EDU 630

EDU 630 Mind Map and Reflection

Working in higher education already, I already had an idea about what online learning entailed—some of the highlights of it, as well as some of the pitfalls. Drawing up a mind map, therefore, was a relatively easy process; after all, I tell my students all about online education every day, so how much could be different? What I learned was that, while my initial impressions of online learning were relatively spot on, it’s a different kettle of fish altogether on the opposite side of the classroom, and got me thinking about things in another way.

Learning how to balance teaching and taking classes was a trip—I’ve spoken on this before here, so this is no secret. Two of the things I added to my mind map were an extra branch in time management, as well as a branch regarding how online education is always evolving. At its core, online learning is made to evolve, to make itself better. It’s difficult on the students when class requirements change, but it’s even more difficult on the teachers. We’re so used to teaching a certain way that, when a course is evaluated and reworked, we sometimes forget what we’re doing, or we’re not as familiar with the improved course, so there are some growing pains. But we always have to remember, at the end of the day, that we’re always evolving in online education. That is so, so important to improving online programs, and that’s one of the main things I took away from this class.

My initial ideas are all in teal; the brainstormed ideas are in orange.

Online Learning

EDU630 Blog Post #3, or “What’s next?”

Over the past couple of weeks here, and really since the start of the module, I’ve been playing double duty and catch-up, trying to make sure I get all of my work done while still teaching my students. It’s been…interesting, to say the least.

Best response EVER. #ripwash
Best response EVER. #ripwash

One of our assignments recently was talking about our experiences within an online course–whether we were students in it, or assigned to teach it. So, of course, I wrote about teaching this past module, and how many mistakes I thought I made. My biggest fears as an educator are that I’ve failed somehow–failed my students, failed my AAPM (who put a lot of faith into me and stood behind me with anything I needed), failed my family, failed myself. I hold myself to such a high standard that I don’t know that I could ever reach the bar I set. So when the questions are “what would you do differently?” and “what improvements would you make?” my knee-jerk reaction is “everything.”

Pretty self explanatory, really.
Pretty self explanatory, really.

I’ll copy part of my answer here, for two reasons. One, it’s to keep myself accountable. I am not perfect, and I need to be able to keep track of where I can/need to improve. Two, it’s because I am not perfect, and maybe my story can give support and help to another new instructor who feels like s/he’s failing at life.

I started the class with 25 students–a full section. I’m ending my class with 21 students, and at least four of them haven’t really been participating for a while but never bothered to drop the course. Part of me feels like I failed them in some way. Was I too tough a grader? Was I not sympathetic enough? Do I suck that badly? I can’t honestly answer these questions.

I’m absolutely terrified of the end of course evaluations. I’m afraid of what they think of me. It shouldn’t matter–the only thing that should matter is whether they learned something. But…what if I’m the reason they didn’t? What if I did something wrong? I can only hope that those evaluations can help guide me to what I can improve upon.

My instructor, bless his wonderful heart, gave me some great feedback and support on the whole thing. He told me (and really all of us in the class since it was in our discussion board) to be consistent, predictable, and accessible, and that there has to be work on the part of the students. Essentially, I can only lead the horse to water; I can’t make it drink. This was probably the best advice anyone could ever give me regarding this experience. I can only do what I can do. I can be accessible and predictable in my grading, and consistent in my feedback and discussion facilitation. I can do my job. It’s up to the students to do theirs. I can’t learn this information for them–I know it already. I spent an exorbitant number of years learning this myself. I can guide them, I can give them information, but I can’t make them learn it.

We are, none of us, perfect. Instructors can’t be. If we, as instructors, are perfect, then what is there to improve upon? If we, as instructors, are perfect, how do we empathize with our students? How do we understand what they’re going through? The short answer is, we can’t. At the end of the day, we are all learners. We have to be. We always have to be learning and improving ourselves, so that we can teach and help our students improve themselves. We have to lead by example, and sometimes that means being vulnerable. Sometimes that means admitting that we don’t know everything. But we can do this. We can improve, and we can be better educators for it. Yes, I’m scared of what those evaluations say. But I know that they will include things I can improve upon. And that’s all any of us can do–strive to be better than what we think we can be. Maybe that’s enough.

We can do the thing. I believe in us.
We can do the thing. I believe in us.

EDU630 Blog Post #2, or “How the hell do I do this now?”

Throughout my time here at Post as a student, I almost feel like I’ve been thrown into the deep end, and it’s time to learn to swim, or sink like a stone. This isn’t, of course, an entirely accurate description–my professors and my academic success counselor have been wonderful at hand-holding–but every time we get into a new unit and I have to learn how to do something else, I worry that I’m in over my head. And then, obviously, I do the thing and move on to the next thing. This is, at it’s core, Post University’s modus operandi–learn by doing.

