I have a vivid memory from my experiences teaching as a full-time art history instructor at Sierra College that has left a lasting impression on me. It was around 2004 and I had been teaching online for about a year or so and I was seated with other faculty at the Sierra graduation ceremony. It was a hot Rocklin afternoon and the sun was in my eyes, but I was excited to experience the magical, inspirational event of graduation. As I sat listening to the names of students be called out as they walked across the stage and accepted their diplomas, I heard the name of one of my online students be announced. An strange, unfamiliar feeling came over me. Yes, I clapped and cheered, just as I was doing for other students (especially my own), but it was different. At that very moment, I realized that he and I would not be sharing a handshake or a hug, as I would do with my face-to-face students, after the ceremony. It dawned upon me that he would not be able to identify me as his instructor and nor him.
That moment awakened me to the gap that can exist between students and their instructors (and students-students) in online classes. And, from that moment, I made an effort to reconcile this gap. I started by toying with Audacity to transform my text announcements into voice messages to my students. That was a good change. But it wasn’t until I started using VoiceThread and bought a Flip video camera to record an introductory video of myself that I had evidence of bridging this gap.
The evidence came on another warm afternoon when I pulled into the college parking lot. As I opened the door, I was greeted by a young man who exclaimed, “You are my online instructor!” It was a very cool moment and one that I cherish to this day. We had a brief conversation and I walked away with a smile.
Since then, I’ve tried lots of different strategies in my classes and, despite the fact that our world has become more connected through social technologies in recent years (that are easy to use and often free), I still have students who regularly share with me that my class is different — because they feel like they know me and they feel like I care. This isn’t to say that online instructors who use voice/video and interactive tools to design and facilitate their courses are the only instructors who care. But these strategies are key to my ability to be present in the experiences of my students. And they’re key to my ability to share my inflection, my concern, and my enthusiasm for them — nuances text cannot convey.
This week, a series of online conversations spurred by Laura Gibbs and Amy Collier surfaced that delved into the value of an active, authentic presence by an instructor in online classes. They made me recognize how important this conversation is and I hope these dialogues continue.
Meanwhile, my with my team at CSU Channel Islands, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “humanize” an online class. I started using this term when I wrote my eBook about VoiceThread, but using VoiceThread is not the only way to humanize an online class. Below, you will see a new infographic I put together in an attempt to concisely communicate what humanizing is to me.
These are principles we have infused into the Online Teaching Program at CI and they seem to be making an impact on how faculty relate to the idea of online classes. It really does matter when faculty development for online teaching is provided in an online format. It is the only way to immerse faculty in an experiential learning experience and recognize just how meaningful online learning can be and how important it is to know your instructor as a human. I work about 300-miles away from the faculty I support in these classes. I believe their experiences would not be quite as impactful if I was in an office down the hall.
We’ve shared the infographic is shared with a CC-BY license, which provides permission for you to re-use the infographic without permission, as long as it is attributed (this item has a joint attribution to me and Teaching & Learning Innovations@CI).
Next week at ET4Online in Dallas, Jill Leafstedt, Kristi O’Neil, and I will be using the infographic to frame our workshop, How to Humanize Your Online Class. And next month, I’ll be facilitating an online workshop for ELI on the same topic. I hope to connect with some of you in these two venues!
I hope this is a resource that will be used by many.