Friday, August 10, 2012

Do I HAVE to Teach Online in Real Time?

A good friend of mine is a model of effective educational technology. She exemplifies good online teaching and is skilled in the use of CCC Confer with students and with her peers as a workshop leader and evangelist on her campus. She's been teaching online classes for several years, and using CCC Confer for about five years now. But she's only begun in the last year to use CCC Confer in real time with her students.

What took her so long? Well, she didn't see the need for synchronous online instruction, and she certainly didn't feel comfortable with the thought of having to "be perfect" with a live audience. This instructor (let's call her Arianna) had worked tirelessly on making recorded sessions (via Confer) that taught the concepts she wanted to teach and were re-usable and captioned, thus ensuring maximum accessibility for her students. Because she could delete and re-record the sessions that didn't go as she'd planned, she was very comfortable with this method of providing personalized lectures and teaching to her online students. In the synchronous world, there aren't any "do-overs" if things go south. Why ruin a good thing?

What happened with Arianna is that she was exposed to other instructors who were using Confer in real time with their online classes. She heard about how much these instructors enjoyed the social interactions with their students and their discussions about the merits of hearing and answering questions in real time. She began to wonder about her isolated online students and whether or not some of them might be better served if they could access their instructor in real time. Perhaps most importantly, she discovered that her peers - people just like her - were doing it. If they could do it, why couldn't Arianna?

She's discovered that there are some things that work in real-time and others that she believes are still best left to asynchronous delivery. For example, she believes that synchronous content delivery is best suited to simple lessons that can be "chunked" and discussed, or for which students can be encouraged to react quickly. When the topic is more complex, or requires reflection by students, she still prefers to present it asynchronously and review it in real time later.

You may be like Arianna; if so, relax. It takes time to become comfortable with this technology, and we're all still discovering the best ways to use it. Try some recorded lectures and see if those are a good fit for your students. Hone your skills and become familiar with the tools (e.g., whiteboard, chat, application sharing) so you can adapt your presentations to fit your teaching needs. And keep an open mind about going online with a live audience.

Maybe not today, but there may come a time when you'll want to take that step.

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