Online teaching is not face-to-face teaching. It provides a different, not always superior and not always inferior, experience for teachers and learners. The sooner faculty, staff, and administration come to this opinion, the better off students will be.
In a December 11, 2015 article in Chronicle Vitae titled “Online teaching, it turns out, isn’t impersonal”, Gregory Semenza, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut, weighs in on “the basic assumption that online teaching is intrinsically, and irredeemably, more impersonal than the face-to-face version.”
He does a good job of describing one situation — his! — in which that was not the case. He is not arguing that it is always the case that online is more personal than face-to-face, but he is arguing that it is possible for an online course to provide a credibly personal experience.
Online teaching can be personal
This has been my experience as well. Some students, and possibly many students, perform well, learn well, and make meaningful connections within an online course. Of course, a similar statement can be made about face-to-face courses. Faculty need to accept this reality and integrate it into their thinking. Perfectly acceptable fully online (or blended; or face-to-face) courses and degree programs can be created and provide a satisfactory experience for a faculty member or student in the right circumstances. Prof. Semenza makes this point quite clearly:
Online courses will fail under the same scenarios in which regular courses fail — when instructors are lazy or unfairly compensated, when class sizes are too large, when instructional resources are too sparse. These courses won’t fail because there’s something intrinsically wrong with them, and certainly not because they’re too impersonal. [Bold face is my own.]
What to do
If you haven’t taught an online class, do so...with the help of a faculty member who has taught online before and with an instructional designer who can help you through the process of creating a class that will succeed online. If you have, then speak up and share your experiences with other faculty members and your dean as a way of improving online learning for everyone.
If you’re interested in discussing online learning, you can schedule a consultation with me, Dr. Scott Moore, below: