Last fall, I found myself teaching on campus for the first time since Spring 2010. As prepared my lesson plans for the semester, I searched my old files and sent the online course I’ve been developing for over a decade back to its beginnings. Reincorporating all the in-class activities and instruction that are lost in the online format reminded me just how much online students are missing out on.
Yes, online courses offer students opportunities that didn’t exist when I started teaching. They can work full time and still attend classes. They can stay home with their kids and attend classes. They can care for sick loved ones and attend classes. Online classes offer students with certain challenges, like PTSD, the ability to learn without fear.
Yet, our online students are missing out. They are missing out on getting to see us face to face. On seeing examples worked out in front of them. On being able to work with groups in class–to gain understanding that might be explained by a peer just a slightly different way that finally clicks. On the hands-on activities that illustrate concepts that are difficult to explain online.
Likewise, we are missing out, too. We are missing out on getting to know some amazing students. If they don’t feel connected to us, they might not feel safe sharing what is going on in their lives. We miss out on getting to be a part of the campus culture with our students–to hear what is important to them. And we miss out on things like lemon lavender cookies made by a longtime chef who is studying to become a nurse.
While we find ways to bring more connections to our students–connections with each other, with us, with the course content–we can acknowledge both the benefits and the frailties of online learning. And, hopefully, that knowledge will help us to mindfully create a better experience for our students.