates complaining about the workload. I signed up for the program because I want to be a writer. Period. Whatever obstacles I have to face to get there, so be it.

  2. Chris Henderson

    Roland, I am also an OnLine student – at my age. I have a reverse question – how much time do YOU put into engaging your students. My soapbox is that many of my on-line instructors simply post things like ” read these chapters, discuss among yourselves, and I’ll post a test in two weeks”,. They give no input in the discussions, so we are basically getting our education from other students and have no idea if we are on the right track, if we are missing the point, or what. I have dropped a few of these simply out of frustration. Whew – thanks for giving me a chance to vent on this.

    • Well, the first thing you have to realize is that YOU signed up for the online experience. You will NOT get the same experience as students who sit in a classroom…it just isn’t happening.
      I would also suggest the level of engagement varies from teacher to teacher in the same way it does student to student, but ALSO class to class. A math teacher, for instance, can grade your work with little comment. I, however, take considerable time to READ everything my students write, and then I make appropriate comments on the work. I ALSO post for students to read and watch stuff so that they will have a similar foundation for understanding and I can point to specifics in those works as examples. Of course, the same things happens in a classroom environment, too. There are students who “need” more and reach out to me and I interact with them. There are some students who never send me more than the required work and never respond to any of the comments I make (even when I pose questions to them). I’m not condemning those students, merely pointing out there is a difference in level of engagement.
      Likewise, when students submit work of excellence, they get fewer notes from me because there are less things to address (or fix). They simply “got it” quicker or better from the supplied material (and I try to make the material as thorough as possible for that very reason) and have fewer needs.

  3. Chris Henderson

    oops – punctuation is a mess! Need a refresher course!

  4. Amen! “Amen” is all that comes to mind. Students don’t realize that writing is work…and a recursive process–meaning that you aren’t done just because you have some words on a page. There’s a lot of work, time, and passion (for some) that must go behind it.

  5. Debra Charney

    I want it BAD . . . Writing that is. Lol. My online experience at Full Sail has been an incredible journey, and it’s just getting started. I’m very excited about graduating in a few weeks. I can’t wait to market my screenplay (film)! And rather you realize it or not, your awesome personality does shine through in your correspondence. It was very evident that you’re passionate about writing, and that helps to make it a positive experience for students. Keep up the good work!

    • VERY kind of you to say such nice things–THANKS DEB!
      I DO love writing…and I know how much work it really is. What chaffs sometimes are those who seem to do the bare minimum just to get by–and you know who they are! You can tell, I know you can.
      As a side note: every time I see a lady on a motorcyle I think of your story! 🙂

  6. Well said, Professor Mann. MFA is a graduate level degree which means you should be putting alot of work into yoru studies. It’s also a studio degree meaning you will be doing alot of work on your craft to hone in on your skills. This is not a fly by night degree either. As a terminal degree it is equal to having a Ph.D in Creative Writing. I wouldn’t expect any student getting this degree to work any less than they did on their undergrad. Quiet the opposite, they should be working harder.

    • Actually, I DO need to point out that an MFA is not an equivalent to a PhD. MFA is indeed a terminal degree, make no bones about that. The difference is that the PhD is a very broad set of studies while an MFA is very narrow. An MFA in Writing puts you on equal playing field with a PhD in Writing…but the PhD in Writing can do MORE than just that. So, it might be picking nits, I realize, but they’re a smidgeon different. That said, that doesn’t take anything away from the amount of work an MFA DOES require…I’m very thankful for my MFA. 🙂

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