The Online College Instructor
Navigating the Virtual College Classroom


Teaching online offers all sorts of benefits; the most enjoyable one is not having to get dressed to go to class and possibly deal with icy roads, annoying detours, and equally annoying drivers.  Aside from the obvious downside to online teaching of not meeting face-to-face with my students, about a year ago, I realized a major disadvantage to online teaching – working almost 24/7.

Getting up at 5:00am and putting together a new lecture isn’t all that terrible, especially when that creative urge strikes and my fingers fly over the keyboard.  That’s worth it because once I finish that new lecture, I have an entire day ahead of me to do what I want.  However, leaving my computer on for that momentary urge to record something that turns into five hours of web surfing, playing with new programs, etc., can begin to detract from my overall enjoyment of life.

Being diligent and current in any field is, of course, desirable, but when I’m more concerned with work than life in general or I can’t seem to avoid checking emails every hour, then all that diligence and expertise become a burden, not to mention a headache.

Solution:  Shut off the computer when not in use and only check emails twice a day.  Shutting down my computer not only keeps me away from hours of unnecessary surfing and “playing” but saves energy.  According to a 2008 post on Pays to Live Green, leaving on a desktop computer 24/7 costs $126 a year and uses over 1,000 Watts over the course of one a year.  Aside from the cost and energy savings, walking away from my computer getsme back into the real world and even gets me to go take a walk or get some other type of exercise.

Checking emails twice a day  – once in the morning; then around 4:00pm – is sufficient.  I do check emails seven days a week because most of my students are adult learners, who don’t get a chance to deal with coursework until the weekend, but I don’t do anything more than keep on top of my emails on weekends.  I don’t create new webpages, develop new lectures, grade papers, or otherwise use my weekends to work.  I’m a full time professor, so I complete my work during the week.

Since setting up computer-use restrictions on myself for about a year now, I find I work more efficiently during the week and actually have time to do things I enjoy, such as writing for my blogs.


I’m one of those people who needs to have a clean, clear work surface or else I can’t concentrate.  (Good excuse for not working, isn’t it?)

Even though the weather is fantastic, I decided to straighten up my work area so that I don’t wind up having my work spill into other areas of the house.  Also, I just bought a new MacBook Pro, so it was time to retire my large (but still very useful) desktop model.

My desire to find the perfect place on my work top for my new laptop started a whole chain reaction because I have wires all over the place, as well as a battery back-up the size of an old Buick, which my feet hit every time I sit down.  The massive clean-up took two hours to finish, but after unplugging, cleaning, filing, and otherwise asking myself, “Why do I have this five-year old memo?” I can now work on a clean, almost tech-free environment.  Tech-free, as far as all the wires are concerned.

Now my eight-foot long workspace can be efficiently used for both working on my online courses, as well as working on my blogs and other types of writing. All I need to do is clean out my file cabinet with years of lecture notes in it.  Working on that should take me to the fall semester.


No papers to grade.  No emails to answer. It must be time to start thinking about the upcoming fall semester.  Sorry can’t help myself.  Anyway, after teaching exclusively online for years, I’ll be teaching a literature class in the classroom.  (Uh,oh!)  The class meets for an hour three times a week, which means I need to “dress up.”  That in itself is a horror, but I’m not sure how I’ll be able to deal with interacting with live people instead of computer people.

One thing I thought I might try this semester is using Twitter to remind students of due dates of assignments and any other little tidbits I’m bound to come up with, just to use the Twitter app on my iPhone.  Seriously, though, I could in fact use Twitter if I visit the ancient Greek collection at Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and find something pertinent to what we’re studying in class.  I could also quickly let students know if there’s a particular TV show to watch before the next class.  Another possibility for using Twitter might be to alert students of a current even and somehow connect that event to what we’re discussing in class.  Who knows, maybe someone will find Odysseus’s ship next semester!

The above are only a few possibilities, but I wonder if other professors find Twitter a valuable communication tool outside the classroom. If anyone has any suggestions, I would certainly appreciate a comment or two on this blog.

In the meantime, enjoy the summer!


Well, I’ve spent some time with my upgraded iPhone, and I must say it made communicating with my students a bit easier, especially with the landscape typing mode.

While there are several changes to my iPhone, my main concern over the past year was my inability to type quickly on the original keyboard.  Now with the landscape typing ability, I can answer my students’ emails no matter where I am, including the beach (as long as I have 3G service).

I’m happy.  (Doesn’t take much, I guess.)


