When the world shut down in the spring of 2020 and my school announced that all classes would have to go online, I had it better than most of my fellow teachers.
Five years ago I had decided to convert all of my in-class teaching to a digital workflow. Textbooks were scanned, schedules were uploaded and I always connected to monitors in classes. While this workflow has been adopted by many teachers, the majority of the teachers I know stuck exclusively to the whiteboard and looked askance my use of a MacBook in the classroom
Fast forward to spring 2020 and when faced with the switch to exclusively online classes, I was ready. But what of the title of this piece? Has online teaching actually improved me as a teacher? In September 2019 Kevin Gannon said the following in The Chronicles of Higher Education.
When it comes to online teaching and technology, many academics remain leery. They continue to suspect it’s where good teaching goes to die. My own experience — as well as that of thousands of other faculty members who’ve taught dynamic and meaningful online courses — offers a counternarrative. We’ve found that elements of online pedagogy not only help us become better instructors in a fully digital learning space, but better at the craft of teaching in general.
This has definitely been my experience and I'm glad that I have gone through this experience whether I return to classroom teaching or not. My own skill and pedagogy has been significantly improved in the following ways.
• I now design better courses and make better assessments.
Teaching online has helped me focus more on the structure and content of class because the online environment demands it.
• I have a deeper understanding of how I “speak” with students. As a language teacher, I have to encourage the cameras remain on during class. This allows a view of students' pronunciation that was not available before. When modeling pronunciation with students I can more easily see lip and tongue position. I can focus in on problems and correct them much more easily than before.
• Better communication through a virtual classroom community
While I have been using social media for a while to coalesce class communities, the incentives in an online class are stronger, both for teacher-to-student communication and for student-to-student communication.
The result is that my students are more likely to seek out help, ask questions or
schedule one-on-one office time with me.
These musings on how online teaching has made me a better teacher are not new and have been substantiated in many academic studies.
My conclusion has been that teaching online has given me an opportunity to critique and modify, or affirm and expand, the way you operate in a classroom. And these lessons learned will carry me into the future.