A few years ago, a friend stopped by for a visit. When it was time for her to leave, I walked her to the front door where we chatted a bit. I slipped on a pair of black flats sitting in front of the door and continued talking. We exhausted our good-byes, and my friend grew silent.
Finally she said: “I’d leave if I could have my shoes!”
It turns out we had the very same shoes, and I had slipped HERS on by mistake! #embarrassing
A Mile in a Student’s Shoes Builds Empathy
In the context of teaching and learning online, it’s valuable for instructors to step into their student’s shoes. Instructors can gain that skill by experiencing the online environment as a student.
At our university, new faculty participate in an eLearning Training before teaching an online or blended course. As we designed the training, we chose to immerse the faculty in the “student experience.” Faculty build a framework for student-centered learning and develop empathy to guide their interactions with students.
For some, it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. Faculty email me to say they are so sorry they posted their assignment late, and they hope it doesn’t affect their success in the training. They wrestle with technical issues: internet browsers, updating outdated web plugins, uploading video, locating assignment links, and communicating with group members. They encounter complications in their busy lives that conflict with taking the course: a family member is admitted to the hospital, unexpected travel with work, or the convergence of multiple responsibilities, in general.
When faculty take the role of a student in the learning environment, it serves as a reality check. They develop an understanding of the student experience—and they begin to devise ways to facilitate their courses with meaningful encouragement and support.
A Student-Centered Training Model
Our eLearning Certification course runs several times a year and is 2-3 weeks in length. As the instructor of the course, my goal is to model the best practices we learn from research and our own online/blended teaching experience. It’s a big pair of shoes to fill, but it is working.
Our training has three modules:
Module 1 – “A New Paradigm”
Participants are enrolled as students.
The first week involves listening and reflecting on the concept of community and how to develop and foster community in a “faceless” environment. Participants discover discussion forums, a group research assignment, and a private journal with the instructor to reflect on each activity.
Module 2 – “Teaching and Learning Online”
Participants are enrolled as students.
Participants attend a synchronous virtual class, create and embed video responding to the concept of technological change and its effect on education, submit an assignment, take a quiz, and come to consensus with their group members. The goal of this week is give participants experience with all the tools a student might be asked to use in the LMS.
Module 3 – “Instructor Activities”
Participants are enrolled as instructors.
In this module, participants are “instructors” who practice interacting with mock students to gain experience and understanding of the activities they are expected to engage in while facilitating a course. The module is self-paced with activities organized into three areas:
- Course Readiness
- Course Facilitation
The Impact of Student-Centered Training
In the past year, over 100 faculty have completed our eLearning Certification course. Not only are we designing student-centered learning, we are helping our instructors facilitate it. Our strategy of asking faculty to step into students’ shoes builds empathy and results in prepared instructors for the student-centered approach to teaching and learning.
One recent participant said:
“One brilliant technique of the course was requiring us to become a ‘student’ and experience the joys and challenges of the online learning environment. I feel better equipped, understand more clearly, and will be more empathetic as an online “teacher.” I now fully value and embrace the techniques of supporting, encouraging, and communicating consistently with online students.” (Gary Bennett, 2017)
The student experience allows instructors to develop strategies to help students gain all they can from the learning community. How do you prepare instructors to teach online and blended courses? What strategies have you found to work well? Let us know in the comments.