I am doing everything not because it is easy but because it is hard
My philosophy for teaching without in-person interaction does not differ from my overall teaching philosophy, but I believe the online environment provides additional challenges for the student and the instructor. In many ways, teaching without in-person interaction has made me a more organized instructor in the traditional classroom. In any class, the organization is essential, but with an online course, the instructor’s lack of planning and organizing all of the elements of the course can have severe consequences on the students and the course’s success. With the lack of physical contact comes a greater need for students to be highly self-motivated and organized. This change comes naturally for some, less so for others.
With online course delivery, everything should be prepared well before the course start date as the online environment lacks the crucial component of teaching: human in-person interaction. The instructor should be prepared well in advance and focus on student’s learning and support while teaching the online course to substitute the human interaction piece. Because of the new freedoms and flexibility offered by a web class, the online classroom must be stable and reliable.
The freedoms of online courses, which include relative freedom of place, pace, and opportunity to learn in new ways, can also create new enemies (issues with the use of technology, students cheating in novel ways, etc.) if the instructor is not prepared for them. The organization is a mighty bulwark to many of these attacks, for proper planning can prevent many forms of cheating, can ensure that the technology is working, and establishes trust between the instructor and students.
To engage online is to challenge and make learning readily accessible. To get my students involved, I employ interactivity, use various media, and encourage every student to connect to create and model a safe, brave, and supportive classroom environment. I want my students to think about the class after they have logged off because online students have to shoulder more responsibility than they are accustomed to in the traditional in-person environment. In an online course, the usual modes of contact are gone. The instructor and students are responsible for creating an environment in which all of us want to do the work and want to help each other in ways we have not done so in the past. It is easier said than done. However, following the motto that I am doing everything not because it is easy but because it is hard, I emerge myself in teaching online to challenge and eventually advance my teaching strategy and to fulfil my primary goal of education for all. The online environment, in some situations, adds to the accessibility component of this objective.
I spend a lot of time researching how to create an effective learning environment in all of my courses. My Ph.D. research helped me to identify critical characteristics of students,’ and instructors’ success and the university support to create an effective learning environment. I also have re-designed all my courses to make them online-ready. Shortly, I hope to make all my courses available to students around the world so everyone can take online classes no matter their geographical location to promote social work values in their home communities.
Teaching online is a tough game to play. I am using elements of online education in all of my classes, and I believe that technology is necessary for educating students to navigate in the world of information overload; however, it is not the only way how I teach; instead, it is one of the choices that I provide students to enhance their learning. I believe that one of the goals of education is to communicate something meaningful, which necessitates that any technology I use must also be meaningful. Without the thoughtful employment of technology, I neither engage nor challenge my students.
I believe that technology is merely a tool to enhance education, but it is a critical one in a disembodied learning environment. Technology cannot replace an instructor. Sometimes I may sound a little too old-fashioned, but while I was raised in Ukraine, I have learned some of the best lessons from my teachers who were using “chalk and talk.” When I use technology, I always keep in mind that not everyone has equal access to all the various benefits technology brings as many people are still not in the position to own a computer. In social work, I need to advocate for equal access for everyone and ensure that all my students have the same condition in completing their work that might include additional knowledge of technology. Many times I noticed people often get carried away with the notion of using technology and forget that technology can both increase our learning and create a “digital divide” between a variety of societal groups. The use of technology can also be harmful to society, such as new problems that were created through the use of technology: cyber-bullying, online gambling and online child pornography.
My students and my colleagues are diverse, and although disembodied learning environment can have a lot of positive features, the fact that people have different learning styles and distinct understanding of technology and exposure to and experience with its use requires me to adapt my use of technology to the specific educational context. That is why I keep my philosophy of teaching in the disembodied learning environment very simple; technology is a tool—each tool when in use, can produce both positive and negative results. As an educator, my goal is to promote students learning using a variety of tools and delivery mediums that are best suited and help to develop the best possible outcomes given all the pre-existing conditions.