Online Community

Leave Me Alone! OK, maybe not...

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a local gathering of online instructors in my area that was facilitated by the BYU-Idaho online department.  Members of the Online Instructor leadership team from BYU-Idaho traveled to the meeting.

As part of this meeting, there was a Q&A.  One instructor brought up our "Weekly Reflect Reports" and how he felt that the ranking scale was not the way he would like to see it done.  He also mentioned that, years ago, instructors had to input a bunch of hard data such as:  how many phone calls, emails, etc. they had made that week.  The person from the leadership team answered the question.  Part of the answer was that they are trying to make it easier on the instructors to report how the instructor feels they are doing.

In response to this, one of the other instructors mentioned that this is his first semester teaching for BYU-Idaho but that he has been teaching online for another university as well.  He said that the other university only talks to him once at the beginning of the semester and then just leaves him alone to manage the course as he wants.  He feels that BYU-Idaho micromanages the instructors and he just wishes that they would just leave him alone and let him do his job...

This response saddened and hurt me deeply.  With that said, I confess that there have been a few times when I have felt that way.  However, I am so glad that I wasn’t “left alone”!  As instructors, we are on the front lines of truly helping care for Heavenly Father’s children.  I live in Utah but have students in Ghana.  The impact that I have on the student in Ghana is significant.  By helping the student, I am helping them change their life, their current and future family’s lives as well as improving their communities.  The impact that I have is that of Eternal consequence.  Do I really want to be “left alone” to do this all by myself?  The answer is a resounding “No”!

I am not simply teaching a class.  I am helping Heavenly Father’s children to grow and progress.  I cannot and do not want to do this on my own.  I welcome all of the help that Heavenly Father will provide me.  I know that this will often come through individual inspiration but also through those around me.  Heavenly Father will inspire those whose have stewardship over this program to help me as well.  We all understand that sometimes this help is easier to accept than other times.

Please don’t get me wrong, I do not “Love” weekly reflections, synchronous and asynchronous meetings, discussion boards, etc.  However, I do “Love” that I am not expected to do this on my own.  I am grateful for a loving Father in Heaven that loves his children and gives us the tool that we can use to help his children all over the earth.

I am not sure if this makes sense to anyone other than myself.  However, I do thank you for letting me share my thoughts.

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  • I want to wade in on this from the perspective of a parent of a child attending the local community college instead of as a BYU-Idaho Online Instructor.

    As a parent, observing my son's interactions with, and experiences with, classroom instructors at the local community college, I have to say that I don't think the "leave them alone" approach is adequate.  The quality of some of the courses is sorely in need of improvement.  These instructors are being left too much alone. 

    I think that both the weekly accountability as well as the periodic interaction with other instructors is very positive for both the instructors and the students.  I agree that the instrument of accountability (the weekly reflections) is far from perfect, but it has evolved over the years.  Not all changes were positive or progress in my opinion, but all reflected a desire to improve the tool.  I hope that refinement will continue in the future.

    Since I am a busy person with a regular job in addition to teaching online for BYU-Idaho, there have been a few semesters where the accountability has really helped me to carve out the needed time every week for my students.  Other semesters, I have done just fine and the weekly reflections were more of a distraction than anything.  Most semesters they don't help me do any better, but they do help be be aware of how well I am doing and to focus on things I might improve on.  I've always recognized their purpose and the need for them.

    I wish that the local community college would institute a similar accountability mechanism for its instructors.

    • Matthew,

      I agree with your assessment 100%.  I've taught for a community college (CC) for the past 18 years and have had very little direction or accountability for both face to face and online classes. When I started teaching at BYU-I, I immediately noticed that I, as an instructor, became much more engaged in my BYU-I course, because of that accountability, than I was in my CC course. Overtime, I implemented many things I learned at BYU-I into my online CC course. Looking back at the last 7 years teaching for both institutions, I feel much more accountable AND supported in various ways at BYU-I. To me, this is the gold standard. I'm interested to know what others' experiences have been in this regard.

