A new life as an online professor

I have threatened retirement before, but it’s never stuck. My students call me the Bret Favre of professors. Like Bret, I announce my retirement, then the siren song of the teachable moment draws me back, and I un-retire.

The main problem with this is that there are fewer and fewer true teachable moments with my students today. They are too busy with their lives and almost totally disengaged from their education. I realize that not every single one of my students is this way, but a heck of a lot are.

A few of them appear to be totally incapable of putting away their cell phones for 70 minutes and engaging with their classmates in a discussion of the material.

So I am going to try something new in the fall, something I am not convinced is going to work all that well: I am going to teach three online-only classes.

On the minus side, I won’t have any of the human, real-time “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other” kind of moments. But then, do I have any now? Few students come to see me outside of class. I sit in my office, as alone as the Maytag repairman. I can’t recall if any came to see me because they were struggling with the material or because they wanted to learn more, but I don’t think so.

On the plus side, with an online class, I won’t have to look at the tops of their heads as they concentrate on those text messages from their pals. I won’t have to watch them sneak peeks at their phones now hidden on their laps after I told them to put their phones away.

I’ll just have to live with their disengagement and multi-tasking from afar and out of sight. Maybe the asynchronicity will allow them the opportunity to think and write a little bit better.

If not, that’s it. I’m retiring. Again.

4 thoughts on “A new life as an online professor”

  1. It’s a shame the students are wasting one of the most valuable commodities of your class: One-on-one time with you. I always enjoyed visiting you during office hours, and I got a lot out of our conversations. Online classes seem like an intriguing idea, though. I imagine it’s harder for students to miss them if they don’t even need to get out of bed. Best of luck!

    1. Thanks, Robert. It sure isn’t like it was back in your day. On many days, I feel like I am once again teaching high school. I hope it goes well, too. Take care. BTW, congratulations to you and the rest of the Globe team for great work re the bombing.

      1. Thanks! It’s been a wild ride up here, for sure. One more question about your new venture: will you still have any classroom sessions? I’d love to drop by again next time I’m in town. (Probably this fall.)

        1. Robert: I would love to see you when you are in town. Unfortunately, all three courses are research methods, so I won’t be able to use your expertise in journalism and design. Let me know when you are coming and we can meet for a beverage.

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