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Oakland University Professor shares online learning tips - Online Learning - Oakland University

Thu Apr 9, 2020 at 03:00 PM

Phyllis White, a special lecturer in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, began teaching the course What’s on Your Playlist, fully online in 2008. Despite the distance from her students, White makes a point to create connections with each one. As OU faculty and students end the current semester and begin another in a fully online format, White illustrates how students and faculty can still have meaningful discussions, share information and inspire each other---no matter where they are. 


White said that all of her students have one similarity, which helps connect them right from the start. 

“We all use music in our everyday lives to self-regulate, whether that’s to pump up or chill or feel connected to emotions or memories. We start with that in common and expand from there,” said White. She also encourages sharing, by offering a safe place in her class. 

“I believe student voice and student choice is key in structuring the curriculum. Musical identity is a real thing. Sometimes students might feel nervous at first to share their music with others for fear of being labeled somehow. But right away, we establish that our class is a safe place where all music and all students are respected, and multiple perspectives are central,” said White. 

When a student posts something in the discussion forum, question and answer forum or through an assignment, they get feedback, not just from White but from each other. 

“I view us all as teachers. We help each other because we all come with our own life experiences in music listening to share. And if someone makes a mistake or needs help with a concept in their post, peers are there to scaffold learning,” said White. 


What’s on Your Playlist is an asynchronous course. White makes all 14 weeks of the course visible right from the start so students know what to expect and can set intentions and pace themselves over the course of the semester. The students and White interact through Moodle all week long. White said the dialogue is central to the online learning experience. 

On average, White said students complete two activities a week. One is sharing music to illustrate a topic and the other is a written reflection or researched response. She said students have seven days to engage with the materials and to post ideas through a variety of Moodle tools. 

“I want to emphasize that what makes this class different is that we are actually using clips of music of our own choice to express ourselves, not just words,” said White. 

What’s on Your Playlist is a general education course in the area of arts exploration. She said students from all majors have taken the course and done well. 

“Music is so powerful in human experience on levels physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and even in healing,” said White. She said anyone with a love for listening to music enjoys the course. 


Throughout What’s on Your Playlist, White said students share music and thoughts. Every student contributes and White said in a face-to-face class, time constraints would make that an impossible feat. As the students interact with each other and receive feedback, their engagement and passion shines through. 

“I do believe having time to self-edit before posting builds confidence. Likewise, a discussion forum where we can see what another student who was confident with the material might have posted first, helps someone less experienced have a model as we build our own teaching posts. Fostering trust and offering a safe place to voice our ideas is key,” said White. 

Along with the confidence to express themselves safely, comes the ability to make lasting connections. 

“Making personal connections is at the heart of good teaching and learning, whether that’s face-to-face or online. I can’t tell you how many students write wonderful letters expressing that though we’ve never met in person, they feel I know them better than many of their other teachers,” said White. 

She said the most important relationships in life are the ones where the people are together, even if they aren’t sharing the same space. 

“I seek to know each and every one of my students. There are no shortcuts to relationships expressed as feedback in class and email communication or virtual office hours and I’m willing to put in the energy and time to ensure those student-teacher relationships are genuine and healthy ones,” said White. 


White said she had been doing hybrid activities with her students since the early 1990s, but when presented with the opportunity to teach fully online courses, she said she was excited to do so. 

“I enjoy working with students virtually so much, that after 30 years, I only teach exclusively online now,” said White. 

To keep up her enthusiasm and remain involved in the course, she said she is always learning from her students. 

“I learn from my students every single time I am with them. I believe a classroom of 30 students and one teacher is a classroom of 31 learners. Not only do my students teach me about musical artists with whom I may not otherwise have been acquainted, they teach me about life by their examples of hard-work, determination and self-sacrifice. Every student is a gift and I learn how to be a better teacher with each and every encounter,” said White. 


While White has had a great experience teaching online, she chose to participate in online courses. In this time of COVID-19 and the stay at home orders, many OU faculty and students weren’t given an option. White said there are ways for faculty and students to set themselves up for success. 

“(Online learning) can be even more time consuming, especially at first, than an in-seat class. Not because there is more work, but because you need to learn how to work differently. The learning curve of not just the subject material, but becoming comfortable with the way the tools work in your class takes an investment of time,” said White. 

She said online learning does require self-motivation and good time management skills. White recommends a planner or calendar tool and scheduling appointments to work on the course just as if you had come to class. She said just like you would with social media--check in often. 

Finally, she said not to think you are alone. 

“Just because you may be alone at your computer, please don’t be an island who feels alone in the class. Like anything in life, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. So reach out to your professor and your peers. Ask a question or give someone a word of encouragement. Be the most positive person in your online world,” said White. “Online learning can be super relational. And being proactive to talk, ask and explore together is at the heart.”