by Kimberly Voss, University of Central Florida
Many universities now have a wide variety of classes offered fully online. It can be a challenge but also a method that can be helpful for students. I have been lucky that most of my students are prepared for virtual learning. They are usually from Florida, and they are required to take fully online classes in high schools.
I have taught an online History of American Journalism class three times a year – fall, spring and summer – for about the last decade. I have about 120 students in each class – a mix of majors, minors and students outside of communication.
For the past few semesters, I have used Rodger Streitmatter’s books (Mightier Than the Sword and A Force for Good). I use weekly modules that include textbook readings, videos and some journal articles. This semester I am adding podcasts from Journalism History.
My assessments are a mix of quizzes and exams plus low stakes crosswords and word searches that double as study aids. I use rubrics for discussion posts. This is especially helpful in the occasional semester when I have a graduate teaching assistant. I am adding a presentation through FlipGrid, which can be used in Webcourses – our online learning system. (My third-grade son also used FlipGrid for his online classes last semester without any training, so it is very user friendly.)
Some overall thoughts about teaching focus:
- Try to create personality – for yourself and for your students. I ask that students include photos. If they are uncomfortable with using their own photos, I ask them to use a photo of their pet or a favorite animal. (Last semester there were more cats than dogs, and sloths were a big hit.)
- When possible, tie history to current events. Many of my students are not journalism students who read the news, so I am sure to include links from a variety of sources – and explain why I use CBS News and the New York Times, for example.
- Have a variety of ways to interact. Each module features word searches and timelines about the topics. These are low risk – for a few points but helpful for studying. I strive for a mix of high and low point assignments.
Some final advice:
- Give examples and then model the email etiquette you expect. I often remind students that this is the only way I will know them, so email communication is especially important. Tone, of course, can be tricky. I use emojis to compensate for the lack of body language – a smiley face, thumbs up, etc.
- Get training and look for professional development – it is often free. The technology is continuously evolving. Look for opportunities to learn more.
- Look for engagement moments. One of my favorite final assignments is getting feedback about which readings they found most interesting and the readings that made the least impact – and why. I have office hours by Zoom by appointment.
- Define cheating and consequences. My university has been great about creating policies for online academic integrity, and I would be happy to share them.