Online Equivalencies and the Potential to Inadvertently Offend or Cause Discomfort

Online Equivalencies and the Potential to Inadvertently Offend or Cause Discomfort

Jesse Strycker (Ohio University, USA) and Krisanna Machtmes (Ohio University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8286-1.ch020


This chapter considers how attempts to have online courses resemble face-to-face courses as closely as possible can backfire and cause discomfort or other concerns to some international students. A critical self-study approach was utilized to consider one instructor's experience of working with a greater number of international students in online and hybrid courses, and the changes to previously developed best practices to have as positive of a learning experience as possible for all students.
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As an educator who has been teaching online classes for a number of years at three different universities, the lead author has developed a number of best practices over time. The first university was a highest research institution in a Midwestern state, with a variety of international graduate students. The online teaching was as part of a technology licensure program that served both undergraduate and graduate students. The second university was a doctoral granting institution in a Southern state, but the program in which the online teaching took place only awarded masters degrees. The third university is a higher research institution in a Midwestern state, with a variety of international graduate students. The online teaching was for master level courses that are taken by both master and doctoral level students. Between the institutions the lead author’s end of course evaluations were consistently high and no concerns had been raised by the international students he had taught. As such, his reflective practices focused predominantly on continuing to refine and improve the course content, resources, and general course delivery.

Due to feelings of difference in the teaching and learning experience when teaching online, the lead author focused almost exclusively on trying to have each online class feel as much like a face-to-face course as possible. This was in part to help students have a better experience with the classes, but also to help the instructor feel more present in the classes as well. The most basic of steps included sharing a picture of himself at the start of class and the requirement that each student posted a picture of themselves. Later changes included the posting of podcasts and videocasts, both by students and the instructor. As student location and time zones would allow, synchronous online session would also be utilized.

In the last two years the lead author has had to reevaluate some of his approaches with a broader perspective. Teaching a larger international student population has led to a more frequent focus on cultural design consideration (these considerations are addressed later in this chapter). While always striving to be a reflective practitioner, these new experiences have resulted in some additional reflection on top of the lead author’s usual practice. The idea of teachers being reflective in education and teaching is not a new one. Early in the 20th century, Dewey noted that:

Practical work should be pursued primarily with reference to its reaction on the professional pupil, making him a thoughtful and alert student of education, rather than help him get immediate proficiency. For immediate skills may be got at the cost of the power to keep on growing (Dewey, 1904).

Zeichner and Liston (1987) posit three levels of reflection: technical, situational/institutional, and moral/ethical. The technical level considers the effectiveness of one’s teaching (i.e. Did the students meet set learning objectives?). The situational/institutional level considers the context of where the teaching takes place and its influence on how the teaching was carried out (i.e. What constraints or influences might the context bring into the equation in influencing instructional decisions?). The moral/ethical level considers factors of equity and justice (i.e. Has the teaching contributed to or diminished a just society?).

The timing of when a reflection is carried out can be a point of contention. While some models advise that reflection should take place after something has been attempted (e.g. Cruickshank, 1985) or over a longer period of time (e.g. Gore & Zeichner, 1991), it has been suggested that ideally a practitioner be able to reflect on their actions in the same time in which they are occurring (Schön, 1983, 1987). While some notes were kept by the lead author during the course of each semester, this reflection (in the form of a critical self-study) takes place both after the teaching took place and over a longer period of time. It has been suggested that there are only limited data available on self-reflection for online instructors in higher education (LaPrade, Gilpatrick, & Perkins, 2014). This chapter seeks to add to the knowledge base regarding online instructor practice(s).

Key Terms in this Chapter

End of Course Evaluation: Alternately referred to as a classroom climate assessment or student evaluation, this is the anonymous survey students can complete at the end of each semester to rate both the quality of the course and the instructor. The questions for this evaluation have been chosen by the administration of the college.

Hybrid Course: A course that does not meet entirely online or face-to-face. In the context of this chapter, a hybrid course is one that meets a minimum of one time to face-to-face with other meeting occurring online either asynchronously or synchronously.

Online Course: A course that meets entirely online either asynchronously or synchronously.

Synchronous Course: A course that is taught in real time. Instructors and students interact within a virtual environment on specified days and at certain times.

Cultural Design Considerations: The practice of taking into account the different cultural backgrounds and influences that different international students bring with them to a class and which shape their perceptions and inform their interactions.

Universal Design for Learning: Approach to designing instruction, environments, and/or materials that allow learners with different disabilities to be equally successful in working with and learning from them.

Asynchronous Course: A course that is not taught in real time and does not require students to be online at a specific time. Instead, assignments and activities are completed during specific ranges of days, consisting of a beginning and end dates.

Course Shell: The overall container or site for a class. A shell may contain as little as the basic organization structure of a course and its syllabus up to and including all materials used during the teaching of a course.

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