THE WAIL OF THE ONLINE COURSE
Elizabeth Falconer, Renton Technical College
Taking part in an online course - whether as a student or teacher – is like suddenly being asked to take care of someone else’s three-year old. A very rambunctious three-year-old. And even though it may have seemed easy enough when you agreed, it demands far more attention that you could ever have imagined. All day long, as you attempt to carry on with the rest of your life it interrupts what you are doing and tosses toys at you and needs to be fed. It may play quietly for a few minutes, but only temporarily. As soon as you try to put it down for a nap, it starts wailing uncontrollably. And at night, when you have checked in on it for what you swear will be the last time and are quietly tip-toeing away so that you can have a few moments to yourself before you too must get some sleep, it jumps up again and asks for a glass of water. Or says it has to go to the bathroom. Or follows you to wherever you are and just stands there staring at you.
You took the “babysitting” test for online learning/teaching and easily passed: Yes I am self-motivated, Yes I like to communicate in written form, Yes I can organize my schedule, Yes I can meet deadlines. But what you realize as the course progresses is that they meant all those things CONTINUOUSLY and NOW. Of course you like to write, but not when everyone else has already said what you wanted to say in the discussion forum. Of course you can meet deadlines, but not when they are so relentlessly continuing to come into your inbox so that you hardly have time to check your other email. If you are the teacher it’s worse; even if you spend countless hours setting up a course up so that you only have to check in once a day, the unforeseen questions and little fixes you must make come fast and furious. You were SO wrong about that.
You knew you’d need to allow “space” in your schedule – but how can anyone allow this much space in their schedule? If you are already parenting, this three-year-old is added on top of everything else, and doesn’t play well with your own kids. If you are done parenting, you remember how much energy it took, and wonder if you have what it takes. And if you’re not a parent yet…take this as an example of what it feels like.
You must give in and give yourself over to this demanding three-year-old. You must abandon the rest of your life, sit down on the floor with the blocks and the grimy toys and engage with that kid who is driving you crazy. You must suspend all judgment on whether you want the kid in your life or not and just resign yourself to the diapers and feedings and unreasonable demands. You must extinguish all thoughts of despair and give yourself to whatever it takes to please this time-consuming toddler that has inserted itself into your life. There is no other way to succeed.
It is not until you have finally given up half of the rest of your life; goodbye relaxed meals, extended phone calls, Facebook and any and all superfluous semi-or-actual online addictions, that the course comes into focus. You start to respond to posts and in your response realize that you have offered something worthwhile. A light goes one when you are plodding through a reading, and an important connection is made in someone else’s comment. You watch a video made by someone like you and feel deeply inspired. You struggle with the glitches in the system and doing the assignments and in doing so become increasingly more computer-literate; finding workarounds, discovering amazing sites, piecing together new ideas and information from the blossoms of knowledge that your fingertips and keyboard bring to you.
Slowly, you realize it’s worth it. It’s worth the late-night feedings, the messy email inbox, and the constant demands for attention. It’s worth giving up parts of your life you thought you couldn’t give up. You start to make it work; being part of an online course. You strap that kid into a car seat, put it in a baby pack on your back, and take it everywhere. You sit down and play with it every day. You actually start to brag about it; how interesting and fun it is, and your friends frown in bewilderment and stare at you hard because two weeks ago you were a shamble in tears.
Hold on to your binkie. You have now become an active member of the messy, edgy, furiously fast, extremely exacerbating, being-made-as-you-watch, overwhelmingly global world of online education.
Liz Falconer is Curriculum and Technology Specialist at Renton Technical College and is currently in a love-hate relationship with the internet. Her blog can be found at http://falconercloud.blogspot.com