There are two misconceptions that we think hinder teachers’ creativity when thinking about teaching online. The first is a tendency to think of ways of approximating their face-to-face teaching into an online format as much as possible — instead of considering the possibilities afforded by the new medium, with the diverse opportunities for engagement and communication. The (problematic) assumptions behind this include a belief that text is less personal, that immediacy is inherently more valuable, and that approximating face-to-face is beneficial. The second, which relates to the first, is the belief (as Kolowich suggests) that increasing the “human” element of an online course is best done by either showing the face/voice of the teacher (e.g., as in pre-recorded lectures used in many xMOOCs), approximating a non-interactive lecture-based face-to-face class, or interacting synchronously (as in Google Hangouts), approximating a discussion-based face-to-face class.
An automatic preference for synchronous (usually audiovisual) interaction with students is often a “mistake”. It would, teachers imagine, be just like a face-to-face class, only online. Right? Actually, usually not. Maha has had experiences facilitating web-based video dialogue, and even though she sees it could have enormous potential when it works well, very often it does not. When we learn online, we are not together in one room, and we need to recognize not only the limitations of that, but the openness of its possibilities.
The strengths of online learning, especially in massive courses such as MOOCs, and especially for adult learners, might lie in their asynchronous interactive components.