Response to Jserpa’s “‘Online’ Isn’t a Magic Word”

In her 9 Sep. 2013 post, Jserpa says:

Certain traits/characteristics/methods . . . made my favorite teachers so good. I strongly believe successful online teaching ultimately uses the same principles even if altered for the online format. What say you?


I’ve hesitated to respond to the best teacher prompt, but I haven’t thought why.

I’ve had my favorite teachers, and I now know that they’re the ones who helped me realize that writing, English, and teaching would be my passion. The first was A. J. Alexander, my freshman comp teacher who helped me discover authentic writing. He helped me to grasp the connection between thinking and writing, to understand that writing is a tool for thinking, that writing is a means to know who I am by understanding how and what I think. He had the uncanny ability to separate the crap from the genuine in my own writing and taught me how to recognize the difference between the two.

The second was Barry Menikoff. I took every Lit course he taught, even when they weren’t required for my program. I never fully understood why. I think it’s because he seemed to be saying, in all his lectures and our class discussions, that Lit wasn’t about the authors and their works or his knowledge of them. It was about us, the students, and our experience of Lit, about how we repurposed (he didn’t use that word) it for our own constructs (he didn’t use that word either). He never set himself up as the last word and didn’t seem to be concerned about being popular with students. He just seemed to be genuinely interested in what we, his students, thought in our discussions and papers. His demeanor made us want to dig deeper into ourselves for words that meant something to us.

The third was a couple, Julie and Dick Alm. After my BA in English, I entered the Ed program for a certificate in secondary English. They were my English methods profs. (They were also a big reason why I later pursued grad degrees in the Ed dept.) They, too, listened. Very carefully. To their students. This made us think before speaking or writing, and as a result we took our own learning seriously. The gift they gave us was a simple one: teaching is about the students. Listen to them, and they’ll teach us how to help them.

This is a roundabout way of saying that, yes, I agree. The qualities of successful teaching probably remain constant across ongound and online platforms. I taught traditional F2F classes for many years before switching to online classes, and in both my approach has always been to “listen” to my students, to make them the true focus of my courses, to move them toward clearer thinking and  genuine voices. In online courses, listening is in the form of comments in forums and in papers. Through my comments on drafts, I try to convey that I’m there, listening. To underscore my focus on students, I’ve also begun to publish select papers in course journals and to tweet thoughtful discussion posts.

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2 Responses to Response to Jserpa’s “‘Online’ Isn’t a Magic Word”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Communication in online forum takes, especially asynchronous, takes on a completely different dynamic than face to face. I have found that delayed comment or response to a student’s work, no matter how insightful, is more likely lost due to the students having moved on to other work. So I have to work hard to stay on top of my students’ postings and making my own posts in a timely manner.

    • Anonymous says:

      True, but much depends on length of delay, subject matter, topic, and time frame. When students post 24/7, delays are inevitable, so the key is to incorporate delays into planning. Timing is probably more critical than length of delay. Thus. tasks should be scheduled with feedback needs in mind. Thanks for this thoughtful comment. -Jim S

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