…on your face, most times…

And I have fallen over A LOT. My final submitted work doesn’t show it, but my husband can attest to the crying and the yelling and the freaking out and anxiety attacks that usually accompany a new assignment that I have absolutely no idea how to finish.

This past week, we had to work on writing our personal educational philosophy. What’s a personal educational philosophy, you ask? I had no fracking clue. It’s a thing that I know all of my teacher friends have, and when I asked them, their explanation was simple–“it’s, you know…a statement explaining your philosophy on teaching.” OH. Great. Because THAT’S helpful and clear.

Thank you, Doge, for saying what we’re all thinking.

Right. So I did what I always do–wing it. Through writing it, though, I found that a lot of what I needed to say was common sense. When you’re a teacher, what do you want your students to learn? Why do you teach what you teach? What’s your role? These are all questions my instructor wanted us to focus on. I….had never thought about it in that way. Certainly nobody had ever explained it that way. And so I asked myself questions–LOTS of questions. Why did I fight so hard to become an instructor here? Why did I fight so hard to get my M.A. in history? What was the point of that? What do I want my students to know? I asked myself all those questions, as though I was interviewing an instructor about why they became a teacher–because, at the end of the day, that’s what an educational philosophy is. It’s the reason why we get up every morning and try to teach students skills. Every day, I log into my classes, and I look at what my students have done. Some days–most days–I wonder why I bother (they don’t listen when I give them feedback, they don’t like the feedback I’m giving them, they’re not improving, why am I doing this).

Quite literally a representation of me every morning I log into Blackboard.
Quite literally a representation of me every morning I log into Blackboard.

But then, there’s that moment. That moment when a student–your student–gets it. Where they make that connection, where they think critically, where they hit an analysis of a historical document on the head. That moment when they get it, and you realize that it was all worth it. Because at least this one student has learned something. You’ve made a difference in one student’s life, and you’ve done it without compromising the content. They’ve learned how to do a thing–THAT’S why I do this.

And just like that, I had my educational philosophy. And when I did, I’m pretty sure Steve (my own instructor) had that moment too.

EDU 630 Blog Post #1, or “What am I doing here?”

I’ve never been good at writing blog posts–mostly because I can’t understand why anyone would want to listen to a word I say. Realistically, though, a blog is the best place for me to discuss all the things that run through my brainpan when it comes to school.

I am a student at Post University. I am also staff member, and faculty. I’ve hit the trifecta. Which is odd, because I never thought I would do all of these things. And it’s challenging, for a number of different reasons. Not the least of which is keeping my time managed properly–something I’m struggling to do.

Me, almost every day, trying to get everything done and wondering what the hell I'm doing.
Me, almost every day, trying to get everything done and wondering what the hell I’m doing.

However, there is one good thing about being an instructor AND a student–everything I learn in the class I take is one more thing I can incorporate into the class I teach. Who else gets to say that, really? We spent time the past few weeks discussing what online learning was really, and what made for a good online instructor–all helpful things for a first time online teacher to learn.

Last week was especially helpful–we read an article by Mark Pearcey, where he talks about being a high school teacher, who then went to school online, and became a history professor in college. He talked a lot about the challenges of being a teacher when the internet first became a “thing” back in the late 90s–how, as technology became more prevalent, he started integrating it into “planning and instruction” (Pearcey, 2014), and how toward the end he couldn’t imagine a world without it. This is something I can empathize with. I’ve had a computer for as long as I could remember–in fact, I remember very clearly when my parents bought a Gateway desktop (which was all the rage in ’94), and I used it to do homework and play on AOL with my friends.

Not my actual computer, but something quite like it.
Not my actual computer, but something quite like it.

Technology, it seems, has always been a part of my life–so it only makes sense that I go to college online and teach online. But there’s so much more to teaching online–and learning online–than I had ever thought before.

This week was handy. This week, we talked about how to build discussion board questions and how to use the Socratic Method to get more out of our students. It’s week 3–both of the class I teach and the class I take–and I’m only now just getting into the swing of knowing what to say to my students to elevate the conversation and get them talking. In the class I take, it’s easy. I’m concerned about professional speak, but not as concerned about someone taking something the wrong way, so I’m a bit more colorful with my classmates. For my students? I’m constantly afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing or I’m going to come across as more snarky than I mean to. It’s a constant balancing act, and I’m always afraid I’m going to fall. And, really, this is the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. Thank the fluffy gods I have good balance….mostly…

Me literally every day
Me literally every day