Monday, May 30, 2011

How do you show up to the online classroom?

Can a teacher be present with their students without being physically present in the classroom?

Even with the education world focused on the learner, there is no doubt about the power of the teacher to add engagement, expertise, encouragement, management, feedback and inspiration. But does the teacher need to exist in the flesh, alongside the learners? How would a teacher achieve this sense of "presence" in an online class?

I just finished an online post-graduate course in which I felt very connected to both my teacher and my class-mates, even though I live in a completely different hemisphere to them. How did this happen?

1. Basic introductions. Introducing yourself and inviting your students to do the same builds community. A creative idea I grabbed from an article was to have the students write a short paragraph on what they could see from outside the window of their workspace. It adds a sense of place.
2. Immediacy of communication. My professor would respond to emails within 48 hours. This made me feel like he was right there rather than a million miles away.
3. Creative collaboration. Instead of just posting reflection to the discussion board, my professor had us post our own critical questions to one another, to which we all responded, including him.

And some other great ideas from my work:
  • video posts
  • clear direction around the course activities and materials
  • news posts of current issues on the course subject
  • good balance of individualized communication and whole group communication
  • class polls
  • utilization of collaborative software such as google docs and PBWorks.
  • Include humor
Whether we like it or not, online learning is here to stay, and relationship formation and communication through the internet is commonplace. We need to learn how best to capitalize on this and make our presence stronger than ever in our classes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mr Anderson

My favourite teacher will always be Mr Anderson. I had him for both grade six and seven. He was crazy yet instrumental in many areas of my life. As a teacher who wants to make an impact in kids lives, I often refer to the things that made an impact on mine.....and re-use them. If I remember something I learned 23 years ago then it must have been taught well. So what was it that he did right?

1. My love for running, playing sports and being outdoors was affirmed by his passion for it as well. He gave me permission to start becoming me.
2. He never did anything in halves. Once we had a pirate theme and he filled one half of the classroom with sand so we could have a beach.
3. He loved to teach. He always seemed to be having fun.
4. He took learning outside of the classroom and the books and made it real. We did an archeology dig on the field (apparently he got in trouble for that), constructed stuff in science, and went on excursions.
5. He made everything into a game, or real-life simulation. We had a class currency, banking system and jury that would trial people at the end of the week for various misdemeanors.
6. He introduced us to a lot of random things - I picked up my love for graphic design and orienteering right there in grade 6/7

So, when I want to be a good teacher, I try to be Mr Anderson. Love what you do, go beyond the job description, be creative, make it real, and go a little crazy.

Thanks sir.

How do we learn?

I'm in the business of techno-fying learning. Aren't we all? E-learning, M-learning, online learning, digital learning..... it's all about making learning cool and accessible. Students learn better when we add technology, or so the theory goes. And there are a lot of bells and whistles to sprinkle through our courses and teaching these days, most of which assist in the dissemination of information. The list includes social media, podcasts, video-conferencing, flash interactions, games, audio supplements, Youtube, iPad technology, quizzes for your mobile phone, e-books, learning management systems, chat rooms, presentation authoring tools....just to name a few.

A walk through my campus study hall during the semester would suggest that we are on the right track with all this technology. Every student is sitting in front of a laptop, iPad, or cell phone. It seems that if you want students to learn, you need to speak their language, and that language is digital.

But this is only the surface impression. The week before exams painted a very different picture. When crunch time arrived and everyone was madly trying to 'learn', the laptops disappeared. Technology took on a very retro form - the highlighter. I saw only paper modules, study guides, scribbles down the margin and fluorescent highlights. Apparently, when it comes to learning, things haven't changed at all.

The question that often gets lost in all the glamor of technology is, "How do we best learn?" And I'll leave that for another post.