by Cindy O’Dell
Taking a completely online class can be a case of sink or swim, says Jeffrey M. Welch, an adjunct professor in the School of Education.
After more than nine years of teaching at Brandman in both blended and online classes, as well as seeing how online learning is moving into K-12 classrooms (Welch teaches history full time at Emilie J. Ross Middle School in Hughson, California, in the Central Valley), he decided it was time to share what he’s learned by writing a book.
Outside the Walls: A Practical Guidebook to Thriving in the Online Classroom is based on his experiences and the experiences of his students, but he’s tried to make it general enough to apply to any type of online learning. It’s available on amazon.com.
“I tried to write it so it wouldn’t be outdated by next week,” said Welch, explaining his focus on learning styles rather specific software. He does provide specific tips throughout the book on everything from time management to effective online presentations to crafting constructive arguments.
“Most of what I say was true five years ago and is still true today,” he said. He called writing the book a great experience and one he would recommend for anyone. “It took me longer than I thought it would but writing about the larger experience really helped me focus on my teaching.”
Welch earned his single-subject teaching credential at Brandman in the ‘90s, which brought him to Dr. Carla Piper‘s attention.
“Jeff was actually in my Educational Applications course in Modesto … He was such an outstanding student, I told him I’d love to have him teach for us,” said Piper. Welch decided he needed a little more teaching experience before taking her up on that proposal but returned to Brandman as an adjunct in 2007 to teach the applications course.
Over the years, the course has moved from blended to completely online. When that happened, Welch began to notice trends among students who struggled. Among them:
- Not knowing how to use the internet effectively for research.
- Not knowing how to add an email attachment
- Difficulty managing time.
- Thinking online would be “easier.”
- Difficulty writing clear and specific answers.
“There’s a big group of students who are ready to go (fully online). But there’s also always a group that seems confused,” said Welch. That prompted the book.
It starts with students understanding of their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning. It’s not that people can’t succeed online, it’s that it’s not always the best fit, said Welch.
Reading – either difficulty with the volume of reading required or difficulty understanding what’s being emphasized because there are no visual or auditory cues – is often at the root of the problems. “Some students just need to see the professor face to face.”
Awareness about learning styles, which he details in the book, are useful at all levels of education, he said. Gaining that awareness can be particularly challenging for first-generation college students. Welch understands because he was one, too.
“I think I just got lucky. But some have a real struggle with understanding how the process works,” said Welch. “It’s people who naively think you don’t have to show up or that it’s no big deal who will have trouble.”
Welch also includes what the online environment looks like from the faculty perspective. Among his pet peeves are “zombie” students who never fully engage and those who seem to have the same excuses over and over for not being able to finish work on time.
“Education in general and college, in particular, are about what you bring to them,” he writes in his conclusion. “Engaging with human knowledge and your classroom community are the point.