Open SUNY Online Teaching Ambassador 2016 – FIT: Lourdes M. Font
Lourdes M. Font, Ph.D., (B.A., Middlebury College, M.A., Ph.D., New York University) is an Associate Professor in the department of History of Art and in the M.A. Program in Fashion and Textile Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she has been a full-time member of the faculty since 2003. She has also taught at Parsons School of Design and at New York University. Among her recent publications is a contribution to Fashion Mix: Modes d’ici. Créateurs d’ailleurs (2014), the catalogue to an exhibition at the Musée National de l’Immigration in collaboration with the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. She has also contributed articles and essays to Oxford Art Online; West 86th; Business History and Fashion Theory.
My first experience with online teaching was at another institution in the late 1990s, when software was primitive compared to the platforms of today. My field within art history — the history of fashion and textiles — requires the study of many images and objects. In order to teach online in the ’90s, I had to edit my lectures severely and the number of images was rationed. Since few museums had made their collections available online, there wasn’t much I could do to supplement my content through links to reliable sources. I also found it a struggle to get students to participate.
After this frustrating experience, for over fifteen years I taught only in the classroom; during that time, everything about online teaching improved by leaps and bounds. I realized that my colleagues were having very positive experiences, and I wanted to make courses in my area available to more students. So in 2014, I decided to try again, training in the fall of that year to teach my first online course in the SUNY system in Spring ’15.
It turned out to be a great decision. Students now lead so much of their social lives online that they are very comfortable participating in an online course. In the classroom some students will always be far more active participants than others; the challenge is to draw out the quiet ones. I find that I interact more with each and every student in my online course. And I no longer feel constrained by online teaching, but rather liberated by it. I appreciate the freedom from the ticking clock that limits what can be covered in a classroom session. I can enrich the content of my lectures knowing that students can work through them at their own pace, and that I don’t have to cut their discussions short in order to cover the material for that day. Another great advantage of the online environment is that it now offers so many resources for active learning. I can give students research tasks that demonstrate they are engaged with the course material and are mastering it. My experience has been so positive that I look forward to creating more online courses and I recommend online teaching to anyone who has not tried it.