Checking Boxes Part III

Regular readers have no doubt noticed my posts haven’t been quite as regular. I’m in the middle of moving and finishing my teaching certification. I should be back to my twice-weekly update schedule next month.

I wonder how many advocates for online education have taken classes on-line. Seriously. My alternative certification program features an online component, and it is one of the most stultifying things I’ve ever had to do. It’s not that the content is bad, but it’s delivered in 3-500 word snippets, sometimes with a video. (Sometimes that video is even related to the content.) You read through a few of these pages, then you take a quiz. If you do not answer all the questions correctly, you take the quiz again with slightly different questions. Then you start on a fresh batch of pages until the next quiz.

The quizzes are there to create accountability. Some platforms will let you skip straight to the quizzes without reading/viewing the material, but not the one my program uses. My problem is not with the quizzes. I just wonder how checking boxes online demonstrates…anything beyond a basic acquaintance with the material. The quizzes pretty closely match the ones I used to use in my college courses to make sure my students did their reading and listening.

After those quizzes, though, there was the rest of the class, the part where we actually discussed and practiced and synthesized information: the part where we learned. There has not been much of that on-line. Theoretically, I know, online courses include some sort of forum or other means for feedback or discussion. (I’ve used online portals for in-classroom classes before.) There isn’t one for my current program. Aside from the quizzes, there’s no output from my end. It’s not much different from just reading a textbook and doing the end-of-chapter activities.

The in-person sessions involve more interaction. There’s plenty of lecture…and PowerPoint…and videos…but we also talk things through in small groups. We stray off-topic. We share our experiences. The people going through an alternative certification program have diverse backgrounds. I’ve sat with former delivery drivers and other former college instructors. Many of us have subbed. Some have taught in private schools. Most of us are on at least our second career; some are in their third and fourth. None of that makes the sessions perfect. I still get bored to the edge of tears on occasion. There’s more learning, though, than just the content. We swap resources for test preparation and the job hunt. There is honest-to-FSM networking.

The qualification tests themselves have more in common with the online portions of the course. They are (mostly) checking boxes (well, ovals) on a screen. Sometimes the questions have a degree of nuance. Most of them are more like playing Jeopardy!—the questions are worded to activate the appropriate background knowledge. Once you learn Texas’s preferred pedagogy jargon, you’re more than halfway to the right answer. (I felt this particularly with the English as a Second Language supplemental exam.) Coupling common sense and rudimentary knowledge with, you know, paying attention is enough to get you through.

It’s hoop-jumping, and I’m a little concerned that becoming a teacher is merely jumping through the right hoops. I remind myself, though, that the tests explicitly check for the knowledge of beginning teachers. I’m okay with having those tests represent only the absolute baseline. I’m even more okay with going through the hoops because there’s a far more legitimate chance at a job than the one that waited for me after my dissertation.

And for now, at least, I won’t even have to teach online.

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