Academic Exchange Quarterly Winter 2002: Volume 6, Issue 4

Teaching Mindfully
To cite, use print source rather than this on-line versions.

“Chasing after the Wind” Online and Off 
 
“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.”[1] These are the words of 
Qoholet, the Teacher, to whom the book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible is 
attributed.  “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will 
be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”[2]  

These words may be of comfort as we grapple with the challenges of online 
instruction.  Are the theoretical and practical methods of assessing course quality, 
student qualification criteria, student learning outcomes, and faculty teaching 
qualifications for online courses significantly different from those of traditional 
courses?  While some students and faculty will have to acquire a modest amount of 
technical knowledge to participate in an online course, very little about online 
instruction is truly new.  Such courses may even enhance dialogue between teachers 
and students and from student to student, recalling the ancient Socratic method of 
teaching.  As with traditional courses, student comments could be elicited through 
an evaluation form at the end of the semester, which could even be submitted 
electronically.  A dean or department chair could “sit in” on an online chat session 
or “drop in” to view the class bulletin board just as for a traditional teaching 
evaluation.  Students would have to complete the same prerequisites and other 
requirements as students taking on-campus versions of the same or equivalent 
classes.  Faculty who teach on campus could be trained and offered incentives to 
teach their courses, especially core requirements, online occasionally, ensuring 
consistent quality and content between the online and on campus versions of 
courses.
	
Faculty hired to teach online courses (often adjuncts) are sometimes valued for 
their computer skills as much or more than their knowledge of their field.  Such 
an emphasis disadvantages the teacher, the students, and the institution.  “Besides 
being wise,” Qoholet observed, a good teacher weighs and studies and arranges 
knowledge.  The Teacher seeks “to find pleasing words” and write “words of truth 
plainly.”[3] These are skills that are just as important for online instruction as 
in the traditional classroom.  Indeed, they may be more important when teaching 
online, where the written word becomes the sole means of communication.  Body 
language, gestures, and other spontaneous visual aids can’t be incorporated to 
emphasize certain points.  Eye contact to grab the attention of students whose 
enthusiasm is waning or to recognize their confusion or anger is impossible.  In 
spite of the apparent complexity of online technology, simplicity and directness 
of speech is more important than ever online. Qoholet too warned against anything 
beyond plainspoken wisdom.  “Of making many books there is no end, and much study 
is a weariness of the flesh.”[4]
	
In addition to providing the opportunity for non-verbal communication to occur, 
face-to-face classroom instruction may seem to safeguard against the danger of 
student isolation.  Students can take a web-based course alone and do all the work 
in privacy, never actually interacting face-to-face with other students and the 
professor.  Class discussions and group projects may seem more difficult when 
students have no physical contact with each other and have never met.  However, the 
same privacy that can lead to isolation can also be liberating.  Class chat rooms 
and bulletin boards often allow deeper and more active discussion between students 
and with the professor than occurs in the traditional classroom.  I find them useful 
as a required component of my traditional on-campus courses.  Students and professors 
involved in online courses may have to work to create the experience of being a 
class, a group of people working and learning together—but so do those in a 
traditional classroom.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if 
they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and 
does not have another to help.  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how 
can one keep warm alone?  And though one might prevail against another, two will 
withstand one.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken. [5]

[1] Ecclesiastes 1.2, 12.8. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 3rd edition. Michael D. 
	Coogan, ed. Oxford: Oxford University, 2001, 945, 957.
[2] Ecclesiastes 1.9, ibid., 945.
[3] Ecclesiastes 12.9-11, ibid., 957.
[4] Ecclesiastes 12.12, ibid., 957-958.
[5] Ecclesiastes 4.9-12, ibid., 949.

Heather Ann Ackley Bean, Ph.D.
Azusa Pacific University 

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