8 Things You Probably Won’t Like about Teaching Online

If you are new to online teaching, here are some things that might grate on your nerves. I’m sorry.

1. Your administrators can enter into your digital classroom without notice, without warrant, and without you knowing about it. I’m sorry. It stinks.

2. For good and for bad, there is a digital record of all your interactions with students and your work habits.

3. Some students will need to be taught how to learn. This is always the case, especially when we teach first-year students, but you are likely to have more students who have been away from a classroom for longer. They may not understand expectations, so you have to teach them, kindly.

4. Some students will have weaker tech skills than you, and some will have stronger. This is especially likely to be the case in summer and fall 2020, when I expect we’ll have students who wouldn’t otherwise enroll in an online class enroll in them. Many universities have prep classes (more like tutorials) for students to assess their ability to learn online and prepare for it, so the level of tech savvy I see in my fully online students is relatively high. I think we’ll see a more mixed bag in the next semesters.

5. You will have to handhold more than you think. Students need lots of reminders. “It’s on the syllabus” is an even harder temptation in an online class. Resist it.

6. Much of the work will feel clerical. You trained as a physicist or a art historian, and now you are troubleshooting tech. It can be unsatisfying. This is one reason why I always suggest the least tech-y option.

7. It’s fun to experiment, but don’t do that until you have a good semester under your belt. There is enough that will go wrong when you keep things simple to keep you occupied. Get the pedagogy down before you play with the technology.

8. You will feel like you are teaching each of your students individually at times. Sometimes this is lovely. Often it is tiring.

Rembrandt Van Rijn An Old Man In An Armchair

This painting is called An Old Man in An Armchair and is probably by Rembrandt, according to the people at the National Gallery in the UK. I suspect the real title is New Online Teacher, Week 4.

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2 thoughts on “8 Things You Probably Won’t Like about Teaching Online

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  1. And (9) Murphy’s Law. If anything can go wrong, it will, in the worst possible way, at the worst possible time, even if you think you’ve got everything covered.

    Example: Yesterday, I gave a test in Linear Algebra. (My commenting here is part of putting off grading those 90 exams and watching the videos of them showing their calculators and scratch work, because I didn’t allow notes.) I tested out whether I could share a file via the Chat window in Zoom, and everything worked. The students had had three weeks of lectures, so they knew how to join the right “meeting”.

    When I posted the test, it didn’t seem like students could see it. I’m not sure what happened — I’m sending out an email asking for comments from their point of view — but eventually, things started working.

    Good practice for next week, where I give three tests to a total of 240-some students.

    Another important thing I learned applies mostly to math and science. I shared a PDF with the problems on it, and I had at least one student who didn’t have all the right fonts installed. (I think that’s what happened, anyway.) So I sent an image, which is probably what you should actually do, instead of a PDF.

  2. In response to (6), I have taught online courses over the previous five years or so, and I always felt like I was administrating the test and not actually teaching it. (There were videos shot by the faculty, which presented the information.)

    In response to (7), great advice, even for teaching live. When I teach a course for the first time, I don’t know the exact sequence of topics or which sections will “flow” faster than others. I always teach the class the first time “by the book”, and then play around with it later.

    In response to (8), you left out “exhausting”. This semester, I have about 330 students among my four classes.

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