“Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”
― John Dewey, Democracy and Education
Today I was taking an online quiz in a MOOC (a massive open online course) and although I knew the correct responses, the quiz was marking my responses wrong. After reviewing all the related lectures and the corresponding readings for a second time, I was really puzzled. I was now 100% confident that the responses were correct.
My next step was to review the Discussion Forums to see if anyone had a similar problem. Yes, I discovered a few students expressing their angst over the inaccurate grading of the quiz. You see, the question had not been framed correctly on the quiz and the students were indeed submitting a correct response. Now students were really frustrated with the fact that we could not contact the instructor personally. There is no option for emailing a private mail message or the staff managing the course. So students resort to the Discussion Forums pleading for assistance with a problem such as the situation I had encountered.
Consider for a moment, as a teacher in the traditional classroom, would you simply walk into the classroom and introduce a topic with a brief 10 minute talk, then post a question on the board. After which you would then just walk away from the classroom. Never! Then why is it that so many online instructors believe it is okay to disappear from the virtual classroom? In the case of several Coursera MOOCs, the instructor does not engage in any discussion or one-to-one communication. When there is a situation that requires the teacher to decide the answer, we may need to wait several days or even a week. In the case of the quiz situation I shared above, the answer did not come until well into week 2. Unfortunately, the same thing happened with the Week 2 Quiz . . . which could have been avoided if the instructor had been aware of the situation with Week 1 Quiz.
There is a clear absence of the teacher from the active conversation of the course. I have been in several Coursera.com MOOCs and each seems to have the policy that the instructor posts the weekly lesson, a few recorded lectures, and posts a question in the discussion board (occasionally). In the case of one course, the weekly lesson related board is simply a one sentence . . . "Discuss your questions regarding this week's lesson here."
Teacher presence stresses that the teacher is not only responsible for the design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes, but ensuring the students are comprehending the subject matter and progressing at an acceptable rate. My experience has shown that students prefer to have an exchange with the teacher rather than having to communicate through a staff member.
The teacher should be posting probing questions that require critical thinking rather than a generic discuss here mandate. Without this involvement, the discussion posts are equally generic. The majority of comments are "I agree" and "Thank you for your response" type messages.
Teacher presence requires the active engagement of the instructor as a role model and in order to measure the "pulse" of the class. Whereas, I understand that instructors cannot manage receiving 10,000 to 18,000 personal emails, but why can they not review the discussion posts. I have been active on the boards and I typically review all new posts once a day. It does not require more than an hour to comment on each of the discussion threads.
I teach several online and hybrid courses at the University of Utah. The focus of this blog will be reflections on best practices in eLearning. Catch up on all the latest news with today's TechTeach Alerts (a paper that is updated daily).
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