My Online Learning Experience

The semester I’ll never forget is just about over. Switching from the classroom to the Internet during a two-week hiatus after spring break was a daunting challenge. Except for maybe graduating seniors, students and faculty alike are happy to see the semester end.

Teaching online isn’t all bad. I see the potential. How to make it work is the challenge — especially for crotchety old men like me.

A greater command of technology would help. I can do what I need to do, barely. Call me incurious, but exploring the capabilities of devices, software, or apps never crosses my mind.

The switch to online teaching forced my hand. I’d used our online interface to post lectures, collect assignments, record grades, and communicate with students. Now I had to figure out how to do tests.

There were glitches, but I got ’em done — two regular exams and the final. After emailing back and forth with a colleague, I managed to set up the first exam. Wow! No more grading. Once the student hits “submit,” the score is recorded in the grade book.

More confidant after the first exam, I set up the last exam. Started getting emails early on exam day from students freaking out about a failing grade. Turns out, I’d inadvertently set the matching section to “all or nothing.” That might have been okay, but I didn’t see a rather important column so all the answers were wrong.

Oops. My bad. No students were harmed during my experimentation — everyone got all the missing points. Failures are opportunities for learning, right? The final went off without a hitch.

Rather than worry about cheating, students could refer to their notes. Sharing the questions and answers for my Jeopardy reviews was effectively handing them a cheat sheet. For the last exam, I provided a study guide with more than just what was on the exam. The class average on the each of the online exams and the final was in the high 90s.

Teaching online didn’t change much about the way I teach. I still lectured with PowerPoints as if we were face-to-face. Attendance was effectively optional. I got better with time, but the improvements were more about my ability to use the technology for what I’ve been doing all along.

Whether we’ll go back to class or stay online for the Fall semester remains to be seen. If we’re back in the classroom, I’m more or less ready. Otherwise, I have the summer to figure out a better way to engage students with online teaching. You know I’ll keep you posted.