In my last post I talked about the importance of grouping material into modules. It helps organize your class and students can more easily navigate where they are in the course. If you go by weeks only, it can seem to a student that it's endless and they might not see the cohesion you have planned.
After setting up the modules and goals for those units and the course as a whole, you need to think about different "presences." Today we will talk about Instructor presence. How do you, yourself, connect with students In an asynchronous course when you are not "live?" Since you will not be requiring all of your students log onto their computers to gaze at you in a box, you have to find other means to engage with your students and to be present with them. The good news is that you can.
Yesterday I was talking to a student who had one of my classes in the fall and is in another one this coming spring. I told him I'd teach it the same way, asynchronously. He tilted his head back and said, "Thank GOD! I wish other faculty would stop making us Zoom!" So take that for the anecdote that it is.
In any case, I plan to make my presence known in several ways. After deciding on the content of the module, I will figure out what is lacking or what ideas or images are particularly difficult, thorny, or if there just isn't enough information out there to fully cover the artist. Unfortunately, I am finding that is the case with many African-American artists from the nineteenth century (like, no smarthistory.orgentry on Edmonia Lewis!? Come on, now!). Thus, I plan to make a narrated PowerPoint presentation on some artists for whom I have not found enough material to cover completely. But most of the content IS found on smarthistory.org and other educational sites. There is a lot of content out there, for free, if you take the time to search for it.
I will also record videos of myself introducing the course and each module. I also end each module with a wrap up, but do not record those until I see what comments students make as the class begins and rolls. These videos are a way to get your personality across and connect with your students.
But perhaps the best way to connect with your students is through the learning journals. I find that this is one of the most important elements to an asynchronous class, especially at the undergraduate level. This is a space where students reflect on their learning, ask questions, or just comment in general on how their experience in the class is going. Last semester I had many students on my evaluations (yes, I know, I still read mine) talk about this feature as very important to feeling connected to the class and to me. I offer a few prompts, but usually I want students to set the tone and the topic. I want them to feel free to write anything - and I mean anything. It can be content; it can be personal. And I answer every single entry. Every. Single. One. It's a lot of work, but since my classes are completely ready to go on Day 1, I don't have to "prepare" for each day the way I would for a more traditional face to face class. My time is taken up with responding to these learning journal entries. I learn so much about my students in this format; it's so important! If you have not tried this element of an online class, I urge you to do so, but you must make the commitment to write back to the students. Otherwise, your presence will not be felt.
Next time we will talk about how to create a community presence among students through discussion boards and how to make them work and function well.