When I started my work here at Bethel University, I stepped out of teaching in a 200-seat auditorium into the world of online learning. I had taught online classes before, but they were more of the “correspondence course” ilk. I had taught large numbers of students in a lecture hall where grading was based on mid-terms and finals. Bethel felt different. Bethel IS different.
I was immediately impressed with the format of the Bethel programs. The lectures and assignment formats kept it from feeling like a correspondence course. Students wanted to be connected to both their instructor and their cohort. The course materials were high quality, but I still wanted to put my own spin on the learning process.
I started researching technology that might allow me to do this without interfering in the structure that was already in place and comfortable to the students. I found Livescribe (www.livescribe.com). This is a device that allows the user to write with an electronic pen on specially designed paper while recording their voice. The writing and voice are synchronized into a “pencast” that can be viewed via the internet. It also creates a PDF of the writing so that students can print the notes. This is something that a video or audio recording alone cannot do.
I set about creating a short pencast for each unit. I highlight the areas that students need to focus on in order to do well in their assignments. Yes, I think it does help improve grades overall. More than this, however, I believe it gives students a chance to hear the voice and understand the thought processes of that person who sits behind the computer and determines their grade-related fate each week. It helps them realize that I am a human that is here to help through their cyber education for a few weeks.
Livescribe technology may not be appropriate for your class. Perhaps a short, weekly Google hangout or personal e-mails would be more appropriate. Whatever technology works for your discipline, I encourage you to show your students there is living, breathing person who facilitates their class. Show them that you care. Show them that you are not just a grading machine. Show them that you are a teacher.
Dr. Shea Slonaker is an Assistant Professor of economics in the College of Graduate Studies and College of Professional Studies at Bethel University. She works to remove the “fear factor” many students have when they begin an economics course. Her greatest joy is when students report that they have been able to use the concepts from her courses in their job.