Teaching virtually, not virtually teaching

It has now been about two years since I first started trying to figure out this “blended” (online and traditional classroom instruction) teaching methodology.

And, although it risks totally jinxing everything, I think I’m finally getting it.

This semester has been a sort of revelation to me–that the online and in-person learning do not need to happen in these discrete chunks, but can and, indeed, should truly blend throughout the course so that students become accustomed to learning in both venues simultaneously. I’ve also intentionally sought out materials that engage students in interactive learning online, so that they’re not just responding to my content in virtual platforms, but becoming part of a larger community of interest around policy concerns.

And, perhaps most significantly, it has dawned on me that, since most of my students will, as social workers, consume much of their policy-related information online (rather than in a class discussion format or a peer-reviewed journal), part of my task in these courses should be to help them develop skills to critically consume this material, so that they can analyze and filter and apply similar information throughout their careers.

Yes, another inspiration that should have occurred to me a long time ago, but, better late…right?

My favorite part of the blended classes is probably the discussion boards, because I get so much more participation from some of the quieter students than I do in class. This semester, I’m going to use a more detailed course evaluation that assesses student reactions to those individual components, so that I can get a better sense of which pieces they’re actually engaging with, and how those activities are contributing to their overall learning.

I am, as always, open to new ideas and critiques, but here’s what I’m doing differently this semester that (again, knock on everything!) seems to be working so far:

  • Utilizing course technology to bring in virtual guest speakers–if we can have half of our course content online, why not get guest speakers from Washington, DC (via Skype) to talk about implementation of health care reform?
  • Requiring students to analyze media coverage of policy topics, to heighten their analytical skills and give them practice searching for the frames in a given coverage
  • Integrating short videos and podcasts on policy topics, and, often, using them to replace traditional assigned readings, because they offer much more current analysis than what the peer-reviewed process can provide
  • Working in at least a few “virtual classrooms”, which are sort of like chatrooms, but not in real-time, so that students have a venue in which to ask questions about the course, share materials with each other, and access me
  • Creating online assignments, including the “wiki” resource guides on policymaking that I used last year, too (to provide a nonprofit organization with resources designed to facilitate advocacy in a particular arena) and a presentation about future trends that will impact policy that, by necessity, has to draw almost entirely on online resources

    I’ve only tried to teach policy courses in this blended format, so I certainly can’t speak to the experiences of those teaching (and taking!) practice classes. And I know that some of my students wish that they had the option to take a traditional format policy course, and I respect that. There’s no question that I miss getting to see my students more frequently; in my ideal (albeit overwhelming) world, we’d still meet every week AND have the additional online opportunities.

    Another reason everyone is glad I don’t run the world.

    But my goal with these courses is to create a policy learning experience that transfers as much as possible, and as seamlessly as possible, to social work practice, and I do believe that the inclusion of the online components increases that likelihood.

    Because the real world, after all, is increasingly online.

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  • One response to “Teaching virtually, not virtually teaching

    1. Pingback: Best Tweets in Mental Health (10/24/2011) - SocialWork.Career

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