Tag Archives: online

The Blessed Curse of Email

I love the convenience and speed of email when it’s used for good.

I friggin’ hate the ease and speed of email when it’s used for evil.

In the former category, I include my ability to get in touch with students, friends, and family spread across continents and times zones at the blink of an eye. I include my ability to have documented conversations, should I need them, to refer back to for reference later. And I definitely include my love of the ability to search by keyword in my inbox, as this girl’s memory sure ain’t what it used to be (plus I just get a ton of email on a daily basis).

In the latter, I include all forms of SPAM (insert Death to SPAM chant here), and anytime Email curseanyone has pushed the send button without thinking things through fully. Personally or professionally.  Sometimes, there really ought to be a waiting period for sending email, just like there is for gun purchases.

And, oh, the ease with which anyone can reach anyone else! Remember in pre-Internet days, when you actually had to figure out who to direct a letter to? Take the time and energy to research who to complain to by calling the company? And when you mailed a letter, you could only reach as many people as you took the time to address envelopes to?

About ten years ago, I had an online graduate student who I’d never met in person, never seen a picture or demographic information of, and whose name was something very generic –  like Bob Smith (not his real name). (The key elements to this story are italicized for dramatic effect).

The only thing I did know about him was what he chose to share in his biographical post – he was an executive getting his masters in Instructional Design. Fair enough. He also was falling behind and reached out to me for some advice on how to best to get caught up in my course. After looking at the various assignments he was missing, what was still available to complete  and what had passed and was no longer available to him in the time remaining, I shared one of my favorite sayings, “deal with the closest alligatoralligator to the boat” – meaning whatever assignment was about to be late next, do it…the others had already gone by. Three weeks later, when the alligators were completely full and resting on the river bank and he got a C instead of an A, I got a call from my program director. Bob had emailed the Provost. Directly. Without talking to anyone else. And in his email, he’d implied my comment was racist and he was being unfairly targeted – which was why he had a C. The provost, of course, was like WTF? to my program director who was like WTF? to me.

Racist? To what? Alligators? I had no idea what race Bob was!

The issue went away very quickly once the course interactions, assignments, and due dates were open to inspection. I document well, and I provide a lot of feedback – and all communication is through the LMS system – it was a silly grasping at straws to get out of a poor grade. However the experience has stuck with me. The ease with which this student completely jumped the appropriate channels for making that kind of complaint. The email address of the Provost, like a sitting duck, for anyone to email. That accusations, once out there, even in digital print, have the potential to stain, even though it may only live in the realm of Colbert’s truthiness instead of the actual truth,  It invites the crazy.

Now I am in administration – somewhat on the other side of the desk. Yesterday I walked an instructor through a situation dealing with a student who’d plagiarized. The student, of course, emailed their complaint of “unfair treatment” right to me and the VP of Instruction instead of working with the instructor. Everything old is new again.

I’m heading to a conference for a few days…it means three days off email –  or at least monitoring it loosely from a distance. Would it be so bad if I just highlighted and marked it all as read when I get back? If it’s super important, you’ll just email me again, right?

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Finding the Right Road – Brick Yellow or Not

I’ve got a busy quarter going on, busier than my usual super busy.  I needed to refresh my time in the online teaching trenches. Too much time in the old administrator’s seat makes a gal forget what grading is like, I thought. (Quit laughing, I can hear you). I convinced the Computer Science department to let me take over an entry level course on Microsoft Office applications and proceeded to design the course in my style.No biggie! No sweat! Half of it is graded by Cengage! (Note to self: Exclamation points do not make it true!)

Holy crap.

Did you know redesigning a course from someone else’s style takes longer than if you just start from scratch? (Insert sarcastic eye roll).

Anyway, I managed to get the course together in time, in my style, and on January 6th we were off and running…on top of my overly full time jobby job (as Alyson Indrunas would say) as the elearning admin.

Holy double crap. You’d think I’d know better.

Flying MonkiesMoonlighting is hard – I don’t care if it is online. What the hell was I thinking?

For the first month of juggling my 50+ hour full time job and a new-to-me online course, I felt like Dorothy in Oz…there were flying monkies of chaos everywhere!

Flash forward a month or so, and I’ve kind of found my rythm on that brick road. Don’t get me wrong…I won’t do this  again for a long while, but it has been good for me to dust off my ruby teaching slippers (okay okay, I’ll stop now) and get back online with students.

In the past I’ve always taught composition, literature, or professional development classes online.  These were all heavy discussion-based classes and, naturally, building a strong community  was important to get the students talking both with each other and with me. Wanting to keep the community together, I’d always released modules (and their discussions) just one week ahead – so early bird students could get started on the assignments, but they couldn’t leave their discussion community behind.

This course, however, is more independent. It’s each student versus Microsoft Office 2013…a grudge match.  (Most students were winning the fight, btw, until the tag team of Excel and Access entered the ring…now it’s a toss up).

Because of the nature of the content and the sheer quantity of skills to be learned in ten short weeks, there is little time for discussion and no real time for group work. I decided to go against my usual style and I opened the entire course from the beginning.  There are due dates for each module, but there is nothing preventing students from working ahead…in fact I encouraged them to work ahead on stuff they knew, to give them more time to deal with the data brothers who I thought might give them a harder time…

My more Type A working style students have loved it – no one is holding them back.  My more Type B working style students are being pushed by regular deadlines to progress through the course in a timely manner.  For this content and these community college entry level students, this sort of differentiated pacing seems to be just about right.

As you may know I am participating in the Fedwiki Teaching Machine project – and while writing about SRA cards for that, I actually started thinking about my CS 110 class.  I loved SRA as a 4th grader (shout out to Mark Twain Elementary!) for exactly the same reasons my  students like the lack of closed modules in my online course– I didn’t like being slowed down to someone else’s timeline. I loved reading, and I liked the challenge in accumulating those little colored cards and moving to the next color! Other students needed the due date push — I didn’t. My teacher needed to accomodate all of us learners. With SRA we had flexibility. With other content, our community was more structured as the content and students dictated interactivity requirements.

We’ve changed a lot of things in education and ed tech, but in the end, the trick always has been about finding what works to get the content connected with the students, and the students with each other when needed.

And just like Dorothy, we’ve known what works all along.

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