The Job AMA Thread! - current AMA@ChickieD through 11/16 at 11:30 PM PST



How does this work exactly? Picking texts? Training in new techniques? How does this go over with tenured professors who have been doing things their own way for years or even decades? How do these designs get vetted?

What’s it like being a real teacher?


Since I work with online education, usually I’m brought in to help faculty develop/ adapt a course to that setting. We start meeting when before em the syllabus gets created, and I work with them through that (and all the way through the launching of the course). That’s (ideally) something like a six-month process (though we essentially never actually get that long).
I don’t help pick texts- all the content choices come from the content area expert. My work is about delivery, mostly. Helping them develop excellent Learning Objectives that guide the rest of the choices about assessments and whatnot.
Tenured faculty are somewhat rare for me to work with- they’re often not interested in online teaching, so much of my work is with others. That’s said, basically zero faculty in higher education have any formal education themselves in teaching- they’ve just been doing what they’ve seen done by their own instructors (who themselves had no formal education in teaching, etc…). That means it’s usually pretty easy for me to help solve “problems” they’ve been having in the construction of their classes, and being able to do that quickly and effectively helps lend me a certain air of credibility with them.
My position had little in the way of teeth. If some faculty is Hell-bent on doing things their way and ignoring me, I can sound some alarms- but that’s about it. We’ve had some faculty make some terrible decisions and had to go along with them. Not a fun thing when that happens.
Being a real teacher? Like, in a classroom? It’s super fun. It’s having to solve lots of complicated problems in real time, every day. The grading sucks. The admin structure is rough. The hours are rough. The pay is… not commensurate with the hours or education required. I sometimes miss being in a classroom and teaching; I don’t want to go back because of all that comes with it.
The move to igher education was… jarring. It was like going from the major leagues of teaching to some crappy sandlot game. I used to work with a group of people who all had advanced degrees in education and spent all day, every day, using that knowledge to provide the best experiences they could to students. When I got to higher ed, it was a bunch of content area experts trying to teach- but having (celery, to my eyes) no idea what they were doing. They were trying really hard, often- but… yeah. Not what I was used to.


I really struggle with online education. I’ve taken some remote courses, and it was really hard. I normally like listening and learning, but focusing in that way is really hard. It seems like the literature is all over the place, too. For some non-traditional students (like returning students and students who work full time), online learning might boost retention. Among traditional students, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Can you speak to the approach y’all take, in terms of retention and assessment?


it occurred to me sometime in college how pretty much every teacher didn’t have and could really benefit from some public speaking training and experience. Drama or the Toastmasters or standup comedy or anything where they were required to and actually trying to gauge and hold the room’s attention rather than “here I am and i’m just gonna ramble through this.” Is anything like that covered in the education training you received? I guess it’s not relevant to your current job in online work but is that a thing at all, that you know of?


So: I work in online and blended education- but the specific courses I work with/on are all part of multi-course programs, and as such, retention is very, very high. But these are focused programs aimed at graduate level students, and that’s a whole different ball of wax.
I’d say that online learning is really not for everyone. It’s useful if you’re super busy with life and still need to crank out a degree or certification or something, but if you’re a hard core extrovert or need that face to face attention with an instructor, online (even really well thought out online) isn’t for you. Also: not all online education is well thought out. So there’s that.


My degree is specifically in Teaching (and not, I’d point out, the more theoretical Education). As a result, I had 900 hours of mentored coaching in in-class presence, and lots of drills/exercises/etc on what we’d call “classroom management.” That’s about managing the classroom, which has as it’s base the control of the focus of the room.
Some degree of this is pretty normal in advanced degrees aimed at classroom teachers (k-12); the extent I went through far exceeded the norm. Lucky that way.
I also have a strong desire to be good at teaching- I view the entire classroom thing as a bit of performance art. I’m using every tool at my disposal to modulate and manage the tone/timbre of the learning space to provide the highest odds of a positive outcome for students. Not everybody, I’ve learned, feels or functions this way.


I suspect this is the problem a lot of the time. I don’t think distance learning works for graduate courses, due to their discursive nature. Fumbling around every time you need to make a comment wrecks the flow.


I’ve participated in some grad courses on-line. A friend of mine did a mix of in-person and on-line with his grad students, and asked me and a few other friends working in IT to participate on the discussion board and give him feedback on the software (the students knew we would be showing up and interacting; the class was on literature wed read and studied as undergrads so we could keep up).

I think the key thing about on-line discussions, just like in-person classroom discussions, is establishing the culture. There seems to be this lingering perception that things will just work (or else never work at all). My own experience from when I was training on-line is that students need to be invited to participate and expectations need to be set, same as in a physical classroom setting.


From the learner side: I tend to doze off watching lecture and “explain” videos. Even documentaries like Cosmos make me doze. What can be done to combat this?


Even so, I find it really hard when you have tiny people on a screen, and you can’t really read body language to jump in or not. I think to some extent, better teleconferencing software, like Zoom or Blue Jeans, alleviates that problem because you can use the /hand command to flag a moderator that you’d like to say something. If the course is wholly online, that seems to work well. I’ve taken a couple remote courses where there was an instructor physically in a room on a campus with students, and then there were also remote students. That type of set-up really requires someone to be monitoring the online participants full-time. And at the point where you’re paying two faculty to team teach … why not just pay two people to run two in-person classes?

I don’t mean to be totally down on online learning. I’ve just never really seen it deployed (at the grad level) with both clarity of purpose (Why should this class be online?) and any sort of expertise at the challenges of online learning. Hopefully more people like @nothingfuture can fix that.


