Top 5 – Reflections on online learning

Jun 7, 2020 | Top 5

Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have the chance to learn a little more about our Louisiana Tech University Family: students, staff, alumni, faculty, and friends. We’ll call it Tech Top 5. Go to for more Top 5s. #TogetherApart

Steven Toaddy

Steven ToaddyAnyone notice that we haven’t been in the classroom as often of late? The sudden transition to all-online instruction saw many faculty and students (and staff!) barely keeping up, but now that things have calmed down a bit and we have made it through essentially an entire quarter online, perhaps we have a spare moment to think more deliberately about optimizing online teaching and learning. Each student and each instructor will vary — in their preferences at least and likely also in the kinds of challenges that they face — but here are some general areas for reflection from Steven Toaddy, Associate Professor of Psychology and student of both the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) and Social Psychology:

  1. Get Over Yourself. Perhaps we had grown comfortable enough to stop focusing on how we looked and what others thought of us when we were in the classroom; now that we aren’t together physically, we have a whole new, unfamiliar host of insecurities — especially if we are recording video or audio products (like lectures or presentations). Try your best to communicate well, but I assure you that you’re your own biggest critic —  get over it and get to teaching and learning.
  2. Make it Personal. If you’re that student who usually walks up to the professor and introduces yourself on the first day of class or who gets to know the students sitting to either side of you, well done you! Even if you aren’t, I encourage you to put in that extra effort to make a personal connection with others in your class: we’re a social species, after all. Faculty can facilitate this by providing low-barrier-to-entry, meaningful opportunities for such interactions and by welcoming such contact from students. Apart doesn’t need to mean isolated!
  3. Why are you here, again? This one especially can mean different things to different people, but I like to reflect on it every once in a while, regardless of my current context. Faculty: why are you an educator? Students: why are you pursuing your degree? Anyone: Why are you engaged in teaching and/or learning in this particular class? It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day specifics of a class — grading, taking quizzes, reading textbooks, lecturing — but it can help to get a sense of perspective and to help yourself refocus your energy, your communication, and your efforts on the things that really matter to you and to others in the class.
  4. Tempus Fugit! A colleague of mine was teaching a statistics course and shared that, when a student asks a question in person, a response takes perhaps three minutes of my colleague’s time; when my colleague records a comprehensive video response to share with the class, this can take an order of magnitude more time. This may be a great opportunity to generate an instructional artifact, or it may represent a misuse of my colleague’s precious temporal resource — and may have been an excessive response to an idle curiosity on the part of the student in the first place. All of this to say: if you’re not learning a transferrable skill or really adding value to your class (or to your overall education), perhaps try to find a quicker route to the target — perhaps simplify your lecture-recording process or snap a photo with your phone instead of wrestling with your computer’s unfamiliar screen-capturing capabilities. Protect your precious time!
  5. Learning doesn’t need to start or end in the classroom. Educational philosophies vary greatly across individuals, and I don’t mean to impose mine on you, but I think that few will disagree that there are resources available outside of the traditional teacher/student relationship — check YouTube on whatever topic you’re currently teaching and/or studying, for instance. Students: if something interests you or particularly puzzles you, take the initiative to find some additional resources and use them to advance your understanding — and perhaps send them along to your professor if you think that the producer of the content used a clever means of conveying something or used a good example! Faculty: use these resources to your advantage. If you want to differentiate instruction for your students, you don’t necessarily need to do it all on your own — lean on the rich library of resources that already exist out there. All: beware; not everything on Internet is accurate 😉