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Guest Post: Teaching OM Online at FSU

December 4, 2012

Jeff-SmithDr. Jeff Smith provides today’s Guest Post. Jeff is Associate Professor of Operations Management at Florida State University

While moving to an online format enables colleges to reach a whole new segment of students, it also presents new challenges, especially true for those who teach courses such as OM.  The good news, however, is that we are getting much closer to the ability to simulate the actual classroom experience given the different technological platforms that are now available.  In contrast, the challenges of the virtual environment are still daunting and require a new perspective.  I view the challenges along 3 broad dimensions.

The 1st is comprehensiveness and contingency planning.  You simply have to think a little more outside the box on this front.  Specifically, you need to think of every possible way that something can fail and try to put in controls to account for that.  As an example, I teach students in locations that span the globe so you need to be crystal clear on all dates and times as this will establish the baseline for all course activities.  Beyond that, there are always technological issues that cause problems.

The 2nd component is time commitment and information processing.  When teaching on campus, you know exactly what days/times you will meet so you can plan your work load around that.  In the online environment, this is simply not the case since you will often have students working around the clock–and they expect you to be doing the same. Online classes also often are larger, so the total amount of individual communication you have to process is exponentially larger.  The overall time commitment can be 2-3  times more intense in this setting.  I have found that the best way to handle the added information is to ‘batch’ all the requests and select 2 distinct times per day to sit and respond to all the requests.

The final challenge is that you have to be much more creative in getting information to your students.  A live class enables you to explain something via an inter-personal exchange. The online environment does not allow for this.  For example, for a given topic, I try to supply a power point lecture to accompany each chapter in the Heizer-Render text.  I will also find videos, popular press mentions, and websites to add more support to what I am covering.  Finally, I pre-record lecture snippets aimed at adding clarification to the more difficult topics or for working through specific example problems. (I use Tegrity and record these as 15-20 minute clips that can be downloaded to different devices by each student).

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