TEACHING ASYNCHRONOUSLY IN AN URBAN ENVIRONMENT: PROBLEMS, APPROACHES, RESULTS
As college professors teaching online/asynchronously for several years, we see an increasing need for online/distance learning in our population. Our institution, an urban commuter school located in the Bronx, has an ethnically and culturally diverse student body. Students are often highly motivated but often lack the resources they need and are challenged by the difficult lives they lead. Online learning is a viable option for these particular students with their potential for achieving academic goals.
Our student body is an underserved population in the Bronx, often falling at or below the poverty line. Many have particular heritage language issues. The students are born in the U.S. but live in communities where English is not the first language. Their skills in English mimic non-native English speakers with problems in grammar, syntax and spelling. Furthermore, they are subject to all the social problems of the inner city: teenage pregnancies, drugs, unemployment, single parent families, and expectations from parents to contribute financially and practically to the household.
We are going to talk specifically about the online platform we use, Blackboard (Bb), the various ways it addresses learning, and its efficacy with our particular population. Our presentation will focus on the role of writing in this online environment. As in no other environment, writing is the heart and soul of teaching online as it takes the place of face to face classroom discussions and lectures. Heritage language problems are much more evident in this asynchronous environment than they are in the classroom. There are several ways that we address this as online instructors. We will identify and demonstrate our methodologies.
An intimate relationship develops with the instructor (the nature of Bb is often similar to a one on one environment), and he or she is able to effect changes in the students’ relationship to the course material which often does not happen in a large classroom setting. In a sense, instructors are mentoring each and every student by responding to their written work as they post to Blackboard. Students must write (they have no other voice) to convey their assertions, ideas, arguments, questions et al, often resulting in improved effective communication and honed critical thinking capacity. Every student has not only the opportunity but the obligation to impart their thoughts and ideas in this online environment. Even the shy student in a traditional classroom who never speaks up and is often overlooked participates in an online setting such as Bb.
Online learning is here to stay. It is growing by leaps and bounds, becoming more sophisticated, more user-friendly and more interactive. In fact Bb has been fine-tuned over the years now employing clouds, podcasts, video presentations, wikis, blogs and many other up-to-date applications. We are simply and almost literally putting ourselves into the environment that our students are already so comfortable using. Many of them have grown up with this digital age and sometimes actually prefer it to the old school “sage on the stage” method of teaching.