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.

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