When I first started teaching at WVC in 1997, online teaching and learning was in its early stages. I still recall shouting through the office walls and running back and forth between Gordon Barrett and Tom Moniz’s offices as we tried to figure out not only how to teach online but also how to use the college’s CMS and its changing versions. Over the years, the college has offered various levels of training, support, and incentives, but I feel the faculty’s curiosity in and enthusiasm for online teaching and learning plus the student demand are what continue to keep us wanting to offer and do more with online courses.
Several years ago, I volunteered to teach English 18: Asian American Literature online. I honestly didn’t know how it would go, but we determined as a department that maybe it would be worth the experiment. In the past, the face-to-face course was on the small side; 20-25 students was an average headcount on the first day of class. I often had to try to advertise and recruit for the course the previous semester or during a semester break by visiting classrooms and posting flyers in order to try to grow the enrollment. Imagine my surprise when my online Asian American Lit class filled to 45 (the maximum headcount) with 10 students on the official waitlist…and with no marketing effort on my part. This same experience occurred when I taught the class as a summer online course. I was stunned…and excited to see what the teaching experience would be.
The discussion forum work in which students were required to post their responses to the assigned reading was FANTASTIC. Students could not hide or be silent as they might in a face-to-face classroom. They also had the opportunity to see what other classmates thought before they had to post their own ideas, which perhaps helped those who were uncertain about assignments or about the reading to feel more confident about completing assignments. They made discoveries about the world around them: several students did not know about Angel Island until they read poems detained Chinese immigrants had carved into the walls of the immigration station. They did not know San Jose has a Japantown (Nihonmachi) that dates back to the early 1900s until they visited the area and the Japanese American Museum for a cultural experience assignment. They were challenged to think “Beyond Bruce Lee” (the title I gave to the course) and questioned stereotypes of Asian Americans presented in film and literature that contrasted with the ideas and images presented in the literary works we read and watched. They gave much of themselves in terms of their personal experiences, family history, feelings, and reactions to the ideas presented in the course. They were bold, thoughtful, and inquisitive, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading their ideas.
It’s true: I missed the energy and contact that we get to have with students in a face-to-face environment. However, I also reminded myself that the online format was enabling many students to discover the rich histories, cultures, experiences, and stories reflected in the selected works. As an online instructor, it has been a challenge to reach my students through their computers with hopes that the class material can speak to them and expand their understanding not only of the course materials but also of their communities and themselves. However, this is a challenge that continues to keep me seeking how to use ever-evolving online teaching tools and has led to some of the most personally and professionally enriching experiences of my career.
Leslie Saito-Liu teaches literature and composition in the WVC Department of English and she is a Co-Facilitator of the WVC Writing Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org