I have been teaching at the University level for 16 years. I began teaching at New York University (my alma mater) with a projector and slides (I wish I was kidding) and I loved it from day one. As a pediatric Speech Language Pathologist—you could say it is in my bones to want to help. And…teaching is an extension of helping—it feels good! I am passionate about my field and I love knowing I can instill that passion in soon-to-be SLPs. I also realized early on that teaching keeps me current in my field and I am continuously learning.
I will admit, when I was asked to teach graduate speech students online, I was hesitant. I could not really envision how that could actually work? And, I guess I am “old school” and originally thought, “how could an online program compare to a REAL, in-person program?” Well—over the past 2 years I have learned A LOT and what I have come to realize is that the online program is just as comprehensive (if not more!) Some may argue—but you do not really get to know your students—and I would respond, oh that’s quite the contrary—I have actually gotten to know many of my online students better!
how could an online program compare to a REAL, in-person program?”
Here’s how it works:
Your typical 15-week course graduate course in Speech Pathology would have an on-campus lecture, 1x per week for a predetermined time—let’s say 2 hours. The students would be required to attend these lectures and pass the criteria pre-selected for that course—midterm/final/presentation/paper…etc. So—how does this work for the online world? Those 15 weeks of course lectures have been pre-recorded and organized via modules—with built-in learning opportunities (this is called asynchronous content “async”). The students view these videos on their own time—before our scheduled, weekly “live session.” I am the live session leader –or the “face” of the class. I have an online classroom and the students log-in and meet as a class, weekly (this is the synchronous content).
What I like:
- The virtual classrooms are small! When I teach on-campus, I can have as many as 30 students (which is a low number compared to other programs). When I teach on-line, my average class size has been between 8-10 students. I have had as many as 14 in a class (this is the cap) and as little as 4 (that was just lovely!)
- We reach students who would not be able to pursue a degree the typical way. This could be for a myriad of reasons—maybe they are in a very rural area and do not have access to a program. Or, they are a new mom and need to be home for their family (or a mom to five children—and need to be home for their family!) Or maybe they are battling a cancer diagnosis and don’t have the strength to commute. I have seen it all.
- I can see everyone’s names beneath their screen image—so there are no awkward moments when I am trying to remember a student’s name and I just…don’t. Having their names on the screen allows me to seamlessly call on them during class discussion—which is a helpful way to gauge what they know and subsequently don’t know.
- There is an option to break the students up into small groups—these are called Break Out Rooms or BORS. This is a cool function. You can give the students a case study to ponder—send them off to their Break Out Rooms—and then pull them back in to engage as a class unit again.
- In some cases, the class has a Teacher’s Assistant (TA) and that TA holds her own weekly review class—where, again, the students would meet in a virtual classroom at a pre-decided time—to discuss content they may have some confusion about or require further clarification on.
- Tests are also held on-line and proctored with a sophisticated technology that tracks not only what is on the student’s current computer desktop (it really should only be the test!) but also their eye gaze. The program will flag any suspicious movement and the live session leader must go in and “OK” these flagged instances. Unfortunately, students have been caught cheating—so I always stress to my students to not cheat.
- Most importantly, I really do feel like I get to know my students. In many instances, the online classroom is about sharing personal space. Many of the students, including myself, are logging in from the comfort of our home (and in some instances, bedroom!) and that, in and of itself, can set a more intimate tone. On occasion, we get a glimpse at each other’s families—including significant others, newborns and pets—which always allows for a pause to smile. I like to tell the story of the student I was teaching who lives in New York City and is a runner for an organization I belong to. Well, we happen to be at the same race one day (unbeknownst to each other) and as I was waiting for a friend to cross the finish line—I saw her! I couldn’t believe it. I immediately took her picture—catching that moment just before she crossed—and emailed it to her. My running friends marveled at the fact that I recognized her “in the real world!” (ha!) and I responded –WE REALLY DO GET TO KNOW OUR STUDENTS!!!!
This is an exciting time for online learning! I have seen more and more programs opting to offer some of their classes online (it can be really helpful when classroom space is at a premium or during a break—when students are not physically on-campus) and full programs online. If I had to complain about anything it would be that sometimes technology can be quirky. There have been times when audio has given me trouble and my students could not hear me or sometimes a student has difficulty connecting. This stuff is fixed quickly and easily. Lastly, I do wish the students could see their online test results (which really isn’t an option because we would then have to recreate these tests every semester)—even though I do a thorough job going over the exams, sometimes it is easier to process the errored question when you are actually looking at it. As you can see, the positives outweigh the negatives and I find myself consistently excited at the beginning of each semester to get started again and meet my new students.