The Online Teaching Tourist

by Reba-Anna Lee and David Noffs

Experiencing the unknown

We all enjoy traveling, whether for a simple road trip or a two-week vacation abroad. In either situation we are tourists, exploring an unknown area with new and exciting perspectives. We take pictures, meet new people, relax and maybe plan on returning to that destination. Once the trip is complete, we return home to our safe and known environment. We are relieved to return to what we know. We share stories and pictures and reflect on how “different” the vacation spot was from our “normal” life.

The adventurer

Another type of traveler, that some may call an adventurer, is more meaningful in their travels, they may learn the language prior to their visit, plan to stay with a host family instead of a hotel, and usually have a focus or driving purpose for their visit (personal goal, family ties, working vacation). This type of traveler seeks to embed themselves in the culture and the people in order to enrich themselves and/or the area they are visiting. They will often share their experience through stories and pictures as would a tourist but most find that the experience has changed them.

The many attractions

Online teaching has experienced an explosion of academic tourists in the past year or so. Many have visited the cursory, “touristy attractions” to learn enough to get through their situation. The “Zoom experience”, the “Hyflex experience”, the “Canvas experience” are all attractions that many have visited in the last year.

Recently though, there has been an unsettlingly, almost deafening collective sigh of relief among many in higher education. If you listen closely there is a whisper of “now we can return to what we know” and “the way things were before the pandemic”. There is the obvious touristic need to share stories and photos from that “different” place of online teaching that we all visited. Sharing reflections on what we liked or disliked about that collective time on “vacation” from the “normal” way of teaching

The new world of education

But for those natives or inhabitants of the online world, the stories, exaggerations, and misleading narratives about the world of online teaching defile the virtual classrooms they live and thrive in. For the online teaching and learning natives who were there before the pandemic, their world is more rich, colorful, exciting, and rewarding than the lecture halls and classrooms with those inhuman chairs that recall a period of learning from a century-long past.

This is the new world of education where many have settled and others will most surely follow. It is not the baron wasteland many in the media and other skeptics would have you believe. Yes, it is a virtual place, but when designed thoughtfully, as its original proponents intended, it extends our presence to create a global community where we can listen, learn, and teach one another in new and engaging ways.

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