When the pandemic hit earlier this year, schools around the globe quickly embraced online teaching to continue their curriculum. While online teaching wasn’t entirely new in this space, it certainly wasn’t the norm. This meant that many teachers had to adapt quickly, as these 2 funny videos illustrate:
However, I’ve loved every part of this transition because I absolutely love teaching tech courses online.
Grant you, I’ve had some practice prior to 2020, as well as a general interest in how the Web could be used for education. Back in the early 2000s, I designed and wrote all of the online Linux curriculum for Caldera (including the HTML and Perl scripts that hosted it). It was an early stab at online education that had as many faults as it did benefits, but I learned a great deal during the process. Years later, I got to refine what I learned during my online computer science courses at Nova Southeastern, as well as the Train-the-Trainer courses I taught for CompTIA. By this time, technology had caught up to the needs of education, and online education was quite mature with a set of common best practices and technologies that everyone implemented.
Since I taught in a physical classroom for 21 years prior to 2020, I’m very comfortable with that environment. And while I’ve only been teaching 100% online for the past 7 months, I feel just as comfortable in that environment. In fact, I prefer the online teaching environment for the following reasons:
It builds better organization and time management skills
- In a physical class, you just need to show up and someone will tell you what you need to do as the class progresses. However, to participate in an online class, you have to be more proactive and manage your time. You have to pay more attention to the class schedule, understand what quizzes and assignments are due and when, as well as perform the lab exercises, reading and research necessary to master a particular topic before the next class. I’ve found that once students know where to find the course resources and schedule, the rest falls into place naturally and they get the hang of staying organized for the duration of the course.
Work can be performed when you feel like doing it
- In most of our tech courses, course work (practical labs, assignments, projects) is tied to a classroom computer that is available during class or lab hours. Unfortunately, there are often times during the day when we just don’t feel productive enough to work on a problem for various reasons. Now that students are using their own computers to perform course work, they can choose to complete course work when they feel like it, not just during class or lab hours. Not only does this make the course work more enjoyable, I find it produces faster and better results.
It encourages self-reliance and resourcefulness
- In the physical classroom, it’s easy for students to put up their hand when something goes wrong on their computer because I can walk over and solve it for them. And while that’s also possible with online classes (via screen sharing), it’s less convenient. As a result, I find that students Google their problems and try several possible solutions first before asking for help - often solving the problem themselves in the process while building the resourcefulness skills that are vital in the tech industry. And when they do ask for help, they are much better at phrasing their questions in a way that allows me to better understand the nature of the problem, instead of just saying “It doesn’t work.”
Being able to attend class from anywhere is awesome
- Want to join class from a vacation destination, coffee shop, or outdoor patio? As long as you can get a good Internet connection, you can. On a more practical level, attending class from a location in your home that you find comfortable can make the class experience much more enjoyable and productive. No more getting annoyed by the person in the desk behind you sneezing every few minutes, or the fluorescent classroom lights worsening a headache from the weekend.
It makes me a better teacher
- There are always some topics that are easier to teach when you have a physical whiteboard or prop in front of you. As a result, online courses force me to be more creative when it comes to teaching these topics, often finding more effective ways to present them that the whole class enjoys.
No commute fuss
- Most of my students either drive or take public transit to the campus each day. While I’d love to be able to walk or bicycle to the campus, I instead must hop on a busy highway every day and drive into the campus. With online courses, we all save the time and stress involved with commuting. No funky bus smells, gridlocked traffic, parking fees, modified bus schedules, or worrying about being late because of construction delays.
It eases life pressures
- Life happens. Regardless of whether it’s a home, daycare, pet, work or family issue, online classes are easier to work around - ultimately allowing everyone to focus on those life problems that demand our attention. When things cool down, students can watch the class video recording to catch up and quickly regain course momentum.
There is more participation
- All teachers know that a class is more engaged in learning when students participate. However, we also know and appreciate that not all students feel comfortable participating. For example, I scan my class before posing a discussion question - if someone looks away when I make eye contact with them, I know they’re uncomfortable with participating and I move onto someone else. After transitioning to online courses, I’ve noticed that students who previously felt uncomfortable participating in the physical classroom now participate frequently in the meeting chat window, as well as take more advantage of the online platform features (e.g. avatars, question posts, etc.). Moving online has essentially made the class more inclusive by removing the social stigma associated with the physical classroom.
It better prepares students for the tech industry
- Even after the pandemic is over, remote work (either partial or full) is going to be the norm for many people who work in the tech industry, and each online class models the technology, etiquette and procedures that students will need to use. For example, whether I do some verbal water treading at the beginning of a class to allow everyone to connect, ask people if they can see my screen share after a transition, or let people know that I’m recording the session for later viewing, I’m indirectly modelling what students should be doing when running an online meeting or presentation in the workplace.