Online Students and Teachers Exposed!

In this session, four students and four teachers were up in front.  The four students were all high school juniors and seniors who were attending Clark County Virtual High School here in Nevada.  The teachers teach English and Science.

While the students are younger than most attending GRCC, their persecutive is interesting because many of our students are in college for the first time and are very close to this age group.

The students were asked what they liked about school online. They mentioned the usual benefits like the flexible schedule and work at their own pace. What was noteworthy, however, was their point that they didn’t have all the distractions that a bunch of teenagers in a room normally have.  That enabled them to focus more on their subject than worrying about everybody and their “issues” around them.

Another interesting comment from the students was that in a traditional setting, they bounce from subject to subject on the hour and it is very hard to let each subject soak in.  It’s a series of jolts followed by a bunch of homework in evening.  With online learning, they can grab hold of one subject for as long as they need in one concentrated block of time, making it easier to stay focused and absorb the material.  It helps especially for their homework.

Students actually found the online format to enhance collaboration because they were less inhibited to share.  They felt safer to participate, and written comments gave them time to compose quality responses.

Teachers and students alike found that online courses require a individual to be self-motivated and organized and scheduled.  Teachers must be available at non-traditional times such as evenings and weekends.  But teachers do find the online format effective.

In fact, the “online is easier” claim is quickly dispelled when a class is done ri, but it shouldn’t be worse if you know how to teach it properly.  Teachers must learn how to do things right or it can certainly be a lot more challenging.

Like it or not, online is here to stay.  Some states are mandating online courses at the high school level in preparation for college.  For some students who must care for others, online courses are the only way they can get an education.

I enjoyed getting the panel’s perspectives.


The Classroom Experience

Rhonda Blackburn, Associate Provost at the University of Texas at Dallas, gave an interesting discussion about improving the classroom experience.  At her university, she facilitated a project where they took a traditional classroom and put new furniture and moving whiteboards into it, making it very collaborative and more engaging for students.

They found that while a few immediately thought the changes were wonderful, the majority of faculty found the changes chaotic and unstructured.  It wasn’t until the faculty were shown how to use the furniture to their benefit that they began to see how it could benefit both faculty and students.  

For example, one professor found that in a row-based room, students who sat in front tended to participate more while those in the back did not.  In the more flexible room, the teacher could easily make the back of the room the front.  That enabled the instructor to challenge and engage those students.

The key to success was the attitude of the faculty.  The students tended to pick up on and follow the attitude of the professor in the classroom.

She then pointed out that when you design a class in blackboard, it’s important to make it similarly open, collaborative, and welcoming to students.

Like furniture in a room, we make a class more collaborative by the use of groups, discussion boards, and a variety of social communication options.  When furniture was arranged in pods versus rows, teams could be put in those pods so they could work together or discuss ideas together.

She concluded by stating that the two most significant essentials to a successful blackboard course is that (1) it has a clear structure so that students can find what they need, and (2) it is collaborative so that students can get help and communicate with the instructor and other students.