By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Someone seems to have turned up the speed on the merry-go-round.
If you are a subscriber to the counselorssoapbox blog or a regular reader, you probably noticed that I missed posting my regular Monday mental health posts for the last few weeks. I have been posting pretty regularly on Mondays ever since 2012. But with all the changes over the last year and having produced more than 1800 posts, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to come up with new topics every Monday. If you have questions you’d like to pose, please send them to me, and I’ll try to work that into future posts.
Now seems like a good time to tell you about some of the changes I’ve been through over the last year. Some of these changes, I think, are predictors of what life will be like in the future. My future anyway.
Moving my classes online has been a challenge.
I typically teach 2 to 3 classes per semester. A little over a year ago, when Covid was raging, and any solution to the pandemic seemed far off in the distance, the safest thing to do, particularly for somebody my age, was to hunker down and avoid going out where you might be exposed to the virus.
Just for the record, I think of myself as a relatively young 73-year-old. While I am now fully vaccinated, I am still being cautious. If you’re wondering, I took the two-dose Moderna vaccine. The only side effect I experienced was a minor muscle soreness at the injection site. I usually get the flu shot every year, and the Covid vaccine was not much worse than my annual flu shot.
So, what’s different about teaching online?
Some of my students did exceptionally well in the online format, and others did not. If you’re internally motivated, online education has a lot of advantages. Online education varies considerably. Since I teach for two different colleges, I experienced at least four different ways of doing online education. To further complicate this picture while converting my own classes to an online format, I was busily taking several courses in how to teach online.
Synchronous versus asynchronous classes.
One of the classes I taught was synchronous. Every Monday night, I met online with a group of graduate students, and I ran through my PowerPoints and delivered my lecture via Zoom. The students were asked to read the chapter in the textbook before that night’s class session. After I was done, there was plenty of time for students to ask questions, and occasionally, we even had a lively discussion.
Two of the classes I taught at the City College were set up as asynchronous. Each week’s work began at 12:01 Monday morning and was available to students until midnight Sunday night. Just as in the regular classroom, the students had a section in the textbook to read each week. I also used a weekly discussion question to see if students were participating. Students frequently got into lively discussions with each other about the weekly discussion question. Answering the discussion question counted as attendance in class. If you didn’t comment on the question, you are absent that week.
Students in the asynchronous class also had a brief quiz each week. The material on the quiz or similar questions reappeared on both the midterm and the final. I hoped that if I tested a student often enough, they would retain the material even after the class was over. Quizzes and tests had time limits though most students didn’t require the full allotted time. Initially, I had some worries about students googling or checking the textbook for answers to the questions. But I quickly realized in the time they had to do it; they couldn’t be doing much looking for answers.
How did the students do when learning online?
When we got to the end of the classes, both the synchronous and the asynchronous, the grade distribution was pretty much the same thing I had seen in my regular in-person courses. Students who read the book, answered the discussion questions, and submitted the required paperwork, received relatively good grades. Just as when we were in the classroom. Students who failed to participate during several weeks, did not do the assigned quizzes and discussion questions, or did not turn in the required term paper, receives substantially lower grades.
What was the biggest challenge I experienced in teaching online?
The largest challenge both for students and me was technology. Between taking online classes and teaching online at two different colleges, I had to learn many different technologies.
Just a short list of the new technologies I had to learn. I’ve used Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Canvas companion, and Zoom. Each one had a learning curve, and switching from one system to another in the same week sometimes gets confusing. But if an old guy like me can figure it out, I think college students and high school students should be able to.
What have I learned about online classes?
My conclusion about online classes is that if the students are motivated to learn the material online learning can be every bit as beneficial as in-class sessions. Some students need in-person or individual encouragement, which is easier to do when you see them each week in class. If someone is taking an online class and needs help, they should reach out to their instructor and let them know they’re having difficulty. Of course, having reliable access to technology platforms and the Internet is essential. I also think both teachers and students need more help in learning the platform they’re going to use before they launch into remote education.
Is online education a second-class method?
Not at all. I think I learned just as much, possibly more, in the online classes I took as I used to learn using in-class education. I found it very convenient to teach online, and many of my students reported that it worked better for them than having to drive to and from campus. I can see from the logins that some students worked on their assignments during the day, some worked late into the night, and some students primarily completed their assignments on the weekend. The flexibility in learning when you have the time and for me in grading assignments when I had the time was very beneficial.
Like all the other technological advances, I think it will take some time for this to be absorbed into our culture. It was a real challenge for me to learn to use a cell phone and then learn to receive and send texts. But now that I know how to do all those things, I’m not sure how we ever got by without them. I firmly believe that we will see a time in the future when online–distance learning is just as common, maybe even more common, than in-class learning.
Were the main changes in my life over the last year moving into the field of online education?
Don’t I wish? Just as the pandemic impacted education, it has also had an immense effect on the counseling field. Over the last year, I’ve been doing online or distance counseling and doing group clinical supervision remotely. Because of not being physically present, I’ve also learned to pre-record material and create videos. If you’d like to look at the videos I’ve produced so far, please check out Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel.
The frantic pace of the last year has also significantly influenced my writing. I’ve had less time for writing blog posts, and the two books I was working on have not made it to completion at this point. I’ve been seriously rethinking what I want to write, given the limited time I have and the messages or themes that I want to write about.
In future posts, I’ll talk to you a little more about all these other changes.
Please feel free to leave comments about this blog post and about how this last year living in a time of Covid has affected you. You can either use the comment box or send me a personal message using the contact me form.
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