From Online Curmudgeon to Convert: Triumph Over the Classic Stages of Grief

Editor’s note: Don Greenlee, a longtime UC San Diego Extension instructor who has taught engineering courses through the years, spans the era of strictly classroom teaching to the current era of online instruction. Below, he ruminates on that transformation. His upcoming course, Systems Verification and Validation, part of the Systems Engineering certificate program, starts Oct. 6 and continues through Dec. 5.

By Don Greenlee

I’ve had the pleasure of teaching within UC San Diego Extension since Fall Quarter of 1999. During that time, I’ve enjoyed the experience greatly, often feeling somewhat guilty because I was learning more than my students.

Instructor Don Greenlee: "I resisted. I pouted.  I sulked."

Instructor Don Greenlee: “I resisted. I pouted. I sulked.”

A highly rewarding aspect of this experience has been the interaction with students in the classroom environment.

That’s where  every smile, frown, roll of the eyes or shake of the head – vertical or horizontal – and every question, answer, complaint, compliment or emotional reaction provided a grateful me with visible and instant student feedback.

Originally offered on the UC San Diego campus, then off-campus, and then at local industry locations – General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Cubic, Raytheon, ViaSat, even the marine base at Camp Pendleton – my courses had a constant feature: a stand-up performance before a live audience.

Then, much to my surprise, online instruction happened.

When informed that my course would need to be transformed into a web-compatible format to accommodate distant learners, I resisted. I pouted. I sulked.

How could the magnificent classroom experience possibly be captured and rendered via the Internet? Pavarotti offering Nessum Dorma on YouTube? Actually, yes.

And thanks to the kind and patient urging and technical support of my colleagues at UC San Diego Extension, the transformation was accomplished.

Prior to the initial offering, I was concerned that important elements of the course which I had been able to emphasize during the live classroom environment would be missed by students present merely electronically.

How would I — or more importantly, they – know that a significant point had been missed?

Having once taught a course on “Advanced Statistics for Scientists” at the Johns Hopkins University Graduate School, I decided to try an experiment: For the initial online offering, I would use exactly the same assignments, team project, midterm quiz, and final exam as in the previous classroom sessions.

To my relief, the resulting products and grades were quite similar, both substantively and statistically. Clearly, the effectiveness of both teaching and learning were equivalent between the two environments.

The blow to my ego was severe, but I’m slowly working through the classic stages of grief.

The quality of instruction matter thus satisfactorily resolved, the benefits of online outreach became evident, including the obvious capability of global contact.

Successful students have since accessed my course from an office in Germany, a shipyard in Canada – even a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, which happened to come under fire while one of my students was working on his final report.

Let’s add “instructor safety” to the many appealing features of online education.

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