“Don’t be invisible!” This was memorable advice from our daughter’s high school principal during their junior high school graduation day ceremony. The students were about to transition from one of the smallest schools in the district enrolling 600 students to one of the largest schools housing 3,300 students. Our daughter Morgan said, “Mom, it’s like going from a doll house to a mansion.” She was anxious about navigating the hallways, getting a handle on the bell schedule and finding a good seat at one of the lunchroom tables. But after the first week of high school, both of our daughters were fully participating in their classes, joining after school activities and establishing new friendship groups. They made efforts to be seen by interacting and reaching out to fellow classmates. They ventured into their new school environment by forging relationships and immediately felt a part of their school.
Although some may view online teaching and learning as impersonal or detached because teachers and students are not seeing each other face to face, my online teaching experience disproves this notion. We are not typing robots. In fact, I have developed close relationships with my online students because of the delivery mode. We work together to establish a virtual community that enhances the learning process. Synchronous online office hours, face-to-face office hours, video conferencing, phone calls, Discussion Boards and e-mail exchanges contribute to the daily engagement and interaction in an online course.
Each semester I create an icebreaker during which students have to tell the class something about their past, present, and future. Over the years I have become accustomed to seeing the responses on the Discussion Board about course majors, university transfer goals and reasons why they registered for an online course. But every semester a post will reveal a very personal side and peel back a sense of vulnerability like this student’s post:
Discussion Board Post
Hi. I’m currently majoring in criminal justice. I would like to work with the juvenile as a parole or probation officer, but I also have a interest in the investigation part of the criminal field. I am coming back to COD after some unfortunate stuff. My boyfriend beat me up bad. I ran and he found me again. But it’s better now. I have been enrolled here at COD going on three years in and out. I started out part-time and then I went to full-time and now take all online classes and I find it works perfect with my busy schedule. I work full time at Lowes and part time at Buy Buy Baby and I’m a single mother to a 12 year old son, so online classes have been working really well with me. I feel like if you get a schedule down for your homework and due dates it actually goes by very smooth.I am on my own so I need the time online. I kind of did it backwards with my English and math requirements so those are pretty much the last classes I took. Now I am catching up and am free.
This student received a flurry of responses that encouraged her to continue her studies and be a good role model for her son. One student even suggested visiting a local women’s shelter, providing a link to resources within her post. Students are more prone to open up and reveal themselves in online course because of the safe environment we create together.
The idea of disappearing in an online class is false. There is a level of interaction in an online course that promotes student success and overall course effectiveness. The learning experience is not compromised because we do not see one another. Even when a student is “lurking” and not responding to every post, I still believe they are attentive to the process of reading and reflecting. They are active members of the class.
I am connected to the keyboard because I want to continue the dialogue and I feel I do know students even though most of the time we do not meet face to face. This semester one of my online students stopped by my office. He was holding a bottle of olive oil and a small bag of peppers. I asked, “Can I help you?” I didn’t recognize him until he introduced himself and immediately I could visualize his posts, his words and style of written communication in our class. He responded, “Yeah, I brought these for you.” I knew him because I knew his writing. He continued, “I made olive oil and infused it with thyme because of the time you spent commenting on my work.” I smiled — it was a clever play on words he often exercised in his writing for class. His digital narrative matched his personality online and offline.