What It’s Like Teaching Online at the University of Denver

busy academic calendarI’ve been teaching online courses for the University of Denver‘s University College for about a year now, both undergraduate and graduate programs in marketing, business and communications. If you don’t know, I have a Masters in Education and a Masters in Business Administration, as well as many years of adult education through various organizations. I’ve taught and guest lectured at over a dozen different colleges and find that I really enjoy teaching and exploring concepts with others, whether it’s a formal classroom or a mastermind discussion group. Not only that, but my Education Masters degree focused on online education and my master’s thesis was the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), an academic writing reference site that’s still going strong many years later!

In the era of Covid, college courses are divided into online vs in person and synchronous vs asynchronous. Since I don’t live particularly close to the University of Denver campus, I teach online only classes. Since we don’t have a set live online meeting time, my classes are considered asynchronous. In other words, the most flexible type of course that DU offers. Which is good, because I have students spread across the United States, from Los Angeles to lower Manhattan. In previous quarters I’ve had students in both the UK and the Middle East too, meaning that having an agreed upon time to all be online would be even more difficult than it is with only four time zones represented.

ricketson law building, university of denver, colorado
Ricketson Law Building at the University of Denver

Nonetheless, a purely online class can seem very abstract and unengaging, so I do try to add video content and live meetings when they make sense too. In my first quarter of teaching I set up weekly office hours via the ubiquitous Zoom, but attendance dwindled quickly to the point where it clearly wasn’t meeting student needs. Plan B was to schedule an all-class Zoom meeting every 2-3 weeks tied to a big assignment. That’s worked much better, and as I’m teaching two courses currently, it ends up creating a weekly commitment for me, but a less frequent one for each of my students. The result is much better attendance, though since it’s not required and I don’t grade or offer extra credit for attendance, having 60% of the students show up is an unusual event!

So what’s an asynch class like? A lot of discussion posts in a learning management system called Canvas. Each week is broken down into assignments, discussions and announcements. For my classes, we have a small assignment each week and bigger assignments spaced throughout the ten week quarter. Each week has two discussions and students are expected to contribute at least three substantive posts with proper references and academic citations in each. My graduate class (digital marketing) is much more loquacious in this regard and a typical week’s discussion can end up with an average of 5-7 posts/student, or more if the conversation falls into a controversial area. My undergrad class is much more characterized by the students contributing the minimum required, often at the last minute. Que sera, sera.

my classes in canvas - du

The undergrad class is a 3000-level course – CA-3150 – so it’s for later in the undergraduate curriculum, but my course is actually part of the Bachelor of Arts Completion Program (BACP) at DU so my students are a mix of ages and experience levels. Makes things interesting, and as someone who believes college should be open to anyone at any age, I’m proud to be part of the BACP course program, actually, and applaud my students who are returning in their 30’s, 40’s or even later to get the bachelor’s degree that “got away” in their lives.

Another course I’ve taught at DU is also really in my proverbial wheelhouse: Communication & Society. It’s something I’ve tried to impart to my own children too: Don’t just be a consumer of information, advertising and media, think about how they’re conveying the message and why it does or doesn’t resonate with you. As Timothy Leary might put it: wake up and think for yourself.

In addition to teaching students, I’m also part of a team that’s helping teach DU faculty how to use online tools more effectively and have spent a lot of time exploring the features and capabilities of Zoom. I’ve really enjoyed meeting fellow faculty and am darn impressed with these professionals with busy careers who have added college instruction to their schedules. And then there’s the full time DU faculty and support team, all of whom are really excellent and vivacious too. Makes the challenges of teaching much more easily managed.

The University has asked if I would be willing to teach on campus once we’re post-Covid and I have to say that I’m unsure whether I’ll do that. Online teaching is really easy to add to my existing pastiche of work tasks, but to be able to offer a great hour of in-class instruction would require a level of prep that I haven’t done for these courses. We’ll see, though, because based both on student feedback and the fact that I’m now a DU Leader in Teaching Excellence, I’m apparently pretty good as a college instructor.

In fact, it’s quite fulfilling in the spirit of giving back and helping others. My career has been really great and I’ve had the chance to work with some excellent people, so between teaching at DU and being a mentor for underserved entrepreneurs through EforAll, it’s all pretty darn rewarding. When a student shares that something you’ve said was meaningful or thought-provoking, that is indeed a warm fuzzy moment for any teacher.

And the secret? I do get a kick out of people referring to me as “Professor Dave” or “Dr. Taylor”. 🙂

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