“The Online Classroom: An Instructor’s Perspective” by Vicky Kalivitis

Vicky Kalivitis and Cynthia Napoli-Abella Reiss at WVC graduation 2012. Photo by Carl Jones.

“I missed question 4 on the quiz. What does she mean when she asks about the function of a body paragraph? Doesn’t a body paragraph prove the thesis?”

“Hey, Kelly, a body paragraph proves an aspect of the thesis not the whole thesis. All your body paragraphs combined support your thesis.”

“Oh, got it!”

Such was the last discussion among students in an online forum that is designated solely for students’ conversation, questions and replies. When I taught my first online course, I was offended by the informal tone of some of these discussions. In most of them, I remained nameless – a mere “she.” At times, I would even catch myself questioning along with the students – “yes; what does she mean” – only to realize that I was talking to myself. Such interactions among students taught me a valuable lesson about online teaching. The online environment encourages students to interact and to question the material in their own time and in their own way – interaction that, at times, feels forced in a traditional classroom.

In an online environment, students seem to drop their traditional class inhibitions and ask questions, provide answers, debate ideas and express opinions.  And although their initial inquiries are casual, with no attention to such communication tools as tone and audience awareness, as class progresses and material becomes more rigorous, so does students’ writing style even in their own informal discussion forum. What remains constant, however, is that their inquiries still inspire me to talk to myself. But those self-discussions have value as well. They lead me to question the presentation of class material. They lead me to reexamine the clarity of my teaching. Must I reword key ideas? Must I rearrange information? Must I enhance class with Voicethread? To my surprise, as I build my skills as an online instructor, I feel more dynamic as a face-to-face instructor. Online instruction demands organization, clarity and attentiveness to students’ needs in a much heightened level than a traditional classroom. Without these components students become lost in the online environment. Of course, without these components, students may become lost in a face-to-face environment, but at least they can find the physical classroom.

As I grow my online instruction skills, through trainings, conferences and discussions with colleagues, I find myself polishing my face-to-face instruction. As I aim for a three prong engagement in an online classroom (instructor-learner, learner-learner and learner-text) I do the same in a face-to-face classroom. As I use Internet resources to keep material current and relevant in an online classroom, I do so in a face-to-face classroom. As my online students have class material accessible to them at all times from any location through the Internet, so do my face-to-face students. I find that I am most successful as an instructor when I teach classes in both modalities in the same semester. Having my foot in the online environment gives me the necessary skills to succeed as a face-to-face instructor and having my foot in the face-to-face classroom gives me the necessary perspective to succeed in my online teaching. After all, I need my balance, so I don’t forget my own name as I remain nameless in those initial discussions.

Vicky Kalivitis teaches composition and literature in WVC’s Department of English. Additionally, she is an active member in WVC’s Global Citizenship Committee, an advisor to the Global Student Club, and she serves on the college’s Accreditation Standard IIB Committee.

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