Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A letter to my students

I am excited to begin the semester with you because I have big (and fun, I hope) plans in store for our class, but before we embark on this adventure together I want to ask you some very important questions. Your answers to these questions will determine your success for the semester. I want you to succeed, but, ultimately, your success and failure is up to you and your fit with online instruction, this class, and this instructor, so please consider these issues carefully.

Is an online class right for you?

If you have never taken an online class then you really need to consider your technology and ability to use it. You will need consistent and reliable internet access and a backup plan if you lose it. Lack of internet access is not a get-out-of-jail-free-card and is, in fact, a one-way ticket to failure. You need internet access to participate in class activities and submit your work. It is that simple. Similarly, you will need a reliable computer and a backup plan if yours dies or is attacked by mutant viruses from outer space. Just like internet access you will still need to participate in class and complete your assignments. Finally, and most important, is your ability to negotiate the internet and use your computer (and its programs). Do you know how to use Word (saving files in various formats, add page numbers, etc.? Do you know how to attach documents? Do you understand email and discussion board etiquette? Do you know how to search databases (not just Google)? Do you know how to use advanced search functions?

Even if you have successfully completed another online class you may need to think not only about the issues above, but your willingness and ability to use more Blackboard tools than the discussion board and, in fact, to venture outside Blackboard to use other communication tools and social media. Don’t assume that all online classes are taught the same and that past success will predict future success.

It is also important for you to consider your self-discipline and learning style. Many students still sign up for online classes because they believe they will be easier and less work. The only thing that is easier about an online class is the flexibility. You still need to do the work and complete it on time, but you have the option to complete the work at 10 p.m. after the kids are in bed or at 10 a.m. before you report for your afternoon shift at work. However, this flexibility or freedom can be a real problem for students who need regular tasks and reminders. If you are the kind of person that finds things that are out of sight are then out of mind then you could have a real problem staying on task and up-to-date with your assignments. I do employ pictures and audio, but ultimately an online class tends to be rather text heavy. If you find it difficult to plow through lots of reading and writing then you might want to reconsider taking an online class. Remember, in an asynchronous online class your participation will mean typing and reading your classmates’ contributions to the class because we aren’t physically together to discuss our work verbally.

Is this class right for you?

This is a writing class and so there will be a lot of writing. This shouldn’t be a shock, but I assign an above average amount of writing because I also believe strongly in the importance of reflection. This means that not only will you write the assignments you might expect, but you will also write weekly reflections. Plus, as this is an online class your class participation activities will also involve a lot of writing. So, that all adds up to lots and lots of writing! For many students the problem isn’t so much the amount of writing, but the fact that I also ask you to think about your writing, sometimes weeks before the due date, and then write about that. This is going to be a challenge for many of you as you haven’t done this type of activity before.

This is a project-focused class. This means we will have several smaller assignments that support one major assignment due at the end of the class. This will give you a great deal of freedom to interpret these assignments as you wish, but not everyone finds this amount of freedom comfortable. In addition, this can often make these assignments more challenging and time-consuming than more traditional assignments. They can be more fun and more fulfilling as a result, but there are always trade-offs in life and the time-energy trade might not work for you this semester (or ever).

This class will be technology-heavy. I am a technology addict. Ask anyone. I love learning new tools and experimenting with them in my classes. If you do not feel comfortable exploring and using new technology (using a variety of Blackboard tools as well as social media, presentation tools, research tools, and more) then this is definitely not the class for you.

Is this instructor right for you?

The first and most challenging thing you need to know about me (well after the reflection and technology points I’ve already made) is that I believe learning is rhizomatic (read more about rhizomatic learning) which means essentially that I see learning more like a root-tree system than something that is linear or systematic. I also believe it is highly personal and individual. This means that while I have created a series of experiences for you that what you take away from this class will be up to you and what you bring to and invest in those experiences.  Some students, after a period of adjustment, find this attitude invigorating and an exciting change from traditional classes, but others do not feel comfortable in this type of environment. I understand. It is not for everyone. Some chaos is guaranteed to result.

You should also be warned that laziness makes me snarly and snarky. I know life happens. Work, family, school sometimes collide in a perfect storm and heaven forbid if you (or anyone close to you) has health problems and then there are the wonderful weather complications we get in winter and spring in Eastern Kentucky. When things get rough let me know. If you are up front about your issues and propose a plan to deal with those and still address your course work then I am happy to work with you. I am less happy when you disappear for weeks and are too lazy to contact me then expect me to devise a make-up plan. What really  makes me crazy though are people who ask questions because they are too lazy to do some thinking and/or research on their own. I will happily confirm or check your answers if you take some initiative, but I will not be happy if the answer to your question was easily available and you did not even check. Don’t be that person!

I am not a robot. I am online and available a lot. I am also on campus a couple of days a week. I check Blackboard and my email daily (usually) but that does not mean I always have time to respond to you immediately. Sometimes I have limited time and have to make a judgment call about which email to respond to and yours is not the most urgent. Sometimes I cannot work in a face-to-face meeting as quickly as you would like. This is because you are not my only class and, in fact, teaching is only about 1/3 of my professional responsibilities. And, as I already mentioned, I am not a robot. I am also a wife, mother, homeowner, dog mother, friend, church member, youth leader, and PTO officer. I have a life and responsibilities outside of MSU and Murphy’s Law happens to me, too. So, while I will do my best to provide all the support you need in a timely fashion don’t expect instant response or speedy grading all the time. I strive to be faster than molasses in January and usually, but don’t always, succeed.

Thanks for sticking this out, it ended up much longer than I expected, sorry about that. I hope you will carefully consider the questions of whether or not this online class taught in this way by this instructor is really a good fit for you this semester. If so then I will see you in Blackboard!

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