Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Other ELI Faculty

Wise ELI faculty... give me your advice. It's time to plan our new faculty orientation for folks who will teach for ELI for the first time this summer. (If any of you new folks are already reading--welcome!) There are policies, procedures, and special ELI terminology I will go over; we'll introduce some key staff and overview who does what and where to go for help on different sorts of problems. We'll do some Blackboard training targeted to supplement the existing competencies of the individuals coming for training. This all needs to be covered one way or another. And we'll of course feed them. This is ELI, after all!

But--here's where I'd like your thoughts and suggestions. What did you really like about your ELI orientation, or another orientation you've been through, that you think I should give our new folks? Or, what have you particularly DISLIKED about past orientations you've participated in (ELI or otherwise) that I should avoid? And most importantly, what is there about teaching at ELI, and/or teaching a distance learning course in general, that you wish you had known when you started out? I want to start our new colleagues on their ELI experiences with as many pieces of wisdom as possible.


Meena said...

Things no one told me about Distance Learning or maybe they told me and I wasn’t paying attention:

1. No one told me how much I would MISS the classroom and students.
Not being able to SEE my students and connect with them through impromptu jokes, laughter and chit chat used to make me feel like I was trying to communicate with the great unknown. Very unnerving. What I learned—not so much from other faculty, but from my own needs:
a. Get to know the students individually, as much as possible. Example: The first Introduction assignment is very important for me, because helps me learn about each students, and I often go back to it.
b. Distance Learning does not mean you have to be distant from your students: I send one regular email to my students every week, on a set day (I state this in my welcome letter). In this e-mail/letter, aside from reminders about upcoming deadlines, explanation of assignments, announcements, etc, I also add some chit chat. Even if I have no announcements for that week, I still send the e-mail, just to say hello and ask how everyone is doing, or if they need help with anything. Benefits: Students have no excuse of forgetting deadlines; they know I am there for them; they know I am involved; they get to know me better.
c. Personal touch: All my e-mails begin with, Dear xyz, have a word or two of encouragement, and end with, “how can I help. Inevitably, I get always get back a few of responses from students. Some just say hello back, others ask for further explanation an assignment, dates, etc. and still others share something outside of course work, such as, “Hey, Mrs. Nayak, have you seen the new book…” Recently, I am reviewing a new text book because two of my students brought it to my attention. Or they will suggest something that will benefit the whole class, and I will post this in the Open Forum. (Happens quite often in my Mythology class, where students are always discovering new websites or films, etc.)
d. A more personal touch: if a student has sent me an e-mail about some problem, family, work, etc, I make it a point to enquire about that in subsequent e-mails and give a word or two of encouragement.
2. No one told me best practices about HOW and WHEN to communicate with students.
Oh wait, I think in one of the Orientations I did hear a guest speaker talk about how. It was a huge help.
a. Avoid one-liners. They are cold and detached.
b. Watch what you say very carefully, because the student might misconstrue it. Example: In a classroom, if a student’s paper needs a re-write, I will not hesitate to say, “John, your paper was disappointing. Come and talk to me.” Because John is seeing my body language, my expression, and is quite familiar with my manner, he knows I am saying the best of intentions. But in an online class, this one line ‘no explanation’ e-mail could crush a student. For a distant learner, I would begin with words of encouragement, then state why the paper was not what it should have been, and then suggest a re-write, adding my availability to help.
c. I also learnt that tools I never use in a regular e-mail become quite a means of good communication in online teaching. Examples: smiley faces, “Good Job!”etc.
WHEN: This is what I have learnt: Answer e-mails from students as quickly as possible. Just like us, the students too feel a lack of personal interaction. E-mail is there only means of being in touch. It is important to give them a feeling that you are THERE, and available. Imagine how lost they could feel, if they have to wait for days for a response. I normally respond immediately, but at latest within 24 hours.

3. No one told me assigning Group Work in an online class would be so challenging.
Matching up students who can work well together is a hot or miss, and often, if you are unlucky, it is miss, in which case, you have a group of very unhappy students.

Solution: Be flexible. Consider switching students. Also be ready to soothe egos and explain why team work with people of differing views is an important learning experience. You cannot be high-handed about this.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to write an epic. I’ll stop here, although I have so much more to share. One last thing: A Best Practices handout (from an Instructor’s perspective, rather than an administrator’s) would greatly benefit new faculty. Little insider tips….

Laura said...

re Meena's point #2b: HOW to encourage with e-mail (or grade book) feedback: the same principle is used in business: "contructive criticism": start and end with a positive, sandwiching in the middle the criticism. Expecially important in distance commuication. If the first line is upbeat and the last thing they read is upbeat - offering hope - it will much more likely be received in the helpful manner it was intended.
And, I would add, ALWAYS re-read what you have written just prior to hitting that SEND button. And, if your comments are a response to an emotionally charged message from a student. SLEEP on it before sending an equally emotionally charged response that only causes more problems rather than solving a problem.

Don Gregory said...

I think new faculty need to know, from the start, that they will be spending more time, not less time, on each ELI course than they do on each classroom course. There is a myth common among many non-distance faculty to the effect that teaching distance classes is somehow easier and less time-consuming that teaching in the classroom. The evidence in favor of this view is that distance faculty can indeed set their own schedules. Sometimes I mow the yard at 10AM. But I've been online for a few hours before that, and will be online again for the majority of the day and into the evening. Everyone who teaches distance classes can relate something similar. Classroom courses (perhaps) require more set blocks of time, but distance courses demand more total time. No one should take on a distance course, in my view, without being forewarned of this.

Laura S. said...

Don's closing comment:
"Classroom courses (perhaps) require more set blocks of time, but distance courses demand more total time. No one should take on a distance course, in my view, without being forewarned of this."
This is good to note for our distance learning STUDENTS as well as for new distance learning teachers!