There’s actual empirical research about this, and here’s what it says:

  1. Lectures should be segmented into short chunks- 6 minutes each is the most commonly cited cut off of length.
  2. We don’t need to see the instructor the whole time- but we do need to see them a bit. Sometimes a face is a good use of pixels; sometimes it isn’t.
  3. Most slides that get used are garbage. It if can’t be read from the screen of my smartphone, the slide is wrong.
  4. Everybody gets told to speak slowly and carefully- for classroom speaking. But the research indicates the words-per-minute of a video can be very, very high. Machine gun style is the way to go.
  5. Closed captioning (and text transcripts) are a must, for a lot of reasons.
  6. Animations can sometimes really, really help. They cost a fortune to have good ones made.


Obviously, I’m going to disagree here. But, as I said before: online learning (at whatever level) is not for everybody.
We always aim to build our courses to be as asynchronous as possible- my feeling is that much of the reason that people take online courses is they need to time shift them (because jobs, or family, or whatever). That’s a choice some people aren’t into, though, as it means there’s very little real time person to person contact. And that’s not for everyone.
And that’s ok, obviously.


You know? I have never taken, nor given (and I used to do a lot of on-line corporate training) a course with teleprescence/video. Never. And yet I’ve taken, and given, some courses that turned out amazingly well, including one where all the students were in India, I was in Canada, and we used MS Messenger because that was the only real-time communication tool we could all use.

I’ve found voice/conference calls useful, and I like a visual focus, but make it a slide or a whiteboard or the lecturer, not everyone else.

Look at this site. For most of us the only physical descriptions we have are provided via text, but the culture makes it work.


So let me ask a clarifying question: Do you think online learning can work for courses with a heavy emphasis on verbal discussion? I ask because you keep framing this as a choice:

But the school I’m at does require certain courses to have a verbal component. Some courses fill that with a public speaking assignment, some fulfill it with a more consistent expectation of verbal contribution throughout the course. I do both in my course. In my graduate program, it was considered good to have students learn to speak, and debate, and learn to make a point in a discussion. Do you think you can develop those skills in an online class?

Which works for a recreational discourse. Depending on the goals of the course, that may or may not be sufficient.


So it’s not just Carl Sagan’s dreamy voice?


I guess my answer, especially in the context of androgogy, is that good academic discourse feels like recreational discourse as it’s conducted.


I just can’t agree that verbal skills are unimportant. I work with a lot of students who come in as transfers or come in really unprepared from high school, and can’t do something like say what they mean out loud and support it with facts. Or respond in real time to a comment that someone else made, using facts. Even though the learners are adults, I do think that developing those skills is important. While digital communication is becoming more common, I don’t see the need to verbally speak to someone clearly and directly going away in my lifetime.

Even if I did agree with that point, I do have to assign verbal credit for the course I’m teaching now.


There are course and formats that does not, really (as of yet) work online. That’ll change to some degree as we go on, but there clearly limits. Chemistry classes with a lab component, as an obvious example.
That said, it’s pretty easy for faculty and students to be able to swap video and audio back and forth. And while I focus on asynchronous classes, there are plenty of synchronous classes that do just fine. I’ve worked with a number of online foreign languages courses that made copious use of real-time video conferencing and get excellent reviews.
Again, I work at an elite university that charges substantial money for these courses, so there is every incentive for a student to push through (as opposed, let’s say, to a low-cost MOOC or the like). That likely plays in, too.
So: can it work? Yes, depending. Should it be used for everything/everyone? No. Does the tech continue to enable more and more flexibility in instruction? Yes. Are there (apparent) limits to that? Yes.
Devil/god is in the details.


Nobody said they weren’t important.

Course delivery and design are always constrained by educational goals and available resources. If the only available medium is on-line and you want to foster/inculcate verbal skills, you’re going to have to find software that will let you do that and plan accordingly.

But you were mentioning body language, which means it’s not just verbal skills (and as someone who’s taught blind and deaf people I would never lump those as one thing). Otherwise you could happily hold discussions over VoIP conference calls and be done with.

If on-line is still mandatory for delivery but you want readable body language, you’re going to have to limit discussion group size and break everyone into smaller groups, maybe even set up separate tutorials.

If you have to have large groups of people discussing things at once (and I’d question that, because large groups of people inhibit cogent discussion, but okay, let’s say that’s a constraint too), but also have readable body language… wait, why is this on-line again?

On-line is wonderful for discussions not happening in real time, for self-directed learning, for long distance education, and for presentations which will be recorded and played back later. They are not a panacea.

As holding a small-group tutorial in a 500-seat lecture hall is inappropriate, so jamming all educational outcomes into an on-line format without thought for how the medium will affect delivery is inappropriate. It is not the medium’s fault if it gets selected to do what it’s not made for.


I figured this was going to be the answer.

And I was trying to find the limits of where that utility is, based on previous times I’ve seen distance learning fail.

this has been an immensely frustrating discussion. I was trying to find out the limits of what this type of learning is good or useful for. So I asked about the obvious edge case, and a case where I’ve had online learning fail on me: the case in which verbal feedback is necessary. This is all hypothetical to me. I don’t need to take classes anymore, and the university I’m working at isn’t considering adding online courses.

From the poster’s replies, it seems that the key to making this work is to be at an elite university where students pay a huge amount of money for the class. It’s very frustrating to have your specific discussions of instruction (i.e., discussion seems to work well with advanced video conferencing technologies, two instructors, etc from this comment) met with “well, I’m at an elite university and we get good reviews so 🤷,” and “well, it doesn’t work for everything.” It’s like honest discourse simply isn’t valued around here anymore.