Fast food. Sure, sure…I know. Your palate is too refined. But ooohhhh the convenience. Because you’re hungry. Because you’ve been ripping out kitchen drywall all day (long Christmas break…don’t ask). You don’t want to shower. You don’t want to wipe off the stove. You don’t want to pull out a classic southern supper dish passed down through generations. Nope. You just want to eat. Eat something that kinda resembles food. All you need is some wheels and a vague sense of direction. Chances are it’s already made and sunbathing under heat lamps. Go get it and guess what? You don’t even have to eat it at that very moment!! Take your time, eat it when you are ready in your busy schedule.
And once you declare chow time, chow down. Inside the grease-blotted bag is something that….ehh…sorta resembles food. Something chemically bonded and partially digestible.
Doesn’t really look like the pictures. At all. Whoever slopped this together is not getting a Hollywood handshake. But you eat it because it’s there. And, come midnight, you’ll probably regret it.
Where am I going with this? I’m hitting an all-time high score on the snark-o-meter, but this is how I view asynchronous online courses. Self-paced online course. The drive-thru fast food of academia. Lectures and assignments prepackaged and sitting under a heat lamp. Pick it up when you want. Finish it when you want. It kinda resembles learning. Looks nothing like the pictures. And, come midnight, you’ll probably regret it.
And like fast food, it’s an easy sell. Heck, I hit the drive thru and picked up a delicious, fried bag-o-knowledge. Recently it was from a menu of online workshops. It was a great experience. But not for the upgrade in my tree of pedagogical skills. But because I experienced, what many students experience, when enrolled in self-paced online courses (and I’m comfortable speaking for many students). After about 2 weeks of the workshop, I was no longer focused on learning. I was only focused on completion. And like the buzz I hear from so many students, I settled in with this regretful thought bubble:
No matter how flashy the video production or interactive the activities, I’m tuning it out. Putting everything off until the due date. Just complete the dumb thing.
In a couple of weeks, I’m teaching some asynchronous online courses with enrollment of over 260. How am I going to keep my students from disconnecting? What happens between posting and collecting materials? How do I shift the objective of completion back to learning?
Well, I picked up a few tricks. Nothing earth shattering, but easily overlooked as convenience is too tempting with this format. As with all these ramblings, I cannot recommend or discuss any programs I’m using (Just check your inbox. It’s full of solicitations).
These info nuggets stem from the Spring 20 Emergency Transition. I did them to save my sanity. I used them sparingly during that time, but I will supersize them for this semester.
- Dress Rehearsal: There are no mandatory scheduled meetings for these courses. Thus, when I recorded my lecture, I sent out an invite to attend. Doesn’t matter what time or day. I could be recording a lecture at 9pm on Saturday. I’d invite all students to attend. It’s like watching a live dress rehearsal. They got to hear me screw up, swear, restart the recordings, swear some more
- Study Sessions. I held live study sessions periodically. And not just for exams, but after a couple of heavy lectures (good ole neurophysiology). Kept it short and focused.
- Posts: I used a discussion board. Posted some trivia about A&P. Made sure I commented on any responses. I made goofy 10 min videos from my nerdcave discussing fun facts about physiology and human health (and showing off my Atari memorabilia).
What did this accomplish? I didn’t leave them out in the cold. I held open the lines of communication. Will this work in the Spring? I think so. That’s a massive line of cars pulling up to the drive-thru window (Remember….over 260 kids). I don’t expect all to participate, but at least they’ll know I’m alive. The worst thing I (or anyone teaching this format) can do is dump everything on a Sunday and check back in at the end of the week. Come semester end, maybe I won’t get that Hollywood handshake, but I will win the technical!
Jordan Clark is the course coordinator and head instructor for anatomy and physiology and applied microbiology at Sam Houston State University. He earned a BS in psychology at Florida State University and a Ph.D in neurobiology at University of Kentucky, where he conducted research in spinal cord and brain injury. He served four years in the US Army. Currently, his primary research interest is developing engaging and active teaching strategies for large capacity courses. Free time? Consuming synth wave pop culture, daydreaming of being a master woodworker, and always seeking great geeky adventures with his awesome wife and and two kids.