It's tough to be an introvert in an extrovert world, especially in an extrovert's profession, like teaching. Through this blog, I'd like to share my own and others' reflections on being an introvert in the classroom. This isn't a place for misanthropes or grumps, though; I hope to thoughtfully discuss the challenges that introverts face in schools and celebrate the gifts that introverted teachers and students bring to the educational environment. If you can relate, please join me!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

What "counts"?

Sometimes, the difficult thing about teaching is that the bureaucratic climate turns us instructors into the "point grubber" students that we dislike dealing with.

Lately, in distance education (online classes), the conversation has been about what constitutes "regular and effective" contact with students. So, the point grubber's question becomes, of course, what do I do in my online course that "counts" as "regular and effective contact" as far as colleagues, administrators, accreditors are concerned? From that sprang a discussion on our campus as to the time an instructor logs into his/her class should be equivalent to the amount of time that would normally be spent in class in a face-to-face course of the same number of units.

Okay, that sounds logical. But consider this: when I'm in a face-to-face class, sometimes I'm talking to the whole class at once, sometimes to small groups, sometimes to individuals. Online, the equivalent of talking to everyone at once would be posting lecture, news items, or discussion postings, and everyone can see those materials, even if not at the same time. So, for the purposes of hours in class, those activities would "count." But what about small-group or individual consultations? What would be the online equivalents of those?

For writing teachers, it's easy. I can do videoconferencing with screen sharing and talk individually with students about their papers. I can hold small-group discussions or demonstrations (MLA review, for example) with this same videoconferencing and screen sharing tool.

But the situation came up where a colleague held lots of group study sessions by videoconferencing and she called them "office hours," because they were optional and, I suspect, also because traditionally, in a face-to-face class of 27 (or in her case, 57), you don't meet with individuals or small groups for an hour at a time while everyone else just sits there waiting. If people want that kind of one-on-one attention, they have to go to office hours.

So, here's the problem: "office hours" don't "count" as the hours you'd spend in "lecture" in a face-to-face class with your students. So, all this extra work my colleague is doing holding videoconference study sessions doesn't "count." If these study groups don't "count," will she have to forgo them to do other activities that do "count"? Will the activities that "count" tend to be large-group activities? What worries me about using the face-to-face class lecture hour analogy in an online class is that it could bias people against the sort of individual and small-group activities that introverts thrive on and which we finally have time to do in an online class because the lecture is typed up. The time I would normally spend delivering it can be redirected toward working with students on their writing.

So, how would we online instructors have to set it up so that individual activities like writing conferences would "count"? Perhaps if they were required for every student, they would "count," but would that be a feasible time commitment, even with the time that's freed up by not having to deliver lectures anymore?

Overall, my hope is that, as we define the expectations for this nascent online learning environment, we don't limit the possibilities based upon the old lecture-hour model just because it's all we know or, worse, because we have to keep teachers under surveillance to make sure that they're not trying to get away with doing less work. I hope the discussion of what constitutes "regular and effective contact" focuses on what's best for students, not what "counts" for teachers.