Taking online classes: sweet dream or terrible nightmare?

Has anyone ever taken an online class? I did. And my teacher was definitely not Bill Pelz. The class was on using Geometry Sketchpad Software to teach Trigonometry and Calculus courses. Some of the rules introduced by Pelz applied to that course – we (the students) did most of the work and we had to find and discuss web resources.  I however, felt like I could have completed the course by reading a book and following the steps of using the software myself. Every week we had to complete a project using sketchpad software, and write a reflection on how we could use the activity in our class (teaching high-school or college) and what were the advantages of using that particular activity – focusing on pedagogy rather than content. The class discussion felt forced, and the comments seemed like they were taken straight from a math textbook – teacher edition. After two weeks, when people noticed that the professor’s only involvement in the class discussion was writing a one- or two-word comment, like “great”, “good” or “interesting idea”, the discussion got even more artificial and useless. Spending a lot of time completing the software assignments, no one felt like discussing the supposed future advantages of using them. Reading Pelz I was wondering what could have been done differently that would improve that course. At the end of the day, the goal of the course was to learn how to use the Software – so maybe we could have had discussions based on our difficulties with working with the Sketchpad, or even discussing any other possibilities of using it, and trying it for something else. The course was offered at Berkley and if it wasn’t online I could not have done it for obvious reasons.  I received credits for taking it that I could add to my professional development requirements. Other than that I considered this course a waste of time, but I get that the course was bad was not because it was on online course, but because the instructor did not use effective online pedagogy.

On a different note, I loved Pelz’s principles (I use some of them in my F2F classes). But the one I would like to try (maybe next semester, or maybe we should try something similar in our ITP2 class?) would be the idea on collaborating the research paper. Using each other for resources, ideas and constructive criticism is what learning should be all about.

Talking about differences and advantages over one style of learning (or teaching) over the other (F2F vs DL) we all are aware of the obvious ones: saving time on a commute vs contact with real people, etc. What I found interesting was what Ugoretz said about asynchronous discussion. Being able to pause the conversation to go and look for other resources, formulate better arguments and to create new ideas without worrying about running out of class time is definitely one of the biggest advantages of online learning.

3 thoughts on “Taking online classes: sweet dream or terrible nightmare?

  1. Michael Mandiberg (they/them)

    @Pamela Thielman – I am glad to hear you are all interested in collaborating on a research text, because that is one of our next assignments. We will be telling you more about it tomorrow in class.

    Regarding the discussion about socializing, and hallway talk, I think Pamela has a good question: would it be different if you were not expecting to have the same kind of full-time interactions? For example, the continuing ed student most likely doesn’t expect to get the same level of intense bonding with her classmates, and/or cohort. When thinking about that question, I think about the fact that most of the fully online classes that CUNY offers are geared/marketed to exactly that demographic: people trying to finish up their degrees one course at a time. These are people with families, work lives, for whom the degree is largely an instrumental goal. It will allow them to advance in their career, or symbolically feel like they have accomplished a major milestone. It is not a place for personal exploration, or a transition into adulthood, which is what we think of an old-timey undergraduate education traditionally allowing.

    Conversely, it is worth taking a look at this essay by Mark Allen in the Educational Outliers dossier I edited, which explores the ways in which he is trying to use Machine Project as a way of producing the kind of community formation that school frequently serves to accomplish: http://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_article/machine/

    @Aleksandra, one of the things to consider is that each discipline has slightly different and specific needs. So teaching software online requires a different kind of format then the discussion format described here, no? I certainly found that to be the case when I have taught software in online courses in the past. Though there are certain crossovers in the principles. How much of what Pelz is talking about here could have been directly used in the course you were describing, and how much wouldn’t? How would you go about adopting those principles for the specific requirements of that subject matter?

    Comment Tags: CUNY, Mark Allen
  2. Pamela Thielman (she/her)

    I’m interested in what you are calling “hallway talk,” Kelly. I can see how that would feel lacking if you are moving through a degree program in a way that parallels the track of a traditional, face-to-face college experience, but do you think someone doing their degree bit by bit or just taking continuing ed classes online would feel the same?

    Comment Tags: hallway talk
  3. Kelly Aronowitz

    Hi Aleks!

    I like the idea about collaborating on something… Joshua and I were discussing something like that at the end of last class…. and online makes it much easier than having to meet with our crazy schedules.

    It does sound like you had a terrible online experience.

    I did ALL OF MY MASTERS in Critical Theory online. Yup, all of it. I did it online because at the time it sounded like a much better option as I was working full time. I have to say that I agree with most of what Pelz has to say… I had some great teachers and some not so great, but what really made a difference in every single class was whoever was in it. My peers most definitely taught me much more than whatever the teacher could have.
    I believe the online masters was much more intense since we had to do the very intense readings and then access the forum, read the professor’s prompt, reply, access again and revise others’ replies, reply to those, reply to others’ replies, etc etc…. When I came to the GC I was actually thankful to have discussions limited to a class and not an ongoing thing… it can really take over your life and time.
    What I did miss during my masters was what we call ‘hallway talk’, to meet and talk about anything… Pelz fixed that with the additional forums, but I wonder if it would have worked.

    If you guys are interested on where I did my masters: http://www.17.edu.mx


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