Participating in an asynchronous class online can be an isolating experience. At times it feels like you are the only person in a sea of online boards and assignments. Google quickly becomes a best friend. I constantly ask Google questions I might normally ask a fellow student or even a professor. Not sure what something means? Ask Google. Need an example? Google can find it. Without that in person connection, online classes can quickly disintegrate into an endless progression of assignments, commented on and graded by anonymous, random people.
Many online learners take online classes because they are a better fit into already busy, stressful lives. Families, jobs, and even health issues impact both our ability and our willingness to participate in these classes. I found this out first-hand this semester. I sent my youngest child off to college one thousand miles away. I am now officially an empty-nester. My house is empty but for the dog and me and for the first time in 49 years, I have nowhere to hide. I find myself ambivalent about my teaching job, my online classes and everything in between. I have a huge fundraiser that I need to start working on and haven’t been able to find the energy to focus on it. My first scheduled observation is on Thursday, and I have no idea what I want to do. As I come to terms with my new reality, I find myself working through the grief process. Just as I was starting to adjust, Hurricane Matthew hit Savannah. After five days of watching carefully and trying to help from New York (I’m pretty sure she has enough water and non-perishable food items to last her through June!), the college evacuated and closed and my daughter came home. We had a wonderful week, but it too came to an end, and I put her on a plane back to Savannah yesterday. And because they missed two weeks of school, she will not be coming home for Thanksgiving. Hello, grief process. Back to square one.
Our last assignment was to create a consensus for Netiquette rules for our classrooms and share them with the rest of the class. We were instructed to build that consensus through some type of online discussion. Our group initially started talking through the assignment board on Moodle, but I found that pretty tedious. I set up a Google Hangout and invited everyone to participate. This is where some of our discussions took place. One group member created a Google slide presentation and filled in the topics. As we worked through the presentation, adding and changing information, I found it easiest to message people directly through the messaging app in Slides. We could talk as we worked, sharing thoughts and ideas. I have used this before, and while I really like it, I find it frustrating that the messages are not saved anywhere so I can’t go back and find who said what and when. In Hangouts, I can scroll back through the conversation, but directly in the app, it disappears when the app is closed. I even Googled to see if I was missing something, but sadly, I was correct.
In the end, our presentation turned out very well, but if the goal of the assignment was our facilitation of an online discussion tool, I am not sure that we were very successful. And I am not sure that it didn’t have more to do with our lives and personalities impacting our discussion more than the tool we chose. I tend to want to collaborate and discuss more than what we did. My roots as a special education teacher are showing, as this makes up a huge part of my job. It was hard to get any real consensus on what the rules should be, and sometimes I felt like I wasn’t being heard. That being said, I did enjoy the communication and the personal contact. It made the class a little more real and lessened that sense of isolation. So maybe we were successful after all.