This has been a mixed semester so far. I really thought it was going to be a rough one after the first week, which I referenced in my last post. I got everything cleaned up from my first mistake of having the incorrect link up for my classroom, and things have been fairly smooth since then. I always forget from one fall semester to the next how clueless about how to work online many of these students are in their first classes at college. Many students get shuttled into online classes as they work well with any schedule and are often perceived as easier than face-to-face classes. Yet, many have had no experience with online classes and really have trouble in those first weeks of classes. So, I end up doing a lot of technical support and repetition of information to the students as they try to grasp what they need to do. Luckily, by the time you get to the third week, most of that is behind, and the rest of the next couple of weeks is mostly maintaining the course and keeping it going.
What is interesting is how these first weeks are the same every semester. If I could somehow get it through to all of my students, I would set up a couple of things:
- The reaction I get from students who are taking their first online class with me is that my class is complicated and hard to understand. By contrast, any student who is coming into my class from other classes (and often the same students who were confused at first by the end of the semester) comments on how well laid-out and straightforward it is. I wish I could tell those students more directly that they will get used to it.
- Read the course outline. Again, read the course outline. And, read it again. Have a question? Read the course outline. Have a specific question? Look in that section of the course outline and see if I have answered it already.
- If you have a question that you can’t find the answer to, let me know as soon as possible. Do not wait until the second or third week to ask me a question that you had from the first moment in the class. By then, assignments will have come due, and it will be harder to fix things.
- Come by and talk to me if you have any questions. I can show you how everything works, and it often works better to show you how things are done rather than tell you.
You might think, well, why don’t you just say these things. The issue is that I do. In fact, I say them over and over. However, here is an example of what I am up against. Shortly after I wrote my last post, I got an email from a student. He said that some students (including him) were have trouble getting to the correct assignment and I should really tell the students about the problems there. If you will remember from my last post, the issue was that I had two contradictory links on how to access the textbook site in the classroom. I discovered this on Tuesday and corrected it at that point. So, I am getting this email about a week later telling me that I really needed to tell the students about this. As I then pointed out to that student, I had sent out 4 different announcements to students addressing this issue. I had also answered two questions posted in the questions forum in the class about this issue. I had answered about 20 different emails from students about this issue. So, when this student emails me telling me that I had not done anything to inform the students about this problem, I just had nothing left to say. And, this is the problem, no matter how many times I say anything, I can’t say it enough to reach every student.
So, what really is the answer is that I just have to keep my cool and remember that every student is new to this. Their problems are unique to them and they do not have the eight years of online teaching experience behind them. Unfortunately, this is not something I am particularly good with, as I get easily frustrated after dealing with issues over and over everyday. I just have to remind myself over and over about this.
The good thing is, by the third week, this section of troubleshooting and explaining is pretty much done. Some scattered issues with my online classes will come up, I’m sure, but things should be fairly stable until the first set of big assignments are due. I can’t say as much for my hybrid classes, but that will be another post.
We are just finishing up the first week of classes. It is my eighth first week of classes since I got my first full-time teaching job, and it is certainly starting to feel relatively normal at this point. I was fairly prepared this semester going into my classes, which did help. My online class is pretty much set in place at this point until I am ready to do a major overhaul. So, it is largely a matter of updating the dates and links, and then that class is ready to go. The hybrid class was a bit more work, as I really did want to make some overhauls from what I did last year. However, my best-laid plans from the summer of spending a lot of time recreating the course did not pan out. As is true most academic years, I do my primary prep in the week before the semester starts, and so I get a limited amount of work done.
I did have one big change come my way in the week or so before classes started. Late in the week before our in-service week, I was asked (with refusal not really being an option) to take on another course. Our normal course load at my community college is 5 classes a semester. I normally have an overload, so I generally teach 6. As I was given this extra course, I am now teaching 7 classes this semester. 5 covered by my normal pay and 2 more at adjunct pay ($1800/course). So, my semester is now set at the highest number of students I have ever taught in one semester (around 230). There are two good things about this. First, I was given another online course section, so largely I just have to integrate in 30 more students to my existing course. There is not an extra course prep, just more students to respond to and grade. Second, I was given this extra section with enough time to be able to compensate for it in my assigned work load. I reduced the number of assignments in my online class and changed up some of the ideas that I had for my hybrid class in order to make up for the extra grading I knew I was going to have to do.
Now, we have reached the Friday of the first week of classes. I have met each of my hybrid classes twice, and they have now been divided up into the sections that meet once a week. I have fully introduced the course to them, and I have them set to be ready to start real class work next week. My online class is in its fifth day at this point, and, while there have been some questions and issues, I would say that this is one of the smoothest starts to the semester that I have had. In fact, things are really going so smoothly so far, that I am really waiting to see when the wheels are going to come off and the fist major crisis is going to begin.
For now, however, I think that the first week has been a success. I’ll write more specifics about the classes I’m teaching in the next couple of days, so I will get more into the nuts and bolts of the particular classes and talk about what I am doing, what I plan to do, and how things are going.