I've spent a lot of time over the last year thinking about online learning and supporting students in online classes. I have looked at this primarily from the point of view of working with the student. I also have to admit my bias was that students taking such courses needed strong independent working skills, strong motivational skills, and above average computer skills. The students I work with are mostly aboriginal and speak an aboriginal language as their first language, and consequently, I was concerned that online classes would require too much reading. Well semester one has come to a close and the students that enrolled in online classes from my school are either still in progress or they have given up entirely on the class they enrolled in. However, I'm now not so sure that my bias about success being dependent on entirely on student skills was fair. My thinking was expanded again today by Karl Fisch and a blog he wrote in December titled, Online Student Teaching?
Fisch argues, and I paraphrase, that it is only reasonable to expect that if teachers need to be trained to teach in face to face situations then it is logical to expect that teachers need to be inserviced or trained in the best practices of online instruction. Brilliant. Why didn't I think of that before?
I know Dr. Friesen questioned me about cultural adaptations to the curriculum being offered to the students I was supporting, but I now think I failed to consider that question. I realize that the students need to shoulder some responsibility for their learning, but I think it is fair to say online teachers need to reflect on their practices as well and question their effectiveness if students are having difficulty completing the online course. I think online schools need to make sure their teachers have suitable training behind them before they are hired.
I happen to know that there is a conscientious group of online teachers offering programs to my students, but I wonder if their experiences rival my own as a teacher. I entered a classroom 23 years ago expecting a class full of students that would basically be at about the same level. I had no experience or training in cross cultural education, and I was asked to teach a Native Studies 10 class without ever taking any aboriginal studies classes; I am embarrassed to admit that I had no Special needs knowledge when I began teaching. I was not nearly prepared for the classes I was assigned to teach; I wonder how many teachers are teaching online classes without having the training behind them. Are they like I was, doing the best they can while learning on the job?
I have been encouraging staff to look at online platforms for course delivery like Moodle; I now feel guilty for thinking it was even possible without some kind of professional development. I guess my learning continues and my list of weaknesses grows longer! Thanks Karl for another valuable lesson learned.