Learning to teach in an online school like the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) wasn’t easy. After fifteen years in brick and mortar schools, it was boot camp. Yet, once I got the hang of it, there was no looking back. I knew I was witnessing a revolution in education, and within eighteen months I was already thinking about how to go into business for myself.
When ECOT offered a Certificate of Online and Blended Learning at the University of Cincinnati, I jumped. I learned about a new field called instructional technology: how to record sophisticated learning videos, how to arrange course materials in a Learning Management System (LMS), and how to diversify tech tools in order to give my online learners multiple ways of interacting with the content. I was introduced to industry standards for designing online courses through an organization called Quality Matters.
All of these “tools” have an important role in creating a top-notch online course, but there is one in particular that’s above all the others: web-conferencing. It’s this application that puts living, breathing, learning people at the center of the process.
Web-conferencing is a game-changer in many fields, but especially in education. I can send a link to anyone in the world and meet that person, or group, online in less than a minute. The participants see and hear me, and the environment is extremely interactive. I am able to post content, play music, act out a skit, write on the screen, share my desktop, transfer content in document form, or poll a large number of people very quickly.
I once took a class of seventh graders on a virtual field trip to Manhattan: there is a webcam in the Statue of Liberty torch. Within seconds students were sharing their impressions and asking questions in both verbal (audio) and written (chat) form. They were a community of learners.
So what does it all mean? If you have expertise in any area, you should be teaching it online. Just think: there’s almost no overhead and the markets are enormous. Not technologically savvy? That’s OK too because most of the programs you will use are so user-friendly that just about anyone can pick them up. Need a little nudge? There’s a solution for that too: Marie Forleo, Jocko Willink and many others offer all sorts of free motivational and business insights.
I’m not an expert, but I keep learning. I went into teaching because I thought I could help people learn. Now I do it from home, on my own terms. I’m not beholden to state standards or a school district telling me how and when I should assess. I make decisions about how to teach based on my clients’ needs. And sometimes those needs have easy solutions. Extra practice might be in the form of a fun quiz or a set of digital flashcards. Sometimes it’s just a conversation. It is amazing how quickly you can come up with an interesting college essay topic just by chatting with a teen.
When I saw the 2017 Bloomberg list of “The 50 Most Promising Startups You’ve Never Heard Of,” I wasn’t surprised to see “Digitization of Education” on the list. But don’t let the name fool you: people are still very much at the heart of online learning, or at least they should be. -Alisa