Last spring, I had the privilege of teaching two courses. One, I co-taught with a colleague, and the other, I led independently. Compare to my colleagues in our department; I have the least teaching experience. Sure, I have taught some courses during my graduate school days, but that experience was a pale comparison to their many years of dedicated services. My only saving grace is my technical skills. While in graduate school, I took courses in instructional design and spent a few years developing online courses for non-traditional, adult learners.
As an instructor, I was allowed to structure my courses in any way I see fit, as long as it retains its rigor and meet the course’s learning outcomes. Wanting to provide my students with the most flexibility and accessibility, I took this opportunity to incorporate more technologies into my classes.
Aside from my desire to increase flexibility and accessibility for my students, my other goals were to leverage technologies for better content delivery, effective course management, and increase student engagement. There are assignments that I could do with technologies (e.g., family podcast, digital storytelling) that I could not do otherwise. These assignments were meaningful to my students and added value to their educational experiences.
Incorporating more technologies into my classes proved to be more challenging than I anticipated, and there are good reasons for this. First, the courses that I taught was developed for face-to-face delivery and traditionally taught face-to-face. Thus, there was little effort to reconceptualize the class for online teaching before I joined the team.
Second, our department tends to attract more non-traditional, adult learners. These individuals, hard-working, bright, and dedicated, tend to have low tech skills and do not have access to many resources. They tend to be members of the minority communities and comes from low-income households. Many of our students are digital immigrants; they did not grow up using technology. Thus, while they are dedicated to their education, introducing new technologies into the classroom creates additional stress, both emotionally and financially, for my students.
Given the reasons above, it would be easy for me to abandon the idea altogether and stay away from technologies. I must admit, for a brief moment, I have considered that option. However, doing so will be a disservice to my students. We are living in a technology-saturated world. There is an increased adaption of technologies to deliver services across many professions, including the profession I am training my students in. Thus, depriving my students the opportunity to use technologies limits their ability to efficiently do their work, and reduce their competitive advantage within the marketplace.
While incorporating more technologies does introduces additional stress for my students, I observed that the effect was temporary. Many of my students informed me that they enjoyed using technology to learn once they got used to it, and it helped them be more engaged with the course’s content. Based on my observations, I concluded that I should not limit the use of technologies in my class. Instead, I need to gradually, consistently, and purposefully introduce it into the classroom. With this thought in mind, I charted a plan to slowly incorporate more technologies into my courses.
The plan went well until late March, a few months into the semester. Before that time, COVID-19 was something that happened in distant lands. While I was mindful of the Coronavirus and COVID-19, I was not too concern about it. I was concerned for my students and wanted to make sure that they could stay home and continue their education if they happen to catch the virus. In preparation for this, I structured my courses to be more flexible to a hybrid delivery. I had the plan to conduct the majority of my classroom activities, including lecture delivery, face-to-face.
Then, just like that, COVID-19 hits home. We were thrown into triage mode. Our educational system was amongst those that got hit the hardest, and like many educators, I was swept away by the disarray. The sudden and urgent need to move my classes entirely online resulted in long work hours and many sleepless nights. I was more fortunate than some of my colleagues as I only have two classes, and I know my way around technologies. I also have done a great deal of work, transforming my courses for online delivery. One would think that, with all that work and online course design experiences, I would avoid making many online teaching mistakes. Unfortunately, the work and experiences did not prevent me from making mistakes, and many mistakes I made.
For instance, my first mistake was to conduct my class synchronously, asking my students to join me weekly online (via zoom) for class. This was a mistake because I failed to take into consideration my students’ situations.
For the first couple of weeks after class resumed, no one showed up to my zoom class. I could not figure out why. Then I slowly learned, after emailing my class, that many of my students lost their jobs due to covid-19. With the stress of figuring out how to pay for food, rent, utilities, childcare, and other essentials, attending class was the last thing on their mind. For those who were fortunate enough to remain employed during the covid-19 shutdown, the long work hours and hectic schedules made it impossible to attend class.
About the writer
Professor Dung Mao PhD is an experienced Instructional Designer at Northwestern Health Sciences University. He serves as an expert advisor on the Squigl team.