How Does That Even Work?
When I first began teaching online in 2005, online learning was not nearly as ubiquitous as it is today. Friends and family often were curious about my job and would ask me, "How does that even work?" They sometimes equated college teaching with lecturing, so they wanted to know how I delivered my lectures. Did I record them and post video? (I didn't, but later started making short 3-5 minute videos for my classes.)
My instinct when I got these questions was to defend online classes by explaining that there were ways to accomplish all the different components of a face-to-face course online. We could post content, give quizzes, conduct discussions, and collect assignments. We could even set students up to work in groups.
In 2018, I rarely get the "How does that work?" question. Most people have either taken on online class or know someone who has. As a thought experiment, though, I've been thinking about how I would answer someone now if they asked me to describe what online learning in a university context is all about. My focus would no longer be on defending the ability of an online class to do everything that a face-to-face class can do. Instead, I would want people to know how course designers and instructors work to bring learning into students' homes, workplaces, and anyplace they bring their devices. How they accommodate students with diverse needs and in widely ranging life situations. How they open opportunity to students for whom traditional courses are not an option.
Communication through technology is everywhere. We no longer need to explain how that works. What we do need to focus on is how we put it to work. As online learning continues to grow, we should not try to replicate the traditional classroom for its own sake. Instead, we have to dig deeper to ask what our students really need and how we can provide it for them.