Tomorrow I teach my first “live session” of my online Bioethics course. It has been a long journey.
Last year when the Dean asked who might be interested in teaching online, I expressed a vague interest. The next thing I knew, I received a STEP grant from the Provost’s office to take an online course on Distance Learning and my Bioethics course was selected to be the first course offered by Wake Forest in anticipation of a potential partnership with the Semester Online consortium. The online course was interesting in that it taught me not only about distance learning, but I was able to observe first hand what works well and what doesn’t in an online course. And what doesn’t work well is a course without direct student- faculty interaction.
I spend the summer working with a course designer from Semester Online. I thought course design would be easy. I had already taught this course in the past. Not so easy. Yes, the course is planned down to the smallest detail, but what surprised me the most was how much discussion there was on creative ways to teach the material, and ways to use the technology to help the students learn better. Once the course design was completed, we had a beautiful master plan for the course that outlined every lecture clip, assignment, group project, and quiz, and how many points there would be for the individual components of the course. There were detailed course objectives and grading rubrics, things that I admit I neglected in the past.
And then the work began. Short lecture clips and roundtable discussions with students are filmed over three days in Washington DC by a professional film crew. I even had a real make-up artist, who made me look so good that my students won’t recognize me when they see me on camera in the live sessions. The filming is intense. What might be spread over half of a semester must be delivered in three days. We moved from topic to topic, with no time for mistakes because there was no time for retakes. So before I went I worked very hard (very hard) to prepare my material so that I could deliver it without notes or preparation beforehand. The filming was stressful but fun. The Semester Online people were great to work with.
Once the filming is completed, there is no time to rest. Then the course goes into production. As the course site is assembled, every video and word of text must be reviewed. The Semester Online crew creates concise outlines to accompany the lectures, and often adds appropriate images to break things up. They get all of the necessary permissions to use the material that you have selected from assorted sources.
Finally comes the training on the Learning Management System. I can barely turn my computer off and on, so I will never be able to take advantage of all of the assorted bells and whistles that accompany the course. But there will a technical support person sitting through the first two live sessions to make sure the students and I find each other, and to undo any technological disasters I create.
I have learned a lot preparing this course. I am nervous going into it, because not only is it an online course, but because it is a new way of teaching. And will the students really be prepared for the live session? Will I be comfortable talking to my computer screen? Will I run out of things to say, because so much has been front loaded with video clips, readings, and online discussions? Tomorrow will tell…