Teaching Center pushes for online training

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Photo by Blair Seideman.

As online education gains momentum across the nation, the Yale Teaching Center is looking to help more graduate students learn online teaching skills.

Around 50 percent of academic job positions now require or suggest online teaching experience, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. But Yale currently provides opportunities for fewer than 30 graduate students to gain online teaching experience each year, said Sara Ronis GRD ’15, a fellow at the Teaching Center and a member of the University Committee on Online Education. To address the issue, the Yale Teaching Center has applied for funding from the newly established Rosenkranz Fund for Pedagogical Innovation to organize workshops for graduate students about how to teach online courses. The center’s proposal will be evaluated by the University-wide Committee on Online Education, which will then make recommendations to Provost Benjamin Polak about whether the project should get financial backing from the fund.

Before graduate students can teach or work as teaching assistants for online courses, they must learn specific online pedagogical techniques, Ronis said. These techniques include communicating effectively in a virtual setting, designing online assessments and facilitating conversations online, she added.

Ronis said the Teaching Center also plans to ask for funding that would allow graduate students to design their own online courses and film five-minute demonstrations to share with future employers.

“When employers ask about job experience, students can say ‘Here I am teaching,’” she said.

In addition to providing training, the Teaching Center also hopes to facilitate more online teaching opportunities for graduate students, Ronis added.

This could entail increasing the number of teaching assistants for each Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) as well as awarding teaching stipends for graduate students to teach online courses during the Yale Summer Session.

“The goal is that grad students who want experience with online teaching get experience with online teaching, whether actually in the classroom or by going to workshops,” Ronis said.

Academic Director of Online Education and music professor Craig Wright, who chairs the Committee on Online Education, said the committee has reviewed the center’s request and believes it to be a good idea.

Lucas Swineford, executive director of the Office of Digital Dissemination & Online Education, said dual-country classes, which bring together Yalies and students from around the world in an online classroom, have the potential to provide additional online teaching opportunities.

“Global access at a low cost is astounding when you think about it,” Swineford said. “You can bring together students with different cultural perspectives.”

Last semester, Saad Ansari GRD ’14 piloted an experimental dual-country classroom course called “Reconstructing Law after Political Shock.” The class brought together Yale students with students in Iraq and Egypt to discuss how institutions of law are rebuilt in the aftermath of a war or a political shock, he said.

Rather than using online technology to replace or enhance the traditional classroom, Ansari said he used the Internet to create an entirely new opportunity for “knowledge trade” between students of different backgrounds.

Yale Summer Online offers approximately 20 different online courses taught by Yale faculty for academic credit each summer.

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