  • My TGL just shared this discussion with my group and so I'm playing catch up. It isn't lost on me that the discussion wouldn't exist, and I wouldn't know about it, if not for BYUI's community.

    That said, I want to add a voice to the opposing side.

    We're referred to as the "silent minority" by someone here, and admittedly, it's scary to agree with the dissenters in a forum like this. Questions like "How will this impact my job?" or "How does this reflect on my testimony?" come to mind when essentially everyone else in the thread is expressing gratitude for the system already in place. I know as an instructor, I appreciate when students challenge each other's ideas and raise new questions. Still, I'm not sharing this for the sake of "mixing things up," but because it's how I actually feel. I think (I hope) my perspective might be useful.

    I've been a BYU-I online adjunct for 5 years now, and if anything, my attitude toward the reports resembles the instructor's in Brother Poole's post more now than it did when I first started. That's even with the reporting improving over the years! And to be fair, I have had good experiences in my reporting, goals, and teaching groups. That's why I think any binary approach to the issue is shortsighted. In other words, I don't think it's a debate between BYU-I's system and no accountability at all. I am also an adjunct for another school, where I started on campus but am now entirely online. Full disclosure: I enjoy my job there more. Does that mean their system is better? Again, I think that oversimplifies the issue. All I'm comfortable concluding is that it's better for me.

    As has been noted, BYU-I is a unique school built for a unique student body, and by extension, unique faculty. The problem is that not every student chooses BYU-I specifically because of its community or its learning modes. They might be attracted to something simple, like a particular program or the convenience or the cost. The same is true of instructors. As an adjunct, I was drawn by the convenience and what I believed was a greater possibility of teaching a wider range of courses. (It's still true that I have taught a wider variety of subjects here than elsewhere, even if I have been "typecast" for the past several years without change). But adjuncting is already a notoriously challenging job, and if your attention (loyalty?) is, by necessity, split between two or more schools, two or more programs, etc., it's natural to gravitate more toward one than another.

    Without a doubt, BYU-I has the edge if I'm comparing the amount of support. However, it's not my personality to value that first. My other school isn't absent support; someone is there if I need them, and that's what I appreciate. Mandated accountability exists in the form of monthly meetings, yearly course visits, and yearly self-assessments in response to student evaluations. Because I am an adjunct with no benefits, no yearly salary, no office space, etc., and teach the exact same courses every semester over and over, I find those methods of accountability sufficient. It doesn't mean I don't seek ways to improve my teaching or reach out to my administrators from time to time; I certainly do. But I also have more autonomy with my syllabi and assignments, making it much easier to find and implement those improvements. At BYU-I, my goals need to stretch and challenge me but also can't lead to any direct changes to my coursework, which I find extremely frustrating.

    You might say my other school has me on a long leash but isn't watching to see if I'll perform any neat tricks; BYU-I has me on a short leash and seemingly expects neat tricks.

    So for me, BYU-I's level of accountability does read like micromanaging, and in honesty, I often do wish I could be "left alone." However, I don't think that's the same thing as seeking full responsibility for my students' eternal consequences. I do care about them and I do recognize my need for help; I just think how much is relative to the situation. I'll be teaching a redesigned course in the Fall, and odds are, I'll have questions for my teaching group!

    • Hi Andrew,

      I likewise appreciate your response--as well as Matthew's. We certainly have adapted and changed things about our reporting processes over the years and will continue to do so with the desire to continually improve. I do believe different people are pulled to different institutions for various reasons. Not every instructor that applies to teach online at BYU-I is a good fit for the current model or practices. One thing I don't see changing is the focus on Teach One Another, including connections between instructors and teaching groups. Still, I think all of the folks in the Home Office hope the same hope that Matthew has expressed: "I hope that refinement will continue in the future." If nothing else, BYUI will always continue to adapt and change--even when we don't necessarily want the change in question.

