An online teaching style: formal or casual?
Here are some questions I would like to think about:
What does authentic mean for this educator, for this course, for this student, and for this very time?
How authentic does the course require me to be?
If authentic in this case means “casual,” to what degree to teachers develop a mask from which they teach?
The short answer is that teachers must be both: authentic and inauthentic, casual and formal, personal and hypothetical… the list can go on. In a classroom and in an online setting, educators would do well to embrace each side of this question depending on the class, situation, student, etc. In a classroom setting, this can be in the form of making sure the students understand that you are firm regarding due dates, yet you want to know if students are struggling to make deadlines. This is a subtle form of this dichotomy. In an online setting, I still believe that both are necessary. Since a personal and social void can exist online, a teacher's omnipresent presence, that they are there and will respond timely when a student writes, is extremely important. We could look at this as being a formal part of the discussion. However, if in that email a student is overwhelmed or confused, my response could lighten the learning, ask questions to get to the bottom of the problem, and find out what is the cause.
As another example, in one course, if a student wants to create a more casual relationship (meaning try to be my friend rather than see me first as their professor) from the start, I won’t acquiesce. I will hand them some formalities and show them how to treat me. For the straight A student who has a difficult time being casual in a student-teacher relationship for fear of getting a poor grade, I will try to help them find a more relaxed way to education that doesn’t rest solely on their grade and their acting a certain way.
I believe that one’s authenticity comes in the shape of the materials you choose and the way in which you present. Not the medium. A medium can’t really distract from authenticity, unless there is fear surrounding how to use the software, or another fear wrapped up in the shift from classroom to online learning. I think this just means we all must include online learning in our lives, even for the students who struggle to make that connection. Take more time with them so they can learn through the medium and understand it.
Authenticity means we don’t forget that we are humans and live a life outside of the computer. I am an advocate for online learning. But the issue is not online or not, authentic or casual. Who are you in life? And what’s the best way that we can get your great ideas into this new outfit of online learning?