I just had a "water cooler conversation" with a colleague who was expressing her fear and hesitancy about participating in her first experience in an online class. She is a graduate student in a teacher education program and has had all of her classes so far in a face to face setting. The class is beginning their first group project and must conduct the entire experience in WebCT. She was particularly worried that the potential pitfalls of group work would be exacerbated by being conducted in an online setting.
I love teaching and learning online so I shared my experiences in online classrooms as both a student and a teacher with her. Particularly, I suggested that she set aside a small amount of time each day (its a four day project) to dedicate to "talking" to her group. The first day she might even want to take some extra time to get a feel for the online classroom and how it would work; how to post a message to her group mates and how to respond to a message. I explained the ways that asynchronous discussion can be different from synchronous discussion in a physical classroom, especially the way individuals' establish their presence or voice in an online environment. And I shared with her my experience that students (and teachers) online often feel much more comfortable participating in an online environment because the little bit of anonymity that online interactions lend that has a way of encouraging participation from students who are uncomfortable with participation in a face to face discussion. Finally, I said that I hoped she would begin to get a sense of what works and what doesn't work, what she likes and doesn't like, about online learning because that can be invaluable in the process of discovering how to teach effectively online.
It was a great conversation that both of us left feeling good about. She because she began to see the potential for enjoying working, learning, and teaching in online environments and me because I was able to share my good experiences and make her feel more comfortable.
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