Jump, But Don't Run

By B. Jean Mandernach

January 12, 2017

Jump-Start Your Online Classroom: Mastering Five Challenges in Five Days (Stylus Publishing, 2017) is designed as a practical "how-to" guide for faculty venturing into online teaching for the first time. With this audience in mind, the book provides basic, concrete strategies to help novice online instructors become oriented with the virtual classroom and contemplate the challenges that they face.

The book is a guided orientation that outlines five key tasks that can, presumably, each be addressed in a day (an issue that I will return to later). Consistent with the research in online teaching, the authors, David S. Stein and Constance E. Wanstreet, identify the following essential tasks of a new online instructor:

One of the strengths of the book is an emphasis on the shift in mindset and philosophy required to teach online. Many faculty underestimate the philosophical shift required to transition from an instructional paradigm that emphasizes the faculty-student transfer of knowledge to a learning paradigm that highlights an instructor's role in eliciting students' discovery and construction of knowledge.

While an instructional paradigm may work in the face-to-face classroom (highlighting the word "may" as I don't actually endorse this assumption), the notion of simply transferring one's traditional classroom approach to the virtual environment is ineffective. Before even beginning to contemplate the specific pedagogical strategies necessary for quality online teaching, one must re-evaluate what it means to "teach."

The authors explicitly address the need for new online instructors to examine their philosophy of teaching and learning in a manner that prepares them to embrace the ubiquity and fluidity of online education. Equally valuable, the authors provide concrete suggestions on how to transition instructional strategies to maximize the benefits available via an asynchronous learning environment. While the content presented in the chapters is clearly beneficial; the "supplemental" content in the appendices is invaluable. The appendices are filled with examples and templates that instructors can customize to truly jump start their online teaching.

The value of this text lies in the practical, hands-on instructional tips and techniques. Not only do the authors provide clear guidelines, but they offer personal experiences and insight to assist faculty to implement the recommended strategies. The instructional guidelines are relevant, timely and supported by the academic research in this area. Simply put, if you don't know where to start, start with this text.

While Jump-Start Your Online Classroom is a good start for novice online instructors, it is not a comprehensive guide to online teaching. My primary concern lies with the goal of the book; as indicated by the authors, "this book and supporting materials are designed to equip you with the competencies needed to meet the challenges of teaching online in five days." While the premise of the book is laudable, it is equally unrealistic.

Following the author's recommendations, a reader would assume they would be prepared to teach online for the first time with a 20-hour time investment. While I agree that a 20-hour investment provides a foundation of essential knowledge, it fails to sufficiently prepare one to actually teach online for the first time. For example, "Chapter 5: Building Spaces and Places for Learning" outlines the development of online course content (learner-content interaction) and activities (learner-instructor and learner-learner interaction). While the authors suggest this task could be completed in four hours in a single day, research finds that online course development frequently requires 100-plus hours [1].

Similarly, the authors emphasize the importance of fostering instructor presence in the online classroom and offer technology suggestions to facilitate personalizing the instructor-student connection (such as Tegrity or Screencast-o-Matic). Not only would selecting, learning, and implementing a supplemental technology require far more than four hours for a novice instructor to master, but the authors fails to even mention the role of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance or other considerations that are essential if one is going to incorporate multimedia into the classroom. Suggesting a novice instructor could quickly and easily integrate instructional technology without addressing associated restrictions or requirements is troublesome.

Do these concerns discount the value of the suggestions provided? Certainly not. The instructional guidelines provide essential information in an easy-to-read fashion that would benefit anyone new to the online classroom. With both the concerns and strengths in mind, the real benefit of this book lies in its potential to be integrated as the foundation of a more comprehensive faculty development program. By slowing down and providing readers with time to reflect, analyze and apply the recommendations, there is much to be gained. So, by all means, jump-start your way into online teaching… but don't speed too much on your way to the virtual classroom.

References

[1] Freeman, L. A. Instructor time requirements to develop and teach online courses. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 18, 1, (2015).

About the Author

Innovative instruction can revolutionize student learning. Embracing this philosophy, Jean Mandernach blends her passion for teaching and research to explore the power of online education for transforming students, one asynchronous interaction at a time. She applies her background in psychology to explore the dynamic influence that instruction has on student learning, engagement and satisfaction. Further, recognizing the clash between the ubiquity of the online classroom and the human need for sleep, Jean researches practical pedagogical approaches to help faculty be simultaneously effective and efficient. Jean received her B.S. in comprehensive psychology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, an M.S. in experimental psychology from Western Illinois University and Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

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