Well, I haven't written in over a year, and I feel it's time to start this process back up again. This past school year has been very solid..."solid" in ways I didn't necessarily desire or readily welcome. We had a very rough launch to a new format of course offering in the fall, and much effort was given by many people on our team to address the technical issues. We ended up switching delivery models halfway through the school year, and while the transition was tough (and took a lot more time and effort on the part of students, instructors, and mentors), many of the main tech issues were resolved. Still, throughout this past school year I feel that the majority of my best time, effort, and heart were given to mending broken systems so that they could have at least some semblance of functionality for our online world language students.
This isn't what teaching should look like!!
An instructor should be motivating, instructing, and otherwise helping students with both content knowledge and character development. When technology is working properly, it can be a tremendous tool leveraged to facilitate meaningful learning in the online (or face-to-face) environment. When it isn't working properly, though, it is detrimental to student learning in at least 3 ways:
1) the technology becomes the focus for the student (instead of the subject being studied),
2) the student's affective domain (how s/he feels about the learning) is negatively impacted, which can significantly inhibit the learning that can take place, and
3) the technology becomes the focus for the instructor (instead of the student or the student's learning being the focus)
In any case, we have the past year behind us at our online school and I am looking forward to a year of stability and growth in the actual instruction of our online world language students. This development and growth of the learner experience should always be the primary focus in our efforts as instructors. Sometimes this development must take the technical/troubleshooting side in order to deliver something truly beneficial to students, but I'd much rather focus on the actual cognitive learning strategies whenever possible. When technology and sound instructional practices can work hand-in-hand, it is a beautiful thing!
I guess there will always be technical (or other) challenges to work around that can tend to get in the way of a laser-focus attention on effective instruction for students, regardless of teaching/learning format (f2f, blended, or online). The goal, then, would be to focus on the learner, despite the other issues at hand. We shouldn't allow the students to be victims of circumstance, but rather we should rise above the challenges to still deliver the most meaningful experience possible for them.