By Jennifer Bunk, SIOP Blogger
If you look up the definition of “keeping it real” on Urban Dictionary, you will see lots of variations, both with and without colorful language. Here is the “clean” alternative that I like the best: “Staying true to yourself, your faith, your life and constantly seeking the truth.” This is something that I strive for in everything I do, including my teaching.
When I first started telling my academic colleagues that I was going to be designing an online introductory I-O course, it was met with mixed reactions. Some were enthusiastic. Some were skeptical. The best piece of advice that I received was to find a way to mimic a regular course by incorporating activities that expose students to the applied practices and ideas that make I-O such an exciting field. Without this, the course would become a dry, tedious exercise that would simply involve reading and taking quizzes. Thus, “keep it real.”
The definition of “keep it real” can be expanded to include not only being true to yourself, but also, in the case of teaching, being true to your discipline. This is a challenging task even when your students are physically in the same room – especially because, mentally, they may be somewhere else. I have tried a variety of activities from the more elaborate (e.g., performance appraisal critiques, which can take up a whole class, where students need to work in groups to appraise a performance evaluation form and do a formal presentation) to simple group brainstorms (“Take 5 minutes to talk about the pros and cons of interviews as a selection tool.”) Students typically like these kinds of activities because it keeps them engaged and they get to think about real world applications.
How do we “keep it real” in online courses? First, creative thinking is required. We have to think outside of our usual “pedagogical tools” box. Try something new. It might work, it might not. I find that students still appreciate your effort, especially if you tell them in advance that they’re guinea pigs. Also, it helps to take a step back and think about your learning goals. What do you want your students to get out of your class? Be as specific as possible.
I took this approach and designed an online group activity that I call the “I-O Jobs Project.” Essentially, students need to work in groups to research an I-O job category (e.g., Research Consultant, I-O Professor). One piece of this is interviewing a real, live I-O Psychologist. The deliverable is an online video presentation (think PowerPoint with voiceovers) that I share with the rest of the class. There are multiple benefits to this project, the most obvious being that students get to learn about the wide range of I-O job opportunities. Also, they have to figure out how to meet virtually, so for a lot of students this is their first introduction to teleconferencing and/or using Skype for other than recreational purposes. They also get experience using online presentation tools. I train them to use Camstudio, which is the free version of the wonderful, yet terribly expensive Camtasia. I upload their video presentations to Vimeo. (By the way, I use the Camstudio/Vimeo combination for recording and uploading my own online lectures.)
How did the students react to this project? I did get the typical “group work is so hard!” feedback, and I appreciate that. It can be a challenge to coordinate schedules, especially for students who work 30+ hours a week (this is the reason they may have been interested in an online course in the first place). However, almost every student also said that the hard work was worth it and they learned a lot. They may have been kissing up to me, but I like to think that there was some grain of truth to this positive feedback.
To wrap up, I pose this question to the best and brightest of the I-O world: How would you “keep it real” in an online I-O course?