Instructors Take Note!

Instructors Take Note!

by Jennie Ruby, COTP

That’s right: note taking. It’s not just for students, anymore! 
Of course we are used to thinking of note-taking as a student activity. And it certainly still is. In one of my online classes just this week, one of my students said, “Hold on, hold on! I’ve got to get this down!” before she would go on with answering a question I had asked her. Then she answered my question, and no doubt wrote that down as well! But she and the other participants were not the only ones taking notes in my class. I was taking notes, too.
Starting during the participant introductions at the beginning of my online classes, I begin to take hand-written notes. I make sure to have a well-spaced roster of my participants, with plenty of room to write. During their introductions, I note key facts about them, such as where they are calling in from, what kinds of topics they work with, and what organization they work for. 
Taking these notes by hand helps me learn about my students. My goal in online classes is to get to know my students at least as well as I get to know participants in face-to-face classrooms—or maybe even better!
Recent research by Pam Mueller of Princeton University, along with Daniel Oppenheimer now at UCLA, shows that hand-written notes may help us learn things better. That’s important for students, and in my classes I sometimes mention this fact to learners. Now, the type of information that hand-written notes helps the most with is conceptual knowledge, rather than just plain facts. Notes typed on a laptop seem to be just as effective for learning rote facts and details. 
But I hand write my “class” notes anyway—notes about my class participants, not about my content—and I notice a dramatic improvement in my ability to remember who my students are and where they are coming from. I feel like I truly get to know them.
Once I know my students, I can help them with learning the content of the class by actively using examples that relate to their experience. For example, if I know one of my learners for eLearning software is going to be creating training videos for active-duty nurses, I might mention a few ways to engage learners without audio voiceover. Why? Because the nurses may be trying to absorb the eLearning while working at a station in a busy ward, where they can’t use earphones!
I teach online courses by myself in a room full of computers, monitors, and microphones. I may not see another human being all day. But at the end of the day, I do not feel as if I spent the day alone. I feel the same as if I had spent the day getting to know, and then working with, a room full of people.
Here are some of the things I take notes about:

~ Where participants are calling in from
~ What topics they work with (finance, healthcare, manufacturing, etc.)
~ What role they play (instructional designer, training manager, instructor)
~ Contributions/comments they make about the class
~ Questions they ask that I promised to cover later

And in my software classes, I create a column for checkmarks, where I note whether each student has had a turn to share their computer screen. 
In the online classroom, we need every possible tool we can use to get to know, engage with, and create learning experiences with our participants. Try note-taking in your next online class!
Jennie Ruby, CTT, COTP, is a veteran eLearning developer, trainer, and author. Jennie has an M.A. from George Washington University and is a Certified Technical Trainer and Certified Online Training Professional. She teaches both classroom and online courses, and has authored courseware, published training books, and developed content for countless eLearning projects. She is also a publishing professional with more than 30 years of experience in writing, editing, print publishing, and eLearning.

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