When I taught face to face in a classroom, I had lectures prepared and lecture notes and then points listing the key words for each section of the lecture… then an overhead with a list of the main points to be covered in that class, for the class to see as I babbled on. Later of course, this took the form of a projection of my laptop or iPad screen onto the large white screens used for videos.
But there was opportunity to alter what I was intending to say on the fly. If a student asked a question (sometimes a rarity; sometimes common, depending on the group), that opened a new avenue, I would pursue that road. Then at some point, I would come back to my lecture outline. This is the most important advantage of a classroom lecture over an online course presented with pre-written notes. You can stray from the published outline and wander into equally useful fields, then find a track back to the main points to be covered, connecting them all, often in a way that is more pedagogically useful than the original plan. This is difficult to achieve in online instruction. There you have what used to be called lecture notes, but which I now call your online textbook, but set in stone. A student might text me, or send an email, or a Skype message that lights a different and better path to the same goal than those set in stone by me. But it is less common than in the physical classroom.
To some extent, this shortcoming can be overcome in discussion forums. They don’t have to be chatrooms done live: I avoid those as they violate one of the principle strengths of online instruction: students are free within wide boundaries to work on their own schedule without having to worry about being present at a particular time, free from interruption. As an online instructor I appreciate this too, as I cannot always myself be present for a set apart time of day or a particular day, and even when I can, there are outside interruptions. These might be the doorbell, the phone, someone in the house calling you, the cat jumping on the keyboard, the dog barking…. etc. I favour, therefore, set discussions where I post a question and the students have several days to post answers and comments and agreement or rebuttals. It is vital for the instructor to join each of these conversations, otherwise students may go way off course or present complete misunderstandings. No instructor would ask a seminar group in a room a question, then leave for the hour to let them hash it out on their own, nor should this happen online. Mind you, I still have doubts as most seem to post in the last half hour of the week I set aside.
Another possibility to allow for flexibility I suggested earlier: the use of quick, on the fly video comments by me, either to introduce the themes running through each section of the online text, or when an idea occurs to me. What I haven’t done in the past, but will try in the upcoming term, is to pose these comments in such a way that I hope they inspire comments. Which brings me to another possibility. While I don’t like chat rooms, perhaps I could have a chat room specifically for student comments and questions, that I could respond to as though we were in the same place. Hmmmmm.
Now another term has ended, and I am preparing for the start of the next, a week away. I am thinking, meditating, cogitating on ways to add more flexibility.