One more day to go before I update my iPhone software.  Can’t wait to see how I can cut, copy, and paste.  And using a landscape keyboard will be very helpful for one who fumbles with the iPhone’s existing keyboard configuration.


The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on June 11th, that Ray Henderson, formerly of Angel Learning and now with Blackboard Inc., started a blog to reach out to the course management system’s users.  Many critics of Blackboard feel the company hasn’t kept up with what professors want and need for online learning, so Ray Henderson’s blog is a place where critics can vent their frustrations.

I took a quick look at his blog today (June 16) to find one posting (June 9) with 17 comments.  Now I know that Mr. Henderson’s job title isn’t “Chief Blogger,” and I also know how difficult it can be to write a new blog entry everyday, so perhaps it’ll just take some more time for him (or for the person helping him with this task) to write more blog entries. Anyway, it’s a first step in Blackboard’s attempt to possibly work more closely with its users, I guess.


I don’t know if I need to do anything else on my iPhone; it already consumes too much of my time, but lo and behold, on June 17th Apple will offer a free upgrade to iPhone software.

Not only can I use my iPhone to quickly answer my students’ emails and update my online classes, as of June 17th, I’ll be able to cut and paste, as well as type on a landscape keyboard so that my hunting and pecking will go more smoothly!

Of course, if I get bored with work, I’ll also be able to download movies, TV shows, and audio books on my iPhone from iTunes.

Here’s a link to the Apple site:


With all that’s available through Web 2.0 tools, should professors begin thinking about alternatives to the corporate course management systems, such as Blackboard?


According to a June 1, 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education ** article, some professors and colleges are contemplating the use of free blog services over the use of Blackboard for their online classes.  I guess I’m not alone in my desire to find something more timely, stylish, and useful.

I’ve been using Blackboard for over eight years now, and while at first I thought it was “cutting edge” with its white board capabilities and other useful features, I’m finding it more cumbersome and just downright boring.  The course management system doesn’t keep up with Web 2.0 tools, such as blogging, something that my students, both traditional and non-traditional, already use either at work or at home.

While individual colleges can modify the overall template of their Blackboard pages, there’s a lack of eye-catching style, leading to nothing more than an online version of the “sage on the stage,” that boring professor who stands at the podium lecturing for the entire class period.  Since I want to engage my students not only in my lecture but in the wealth of information available online, I do create my own webpages, which are linked through Blackboard and appear in the main frame of the Blackboard shell.

Accessibility and other usability problems occur using Blackboard, leaving both students and professors at a loss.  Of course, since I create my own lecture webpages, when Blackboard is down, I email my students (through a separate client list) the URL to take them to my site.  Of course, they can’t post anything on a discussion board, but I have, on occasion, added a blog feature to my webpage.  Not as great as a threaded discussion board, but at least, my students can still interact.

That leads me to the subject of professors using free blog services.  Even though I have a wonderful relationship with my university’s Blackboard administrator, who will work diligently to correct any problem I might contact him about, I find myself more amenable to taking the path of least resistance – free blogs.

There’s, Blogspot, etal, but most don’t have a particular feature I want in my online courses and that’s a threaded discussion board.  There is one free blog service with that feature, and I’ve only begun to experiment with it.  So far, so good.  The service is Ning, which offers both a blog and a threaded discussion.  Anyone out there using Ning for their online classes? And they have gorgeous templates!

The one drawback to using Ning for my online lectures (at least that I can see now) is the advertising.  I could pay $24.95 a month to have an ad-free site, but I’m not sure I want to do that and yet, on the other hand, I don’t want to subject my students to advertising on my lecture page.  I’ll have to continue experimenting with Ning to see if it’s worth replacing Blackboard.

Anybody out there experimenting with free blog services for their online courses?

** You can read the Chronicle article online if you have a Chronicle account.  Here’s the URL:


I’m really just asking a question in this post to get a sense of some of the potential problems students have in accessing course material.  Here’s some background…

I create all my online course lectures in iWeb, a very easy-to-use webpage design program that is bundled with iLife on my Mac.  For the past four years or so, my students haven’t had any difficulty viewing any of my lectures created in iWeb.  All of a sudden this semester (Spring 09), several students have emailed me about not being able to access the lecture pages at all or not being able to read any text on the iWeb page once it loads.

My suggestion to them has been to download Firefox as their web browser, and for the most part, those students have been able to access and view my lectures.

My question to other online professors who use iWeb out there is:

If you use iWeb, have any of your students had any difficulty either accessing or reading lecture pages created in iWeb?