If I were asked what I thought about online teaching two years ago, I would probably tell you a lot about the many known flaws in virtual teaching methods, including student engagement and community building challenges. Ask me now and my answer could not be more different. In the latest push to return to personal teaching, many instructors are adamant about the benefits of digital classrooms and look forward to continuing online teaching in the post-epidemic world. I am one of them.
I teach sociology at CUNY, the largest urban university in the United States, which serves a very diverse student body, mostly for first-generation college students. When the COVID-19 outbreak officially began in mid-March 2020, I, along with millions of trainers around the world, had to figure out how to transfer my private classes to a virtual platform. Many of us became aware of the early stages of “emergency distance learning” and had no choice but to invest, learn and experiment with technology through trial and error.
With incentives from the administration, we hurried to get the certification online and took the summer workshops offered extensively by our learning center and IT department. When we succeed, it often replaces personal learning in virtual situations, but brings together the best of both worlds: the interpersonal dynamics of face-to-face interactions with the original high-tech tools that have enhanced our online classrooms. If it is true that practice makes perfect, the farther we run our business the harder we craft our craft. In this part, I’ll tell you how it happened.
Deconstructing Online Teaching: Terms such as “virtual,” “remote,” or “online instruction” involve a cornocopia of instructional methods, including classes that teach, in whole or in part, online (e.g., hybrid) and hyflex. The latter means that a professor teaches two different groups of students at the same time – practically and personally – in what I call the “double dipping” method, which forces instructors to teach two courses but pays for only one. Despite its many methods, a major criticism of online learning is that it cannot replicate face-to-face interactions that are important to ensure a successful learning experience.