Teaching online: Udemy grant winner shares his secrets

This summer, online video instruction company Udemy announced its "Summer of Teaching" grant, with the intention of providing the winning instructor $5,000 and 100% of course revenues for life. Last week, Peoria, Ariz., middle school teacher Larry Paul was announced as the winner.

Paul, a veteran educator who taught in Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools systems before moving to Arizona, has worked as both a regular classroom teacher and substitute at "just about all grade levels." Paul also has a background in coaching soccer, and that's where his winning Udemy course, "Street soccer: A guide to using small sided games," comes in. He previously developed a DVD and Website that were used by U.S. Youth Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association in their own materials, so an online course was a natural extension.

Education Dive caught up with Paul this weekend to discuss the pros and cons of teaching online and what advice he'd offer anyone thinking about taking a class of their own to the Web.

What was your overall experience like teaching the online class?

I was an instructor with the Maryland Youth Soccer Association, and so it follows very much the [same] format. The online aspect has been very good, very positive. No surprises there, it’s the type of course where you get it and you go out and you use it, and you actually come back after a period of time with questions. Udemy was very easy to use. Like I said, I’ve done the DVD and done a Web site, and [Udemy] was a very user-friendly platform.

How was the process of applying for the Summer of Teaching grant?

I remember looking at that now. When they called and said I’d won, I was like, “Really? Wow.” But I remember looking at it, and it was for new courses and new instructors over a period of time. That didn’t really interest me that much. I just did what I wanted to do in the format I wanted to do it, and put it up online anyway. Then, I basically forgot about any awards presentation or a contest.

What do you think are some of the advantages to online teaching that you noticed?

Well, there’s the concept of “MOOC”—that’s where I think education is going.  I think they’re going to do to brick-and-mortar education what Amazon is doing to retail. The big advantage is it offers a true ability to select and go á la carte throughout whatever discipline it is you’re looking for, so you’re able to focus in on expertise as opposed to a full curriculum. It’s just a tremendous opportunity.

Are there any disadvantages to online that you noticed?

There’s always the disadvantage of not having the human-to-human contact. Working in school systems now, the kids are getting so much stuff that’s online, within educational structures, that you’re losing the human-to-human contact. That has to be balanced out. If you’re going to be working in an online environment, you still need to work with some type of a situation where you’re mentoring or being mentored by humans.

What advice would you have for anyone wanting to teach a class online?

Keep it short and concise. Try to have a sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but take the content seriously. You can see a whole bunch of the excellent presentations online where it’s kind of a relaxed thing, but they still get their point across.

In general, it’s getting to be a lot more user-friendly. Udemy is very good at having support, getting questions answered very quickly on “how to.” There’s never a long wait on understanding what their policies, procedures or practices are to get things done. And just have a clear focus and take a shot. That’s the big thing. The big thing on these MOOCs is just put it out there. That’s part of what this is about is to experiment with things and let things sort of shake down from there.


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