Unanticipated Outcomes of Online Learning

[This post is part of a series from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, The Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University on the online learning experience.]

online teachingby Dr. Jeffrey Glanz

I have been teaching for over 40 years, the last twenty in higher education at the graduate level. Teaching, for me, is the most gratifying part of my work because I have the opportunity to facilitate learning among students who, for the most part, enthusiastically desire to learn. I have worked hard over the years to refine my teaching skills in the areas of questioning, checking for understanding as well as to utilize a variety of instructional strategies to enhance student learning. Until this school year, I always taught face-to-face in a traditional classroom setting.

But this past year I had the opportunity at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School to teach online, asynchronously, for the most part. I volunteered for this experience, although admittedly feeling trepidation and uneasiness. My experience has been made much easier through the guidance of a supportive teacher, Dr. Judy Cahn, Director of eLearning and Distance Education. Her tutelage and encouragement were important factors in my successful transition to the word of eLearning. Hence, this is my first recommendation for neophytes interested in teaching online: secure a competent mentor and follow her lead.

That mentorship builds a foundation to make online teaching effective both for students and the teacher. My experiences with online teaching over the past year made me feel more connected to my students than I ever did in face-to-face instructional settings; certainly this was a most unanticipated outcome. When teaching traditionally it is possible to allow a class to pass without engaging every student in discussion or questioning. It is possible for students, in the traditional settings, to sit and listen without participating in some or even most class meetings. The nature of teaching online, by contrast, compels one to engage all students in every class session. This may occur by requiring every student to comment several times in Discussion Forums, or to submit a thought paper after each class session, etc. As one of my students so astutely put it, “Professor Glanz, there’s no place to hide online.” Because I require 100% participation e.g., in Discussion Forums, I get to know my students much better than I did in face-two-face meetings in which student interactions were much less frequent.

Another unanticipated benefit to online teaching is my desire, for some reason (perhaps due to the asynchronous format of the course), to encourage group collaboration. I use googledocs to encourage group work on various projects that require that they create, for instance, a case study on a given subject. Students collaborate to write the case by editing their classmates’ work, critiquing each other and refining their case study. As they work, I have the ability (and frequently do so) to oversee their progress offering my own comments and reactions to their work in the document. Although I have utilized group work in face-to-face classes as well, I find that given the nature of the online format it is much easier to implement on a more consistent basis.

While all has not proceeded smoothly, given the natural learning curve one experiences delving into any new enterprise, for the most part I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching online because it has allowed me to interact with my students much more frequently, over time, than I did in the traditional settings. This has prompted me to encourage greater active learning through more use of collaborative project-based experiences. The substantive interactions with each other and with course content are significant benefits for both teachers and students, demonstrating the value of the online learning experience.

Dr. Jeffrey Glanz is the Silverstein Chair in Professional Ethics & Values and the Director of the Master’s Program for the Azrieli Graduate School at Yeshiva University.