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I am taking an online course for online teachers on how to teach online better. I was proud of one of my essay assignments, so here it is.

My maternal grandfather was a teacher, freshly graduated from a “Normal School,” as they called the equivalent of community colleges and teacher colleges then, with his first assignment in the backwood, boondocks of a one-roomed school house in Taylor Rapids, Wisconsin, home to the last of the Wisconsin northern wood loggers. The students had “slates,” hand-held backboards, upon which they wrote their sums and assignments. Paper was precious and expensive, saved for special occasions. Most assignments involved memorization and presentation, and a good brushing before leaving class to get the chalk off hands, faces, and clothing.

From drawing in dirt to chalkboards to computers to mobile devices, education technology has not changed that much, yet there continues to be resistance and concern over what technology is “doing” to us, as it it were a monster sucking the brains out the backs of our skulls. It’s just another glorified chalkboard, a few steps up from writing in the dirt or counting with sticks.

I’ve been working with a few teachers to help them teach with Google Hangouts. I look at these tools as no different from walking into a classroom. Why can’t I use the whiteboard (today’s chalkboard – just as messy) in a Google Hangout and the Screen Sharing feature to make my points online?

Lawrence Ragan’s research article, “The Role of Faculty in Distance Education: The Same But Different,” is designed to make us confront our fears, myths, and break down the barriers that get in our way of using technology, and to be more creative about the choices we make. Once we have identified our barriers, it’s time to get “off the pot,” as my grandfather would say, and embrace new technologies and make them our own.

The Future of Teaching

“There are distinct advantages to teaching online, and, of course, one noticeable disadvantage: in a purely online course, the class participants may never meet.”

I disagree with this statement in Ragan’s article. Breaking down the misconceptions of a life lived online, I tell my students (fans, followers, and clients) that I live on the Internet. It’s a friendly place where everyone knows your name, well, at least the ones who should know your name.

Working online since before 1993, I’ve found that I have more (and better) friends online than I do in person. In person, hair, body type, facial structure, accents, personalities, age, and stereotypical judgements and preconceived notions get in the way. I worked with a young man for 3 years on a variety of projects before I discovered that he was 15. We did great things together, and we continue to do so (he’s now 19), but if I had known, I would have run the other direction, missing out on wonderful adventures and life lessons, and changing people’s lives through our work. I feel that way about many people I meet online, some I would never have met in normal day-to-day life.

The conversations started online in my industry continue without pause when we meet in person, and continue in our virtual world. Done right, the relationships created online can be just as strong as those in person, sometimes more so.

It begins with transparency, authenticity, and authority in my industry. You need to be clear about who you are, your expectations, and your goals. You need to be honest and stick to the truth. People instinctively know whether or not to trust you, online and off, so don’t give them a chance to doubt. You must also have authority, the voice of clarity, reason, and wisdom. Without those three, people don’t care. When they stop caring, they lose interest.

To be more specific, in my keynotes on blogging and social media, people often ask me if they have to respond to every comment on their blogs or social media accounts. I explain, “No, you do not, but you must make people think that you do.”

That’s the hardest part of my art form, and to define in online communication and interactivity methodologies.

What is the Role of Faculty in Online Education?

Teachers that they can’t “wing it” any more. Online classes have to be mapped out specifically and concisely. Gratefully, we at Clark College (Vancouver, Washington) have access to great training programs like this to help us learn how whether we are teaching fully online or publishing educational material and supporting documentation in Moodle or online.

The Quality Matters Program is a way of making teachers accountable for their educational and presentational material. It is a system of checks and balances that set the standards for structuring a quality educational program online. No longer can you just throw out an assignment and some reading material to get the student to do some research and write a paper and call it done. The article on R2D2 is a prime example of how to energize the educational process by involving the students in the process.

How did most of us learn about sex? Certainly not first from our parents or teachers, but from each other. While probably not the best example of positive learning reinforcement and strategies, we likely learned more about sex that would help us in future relations than we did from the scientific and technical (or religious) instruction. I truly believe that students learn best from other students, and with other students. Creating environments for teamwork and collaboration are great, and can happen easily in an online environment, but also push the student to figure it out for themselves. Retention improves when they come up with the answers rather than being told.

I see the future of teachers more as moderators and facilitators rather than educators. Yes, there are still things we can teach, but our role online and in the classroom is to guide. To point the way. To help them, as one teacher in our department explains, roll their own. When they leave our institution, the greatest gift we can give them is to help them learn how to find the answers they are going to encounter in the real working world.