6 Things I Learned Being an Online Prof

It’s been since March, the 18th to be exact, when our classrooms went dark, when tearful goodbyes were said (especially by seniors), when all of the faculty at Taylor University looked around at first with a sense of odd horror. Spring break had begun three days early, and that gave us about 12 days to pivot and move all our classes to an online format.

Since I live a half hour from campus and have good internet, I decided to teach from home. So I vacated as well, packing up files and books and planners. We still live in half a house, so I spent a day of spring break clearing out boxes that were stored on our upstairs landing and creating a desk space for myself. Getting physically organized helped me get emotionally and mentally organized.

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I have to say, by the time I posted final grades on May 26, I was exhausted. And I know I’m not alone. I know my fellow faculty and students were exhausted as well.

To all of you out there — students, parents, teachers — I salute you. This was weird, but we did it the best we could. I know it wasn’t easy; it was downright difficult.

Here are 6 things I learned about myself during this time:

1. I really do enjoy the classroom and interaction with my students — and this is a God-thing.

Ask me 15 years ago about where I’d be today, I never never never would have put myself at the front of a classroom talking for a career. I’m an introvert. I don’t talk in groups. I don’t like having attention on me. Yet here I am. God can work in mysterious ways.

2. Despite my insecurity, I can do tough things with lots of support and lots of prayer.

Even though I’ve taught online classes before, this was obviously a new challenge. Syllabi had already been carefully prepared, group projects planned, assignments set. The challenge was repurposing the rest of the semester to make sense to my students while still allowing for the learning outcomes I hoped to achieve. I started with the hoped-for outcomes and worked backward — determining how to revise assignments, changing group projects to individual ones, making the needed teaching videos, and creating benchmarks of smaller pieces to keep everyone on track in the larger assignments. Taylor worked hard to support us in every possible way, and this was an encouragement. Oh, and I prayed … a lot.

3. Sometimes difficulty forces improvement.

A few times my class adjustments showed me improvements that I want to carry into my regular classes. That’s a good thing.

4. I’m not very tech savvy, so I opted for K.I.S.S. and that was okay.

“Keep it simple, stupid” was my mantra. So many of my fellow faculty had great ideas and apps and programs they shared in our private Facebook group. After feeling overwhelmed and techno-phobic, I realized I just needed to do what I felt comfortable doing. I did have our Blackboard specialist help me learn how to record videos and share my screen so I could do some lectures. Zoom worked great, but I used it mostly for one-on-one advising appointments. The simpler, the better, which gave me a lot less stress. But at the same time …

5. I need to invest time in training to use the tools at my disposal.

Our university uses Blackboard and it’s a pretty powerful program, but I realized this spring that I’ve only scratched the surface. I struggled with grading columns and discussion boards. I’m sure I can make use of other features if I know about them. I intend to get some training this fall.

6. Nothing beats clear organization and expectations.

My students appreciated my daily checklists of assignments. Laying out each day’s work and clearly listing due dates in red helped them keep up (and, seriously, it helped me just as much). Adjusting expectations helped as well — some students had difficulty with internet reliability or broadband strength (especially if siblings were also doing school and/or parents were working); others struggled with a variety of home situations. As crazy as college life can be, there’s a schedule to everything that helps keep life on track. Judging by the fact that my students were turning in work on time (mostly) and seemed to understand what I wanted from them means I maybe did something right!

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Yes, it’s over, but who’s to say when something unexpected will hit us again? I hope I learned a few things to make the next transition easier.

Whatever you’ve been doing these last couple months, what have you learned about yourself?