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What’s so great about online teaching?

Had I been asked what I thought about online teaching two years ago, I would probably have given you quite an earful of the many known shortcomings of virtual teaching modalities, including the challenges to student engagement and community building. Ask me now and my answer could not be more different. Amid the latest push for a return to in-person teaching, many instructors have been adamant about the advantages of digital classrooms and look forward to continuing teaching online in a post-pandemic world. I am one of them.

I teach sociology at CUNY, the largest urban university in the U.S., which serves a very diverse student body of mostly first-generation college students. By the time the COVID-19 outbreak officially struck in mid-March 2020, I, along with millions of instructors around the globe, had to figure out how to move my in-person classes to virtual platforms. Many of us were caught off guard during the initial phase of “emergency remote teaching” and had no choice but to invest, learn, and experiment with technology by trial and error.

With incentives from the administration, we hurried to get online certifications and took summer workshops widely offered by our teaching centers and IT departments. When we succeeded, it was often not by replacing the in-person teaching with virtual scenarios, but by combining the best of both worlds: the interpersonal dynamics of face-to-face interactions with key high-tech tools that enhanced our online classrooms. If it is true that practice makes perfect, the more we conducted our business remotely the more we tightened up our craft. In this piece, I will tell you how this happened.

Deconstructing Online Teaching: Terms such as “virtual,” “remote,” or “online instruction” involve a cornucopia of instructing modalities, including classes taught fully or partially online (i.e., hybrid) and HyFlex. The latter means having a professor simultaneously teach two different student groups—virtually and in-person—what I call the “double dipping” method, which forces instructors to teach two courses but get paid for just one.  Despite its many modalities, one huge criticism of online teaching is that it cannot replicate the face-to-face interactions that are vital for ensuring successful learning experiences.

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