Growing as an Online Instructor

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By Tyler Isbell

Lou Holtz is the only coach in NCAA history to lead six different football programs to bowl games. Of these programs, the most memorable is Notre Dame. Including a win at the 1988 National Championship, Coach Holtz led the Fighting Irish to bowl games for nine consecutive years and finished eleven seasons with a 100-30-2 record.

Although his performance at Notre Dame serves as the crown jewel of his coaching career, it also serves as one of his biggest regrets.  In a commencement speech to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Holtz shared this from his time at Notre Dame:

We took a program on the bottom and we took it to the very top… We put it on top and we maintained it.  That’s the thing I regret the most.  See, there’s a rule in life that says you’re either growing or you’re dying.  The tree’s either growing or it’s dying.  So’s grass. So’s a marriage. So’s a business.  So’s a person.   Doesn’t have a thing to do with age.  My birthday candles cost more than the cake.  It has everything to do with trying to get better (Inspire Bingle, 2017).

Holtz admits that he became complacent with where he was as a coach and where his players were as a team.  He believed that they had arrived and simply needed to maintain their success: no risks, no improvements, no drive, and no growth.  It would only be a short period of time before their success quickly passed away.

Regardless of your level of experience, past success, or confidence in teaching off or online, it is important to remember that no one has arrived.  The rule in life that applies to trees, grass, and football also applies to planning, designing, and teaching online. For those that seem to have it all together, this might be a disappointment.  For most everyone else (including me), this is an encouragement that trying new things and making mistakes is only a part of the growing process to becoming a better instructor.

Today’s  ‘Small Teaching Online’  Tip: “Cultivate Your Online Teaching Practice.” 

Gardens rarely sprout and prosper without cultivation. The same is true when it comes to your online (and offline) teaching abilities.  It’s essential to “find ways of impassioning yourself so that you don’t become stale in your online classes” (Darby & Lang, 2019).  Strive to care for and work on your online courses with the same dedication you have for your in-person classes – we want ALL of our students to learn, earn a degree, and successfully begin a career, regardless of modality or location.  In other words, making time to grow is also making time for your students to grow. These small strategies are great ways to foster positive change in your practice:

  • Take an online course – All teachers were once students, and their personal experience often shapes how they approach instruction. Taking an online class, whether it is for credit or for a personal interest, is an excellent way to see what works (or what doesn’t work) in the online classroom. Being an online learner will help you build empathy for your own online students.
  • Look for and ask for exemplars – Examples can inspire you or model strategies that work for other instructors and students.
  • Start small, but continue to try new things – Build confidence and mastery by trying something new each week or term. Incremental growth is still growth and will help you avoid burn out.
  • Seek quality certification for your online course design and teaching – OLET offers in-house training and workshops geared towards best teaching practices and course design. Sign up here.
    • In-person Trainings, such as our upcoming Canvas trainings and instructional video trainings.
    • Online Faculty Training (OFT):  This four week completely online training course allows you to study and exercise best practices as you create your own course.
    • Course Design for Today’s Student: A three day workshop that investigates student needs and how an efficient and effective online course can be developed. Individual feedback and support is provided to participants after the workshop until an actual course is completed.

References 

Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San   Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Inspire Bingle. (2017, September 15). Lou Holtz – Silver spoon motivational speech | University of Steubenville [Video file].  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfoQBmNW_JQ

Tyler Isbell is an OLET Instructional Designer & Trainer

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