I was meditating on the purposes of university level Humanities courses, and in particular the discipline of History, which I just happen to teach. I was answering an imaginary interlocutor in my mind as I graded final exams. I said, I do not care if my students remember the details of the History I have presented to them in my online courses – dates, events, names etc. I do care, however, that they have acquired the habit of evidence-based critical thought. I care that, when faced with a situation that requires a decision or opinion in their future, they will look at it critically. That is, they will find every bit of evidence and context they can, and look at this evidence with a dispassionate eye prior to deciding. For the Historian, that evidence, that context, requires an answer to the question, how did it get to be this way?
Well, in an online context, this requires constant interaction with students, I think. You must have ongoing discussions to supplement the presentation of evidence in course notes, videos, music, photographs, drawings and so on. These ongoing discussions are where you can guide students in the direction of evidence-based critical thought prior to assigning grade – grades by their nature being either punishments or rewards, but not teaching tools.
So, I continue to look for ways to increase this context of interaction, of communication, of dialogue with students – email, discussion groups, query fora, Instant messenger groups, informal blogs, podcasts