Since I am advocating for teaching using technology, I would like to note that I have also studied extensively online using all sorts of technology. While it is not the same as integrating technology into traditional classroom-based lessons, I wanted to share these experiences with you anyway, mostly as proof that online learning is still real learning. My best experiences studying online have been with the University of Southern California and Udacity.
The MAT@USC program is the same Master of Arts in Teaching program offered on the University of Southern California’s campus in Los Angeles, California but can be completed entirely online. Some students choose to complete courses online even while attending classes on campus, or they spend a couple of terms on campus and then a couple online. It is really flexible and enables more students across the country and around the world to participate in their graduate program. I have done the entire program online, first from Wisconsin, then Beijing, and now Guangzhou. I am starting my final term this week and have the same back-to-school jitters I get every time I start new classes.
What I like about the platform USC uses, called 2SC, is that it is very interactive and I feel that my experience studying online is quite similar to the one I would have in a traditional classroom. In the virtual classroom, I see live videos of my professor and classmates, raise my hand to ask questions or volunteer answers, view PowerPoint presentations, deliver presentations of my own using PowerPoint or Prezi, and constantly use the chat box to respond to what others are saying. Since there is a lot of group work involved in most classes, we have to meet outside of class, usually virtually unless classmates live near one another, and there is a great sense of community among those of us that study online. There are also forums for many classes where we share our ideas on readings or classroom observations and, for the practicum course, I even need to upload videos of myself teaching in China for my classmates to view and critique. If you want to hear more about the MAT@USC program, you can read the reflections of one of my classmates, Sherrie Lee, here.
Although interaction is a great strength of the MAT@USC program, I had no interaction when completing my Udacity course as the lectures are prerecorded, rather than live, and I never participated in the forum discussions, but I still loved their approach. Udacity offers free classes online and I took one last year on computer programming, which I knew nothing about. What I liked best about Udacity’s approach was that the content was delivered in short, engaging YouTube videos with lots of mini-quizzes. Had I been required to attend long lectures, I feel I would have been lost, confused, and bored; however, the video delivery really appealed to me because it was in manageable chunks and, when I got stuck, I could always go back and review the materials. When talking about the Flipped Classroom approach in an earlier blog post, I envisioned something similar to Udacity for students to get the content outside of class, and then they can come to class with questions and participate in engaging communicative activities.
Learning online is still learning. Although it can be fun, it is not any easier than a traditional classroom approach and can still include features like group work, lectures, and discussions. While I doubt anyone is suddenly committed to going entirely online, I hope you’ll consider adding some of the virtual activities these platforms use to your classes, and, if you need some resources to get you started, read some earlier posts or wait to see what I have to share with you next time!