      Heather C.

    • Andrew, like you, I appreciate when students are willing to step up and voice their opinion when it is different than the majority of those responding.  I believe it is important for people to truly express how they feel and "Teach One Another" by being willing to share why they feel differently.  I enjoyed reading your post and felt that you expressed your point of view very clearly.

      Although I do not feel that desire to "be an island" (as my brother puts it), I can understand that there are varying situations that would make the frequent accountability we experience feel less necessary.  I have been teaching the same course for several semesters now and find less need to reach out for help, ideas, or support than when I began this course.  Also, personality can play a big part in finding the value (or lack thereof) in frequent reporting.  Some people naturally desire more interaction than others.  People who don't look for a lot of extraneous social interaction might feel that the response their TGL sends to the weekly report is not necessary or even patronizing, no matter how sincerely it is meant.

      Since we are all unique, we will approach the same situations in different ways.  I am grateful that you were willing to add your voice to this discussion and also point out that it isn't all or nothing.  There are shades of gray everywhere.

      • Exactly. I appreciate your understanding, Virginia. Thank you for your reply! 

        • Andrew, like Virginia, I was really interested and happy to read your reply to this discussion! It's not much of a conversation if we are all saying the same thing, eh? 

  • I am thankful for the work of the course designers and the instructional videos. All of this helps me help my students. One of the ways I feel I can most effectively interact with my students to make a difference in their lives is giving them feedback as I grade. I try to be specific as I compliment them. This specific positive reinforcement encourages maximum effort. I also try to be specific and encouraging if there are things they can improve on the work they have submitted. This encourages them to maximize their learning. I give specific examples of how they can meet requirements if they have not and how they can more effectively use Excel for example to achieve the requirements using the tool rather than working so hard themselves.Most importantly I try to use math as a tool to show them how they can access our Father's help through faith in His Son to overcame the challenges of the course and their challenges in life. We can do much more with our Father's help than we ever could without it. Elder Don R Clark said the following in a recent BYU-I devotional: 

    The Holy Ghost takes away fear. The Holy Ghost can help us with our studies. He even know Math.

    When I give feedback , I use scriptures and conference talks> I also use them in Spiritual thoughts that are part of my Instructor notes. 

    Elder Scott expressed an interesting perspective on the challenges we face in mortality in his last conference address:

    These four tools are fundamental habits for securing your life in the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Remember our Savior is the Prince of Peace. Peace in this mortal life comes from His atoning sacrifice. When we are consistently praying morning and night, studying our scriptures daily, having weekly family home evening, and attending the temple regularly, we are actively responding to His invitation to “come unto Him.” The more we develop these habits, the more anxious is Satan to harm us but the less is his ability to do so. Through the use of these tools, we exercise our agency to accept the full gifts of His atoning sacrifice.

    I am not suggesting that all of life’s struggles will disappear as you do these things. We came to mortal life precisely to grow from trials and testingChallenges help us become more like our Father in Heaven, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible to endure those challenges. I testify that as we actively come unto Himwe can endure every temptation, every heartache, every challenge we face, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

    I try to watch A BYU-I devotional once per week. this is where they are found:

  • At other universities where I taught classes in person, I have been left stranded with little information.  While I liked the autonomy, I felt completely disconnected and expendable to the administration. Because of the reflections, meetings, etc., I feel more connected to BYUI as an online instructor who has never set foot in Idaho, than I ever did at any of the many colleges at which I have taught classes in person.  While it is a bit irksome to remember to submit a reflection at the end of the week, I'm so grateful for that connection.  I don't feel alone.  I feel like I have support.  I also feel personally accountable for my teaching that week, and it encourages me to be better the next week (kind of like the Sacrament, which is like a spiritual Weekly Reflection).

    Thanks for this, Jason!  It's important to count our blessings and remember that the real purpose of our jobs as instructors is to love Heavenly Father's children.

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