One of the GCSW’s MSW program options is the online program. I didn’t realize how much work it took to offer an online class, until I became the online TA (Teaching Assistant) in Summer 2018.
Before a class opens to students, the online design team needs to get it ready on BlackBoard (BB) on time. They usual have to work on several courses at the same time due to a pressing schedule. In order to make online students’ learning experience as similar as our traditional face-to-face students, we need to collect course materials from different sources to match different learning styles. This is harder than it sounds, because all the courses have been taught by different professors over the years so there is a plethora of information and resources to choose from. After gathering the materials, we need to organize them on BB in a way that makes sense to both students and instructors. Next, the course designers need to build in some creative activities for online learning purposes such as pictures, videos, discussion board, quizzes and games. On the other hand, some instructors choose to record their lecture videos and power point slides. Some instructors include their voices into their slides and that requires a lot of extra preparing time.
Another challenge is the technology. Some students and faculty alike are afraid of trending E-education tools such as BB and Zoom (an online meeting app). No one is born to be the master of technology. Senior faculty members usually have relatively more experiences in both practice and teaching. However, they might not be very familiar with
current online teaching platforms due to the fact that online course offerings are still relatively new. They might be just as nervous as our students, but they are eager to learn and grow step by step. Before and after each online Zoom meeting, I always had long meetings with the instructors. Before the meeting, we helped each other to prepare for the meeting ahead of time. As soon as the meeting ends, we reviewed and processed it together, discussed what worked and what didn’t, and tried to propose solutions to help us making it better next time.
Social workers need to learn practice skills, not only basic facts. Through discussion posts and structured papers, students are encouraged to think critical and deeper, and get the opportunity to practice their writing skills as well. The instructors can also get to know our online students’ experiences, perspectives and growth from reading their written assignments. They can have some inspiring wisdom exchanges with students through written feedback. These level of deep communications are extremely important for online students who rarely meet with us in person.
The online program has been very convenient for our students, because of the flexibility it offers. The online program can also provide access to MSW education. It provides a unique and valuable learning opportunity to students in need, especially those who live in rural area or have to work full time. I am thankful to have the honor to work with our hard-working learning and teaching team, and getting to know the stories behind the scene. Now, I understand better how important it is to support students and faculty in the online program. I cherished the online teaching/learning opportunity more, after I understood how much effort it requires to operate smoothly.
By: Shu Zhou, GCSW Ambassador, 5th year PhD Cohort