ALESTLE VIEW: Teachers, please don't leave us alone, we didn't mean it like that

Colourful doughnuts combined with laptops and items in the office. Via Scopio.

Aside from being awarded credentials, the advantage of learning information from school instead of YouTube is the personal attention of an expert in a field who will gladly answer your questions and help you learn the information you’ve chosen to pursue. However, some professors, especially in an online environment, don’t even provide this individual attention to their students.

Ideally, instructors would be people who choose to teach subjects on which they’re genuinely interested in sharing their knowledge. In our capitalist reality, teachers are people who need money to live, and they will often end up teaching courses they wouldn’t necessarily choose to teach for free. It’s often a question of what instructors are willing to commit to, rather than what they would choose. In an asynchronous online course, this commitment can be very little. A syllabus can consist of a series of video lectures and machine-graded assignments, allowing the instructors to simply respond to student emails and do little else over the course of a semester.

This model of teaching is far from ideal for anyone, and can contribute to the sense of isolation students probably already feel from trying to help contain a virus for the past year. Students can learn things in more depth and retain them longer if their teachers engage with the material. When teachers use lesson plans they didn’t come up with themselves, it means the information is not organized according to their individual strengths and interests. Any questions about the material are more likely to be met with the simple responses of someone who has known something for a long time without really thinking about it too critically.

Teachers are responsible for returning grades in a timely manner and being available to provide feedback to their students. It’s bad enough to know a teacher doesn’t really want to be there explaining things to you, but it’s a lot worse to feel like you’re working against them by trying to get a response. The amount of effort an instructor puts into teaching a course is visible in the materials they create — but also in areas where material needs updated, where instructors are glossing over material they don’t care about and where important viewpoints aren’t being considered. Students will very often look for areas where instructors succeed or fail in how they present certain topics when trying to get to know their instructors. That opportunity is lost when materials are borrowed from other instructors. If a student isn’t sure how an instructor might respond to a particular question or comment, they’ll often stay unsure.

Students who have questions won’t always reach out, and checking in through an email can go a long way toward making sure students are up to date on the information they need. Because communication between instructors and students does not occur as naturally in asynchronous courses as it does in face-to-face classrooms, the burden is on the instructor to provide extra means of communication, extra opportunities to communicate and regular and detailed feedback on assignments. Professors who use pre-recorded footage to teach courses need to be aware of the additional responsibility this places on each student, and make it as easy and natural as possible to engage beyond simply watching the videos and completing the graded assignments.

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