Initial Thoughts on the Role of the Instructor

Traditional philosophy courses are often conceived, designed, and delivered by a single person. For better or for worse, the instructor is involved in all aspects of the course from the very beginning: choosing the themes, texts, particular readings, and modes of assessment, as well as preparing the syllabus, lectures and discussions, delivering the lectures, leading the discussions, and finally, grading the assessments and providing feedback on the students’ work.  Because many of the tasks of course design and preparation are already complete before you begin your work teaching an online course, it might appear that all that is left for you to do is to grade and provide feedback.  Think about that carefully for a moment, though. If you approach the course in that way, what kind of experience are your students most likely to have?

Now, consider what you could be doing to improve your students’ sense of connection with the material, the course, and their instructor in the time that is freed up by not being required to design the course and to deliver the content in class. Could you be tracking down or creating additional instructional materials and making them available to the class? Could you be spending time replying to students on the discussion boards or giving individualized help via email? Could you be actively reaching out to individuals who are lagging behind the rest of the class, or suggesting other readings or projects to those who appear to be way out ahead? Are there other ways that you can think of to ensure the quality of the course you are administering?

I hope that you will be thinking about ways that you can take ownership of your course, and that you will make every effort to have just as great a presence in it as you would if it were a more traditional course of your own design.  If you ever have questions about how to do this, want to share suggestions with others, or just want to talk about the challenges of online teaching, please don’t hesitate to contact me: markfisher@psu.edu

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