When Laudan Jahromi decided to create a fully online master’s degree program in Developmental Disabilities, her logic was simple: The field already had a foot in other disciplines, so why not make its content fully accessible to psychologists, health practitioners, lawyers, policymakers and others working fulltime jobs — including those in other countries?
In her own online courses, Jahromi, Professor of Psychology & Education, did worry about her ability to check in on students’ levels of reflection and understanding about a field that has evolved so rapidly.
For example, in Jahromi’s course Working with Families of Children with Disabilities, students reflect on the changing role of parents in this field. “The experiences of families of children with disabilities have changed dramatically in the United States over the past several decades,” she says. “It wasn’t that long ago that parents played a secondary role. Practitioners would say, ‘Put your kid in an institution — that’s the best option.’ Today, parents drive the decisions for their children in special education. Schools need their participation to ensure positive outcomes.”
When I teach on campus, I meet with my class for an hour and 40 minutes, and then I hold office hours at set times. But when I teach online, asynchronously, students respond to course materials on their own time. The discussion goes on all week, and if I want to be part of it and help keep it going, I have to chime in.
— Laudan Jahromi
Jahromi worries that many of her students “come from the current mindset and take it for granted.” Only by appreciating the importance of how far we have come, she says, can students understand the need to be fierce advocates for those parents whose voices are still not heard.
“We’re not done yet ensuring that parents in this country have agency,” she says. “Many still face poverty and ethnic discrimination on top of their child’s diagnosis, and as a result they may have less access to services.
“When I teach in person, I often realize, ‘Hmm, they may not have thought about it this way,’” she says. “I’ll stop and ask, ‘How do you think about parents’ experience of disability historically in the U.S.?’ That way, I know whether I need to place greater emphasis on how much has changed. And then at the end of class I might ask, ‘So where are you now with your thinking, relative to where you were earlier?’”
Thanks to a tool called PlayPosit, recommended by ODL, Jahromi can still achieve the same dynamic process of teaching in her asynchronous course.
“I’ll pre-record my lecture, but at different points I’ll still say, ‘Think about what this concept means to you right now.’ And through PlayPosit, a window pops up for the students asking: ‘What do you think about that topic?’ They type in their answers, and later I see their responses. So, they’re engaging with me even though I’m not there. I can measure changes in their thinking and I can give them feedback.”
In fact, like Angel Wang, Jahromi believes that discussions in her class have, if anything, become richer and more rigorous.
“Online, the students who don’t usually speak up in class tend to come out of their shells,” she says. “They can go in-depth, and I know them more intimately.”
The only caveat: To get that kind of interaction, the instructor may have to be willing to put in more time.
“When I teach on campus, I meet with my class for an hour and 40 minutes, and then I hold office hours at set times. But when I teach online, asynchronously, students respond to course materials on their own time. The discussion goes on all week, and if I want to be part of it and help keep it going, I have to chime in. ODL really helped me to adapt to this structure.”