A Classroom with No Walls

Andrea Barton

The world of online courses can be tricky. People take online courses due to scheduling conflicts such as work and family obligations. They cannot devote specific time every week to sit through a lecture. Because of this, students of these courses are often left with just a list of assignments to complete and a textbook to read. One teacher decided to use interactive technology to help her class learn and to help engage her students.

Andrea Barton created an online course in 2012 for a 200-level English course, but Barton didn’t want to lose the feeling of a real in-class lecture or the face-to-face interaction in class. Barton’s solution: make videos with her explaining the assignments and the previous reading. Not only did Barton create the video herself, but she also invited guest speakers  to record videos about their favorite authors and book. These speakers not only recorded the videos, but they include PowerPoint presentations and PDF files that watchers can download and with which they can take notes. The videos are a basic class lecture where professors give out notes and personal insight into readings, but as Barton said, “These videos are better than a normal lecture because if you want to get a coffee or need to do something, you can pause and always come back later.”

Online classes often lose the feeling that there are professors or someone who actually cares about what students are learning. Barton believes that these videos are helpful for students to realize that there are actual people trying to help them learn this information. “It gives the presence of a teacher, the face of one…if you see someone’s face you get a sense that they are more approachable,” Barton said. “The students don’t have a chance to talk to the teacher and to get to know the teacher as the semester goes on.“ Barton believes that these videos give a greater connection between her and her students. “If they have questions, they can use the discussion threads; there is one for each module, and the students can also use email, chat, Skype, phone calls or even come to my office,” Barton said. Barton doesn’t want any of her students to feel like they are alone in this class. She wants her students to feel like they can contact her with any questions. In each module, Barton asks her students to comment on other students’ discussion threads to encourage them to talk to each other and ask each other questions.

As technology moves forward, it is only fitting that classes move forward as well. Andrea Barton has given online classes a new dimension that previous students were never able to experience outside of a lecture hall. It is this type of thinking that keeps the English department moving forward and that will keep students interested in its content.