Teach like a teacher

Whether dabbling in flipping the classroom as a blended experience, or being a fully online teacher one of the biggest struggles in the medium seems to be knowing how to teach without non-verbal communication or body language.

A common complaint is that we can’t see our students, so it is a challenge to know if they are hiding in a corner in fear of the curriculum, or simply busy on that particular day.  Jane Good, of Colorado’s 21st Century Virtual Academy, notes “her inability to read body language or hear the tones of her students’ voices” in a recent article for Time.com

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2117085,00.html#ixzz1xgWDBbXa

While I agree with this assessment, my somewhat biased state of mind says, “good teachers teach students.”  So attempting to gather that nugget of wisdom and apply it to Ms Good and other online teacher’s dilemma, I realized that like a person struck suddenly blind, we as online teachers must develop our other senses.  We need to find ways to see.

Blind folded people struggling to get around.  Cartoon.

Some techniques which should be used in traditional face-2-face schools can be adapted to the online teacher’s blindness.  And I think there-in lies the disconnect.  So many times in face-2-face we stop doing the things that we know we should be doing.  Is it the time crunch?  Is it the ever-pressing testing imperative?  I don’t really know why, but because we have so much visual data to call on, our other senses and techniques seem to atrophy.

CAT'sThus in the spirit of everything old is new again, the online teacher must relearn these techniques and hone them for an online environment.  Sometimes these are called CAT’s (Classroom Assessment Techniques) and I was first introduced to them as an undergrad two decades ago.  I was reintroduced to them at a class a few years ago in a book (which you can pick up) Let’s look at how they still apply today:

Muddiest Point

Muddiest point is a teaching technique where a teacher asks each student to write on a card what they are less confident about in a particular unit or lesson.  The cards are passed forward.

In the online world, a text, email or IM simply substitutes for the card.  In D2L, current platform at Illinois Virtual School we have a “pager” which is an internal IM. I just paged all of my students with “If you had to pick one thing which was most confusing in our class this week, what would it be?”

What other ways might you set up this question?

Chain Notes

The teacher passes around a large envelope with a question about the class content. Each student writes a short answer, puts it in the envelope, and passes it on.

I am thinking that when the upgrade to D2L goes through in July, I may add this as a discussion board.  D2L is adding the capability to force an answer before students can view each other’s posts.  So I think for this type of question this would facilitate it nicely.

Has anyone done this differently online?

Student-generated test questions

Now this one I have done before, both on and offline.  In the past online I have used these as discussion posts where a student generates a question and then is required to answer another student’s question.  However, I have to admit that sometimes the question quality was difficult for another student to work with.  In a face to face classroom I had better editing capabilities.

So brainstorm of the day, here is what I am planning next year.  Instead of answering the other persons question, student’s second post will ask them to critique to offer suggestions for either a)improving clarity, or b)improving the depth of the question (ie, take a knowledge question and turn it into an application question.) Oh wouldn’t Bloom be proud 🙂

Then I will take a smattering of questions which I approve and submit them to my question bank for improved randomized banks.  Yep I am giggling like the pedagogy nerd that I am right now.

Teach like a Teacher
So, what has this blogging exercise reminded me?  That good teachers reflect on teaching, gather tidbits of methods like an arsenal, and adapt.  We adapt because media change, students change, curricula change and we change.  In the end, good teaching stays the same.  Transitioning to online is just another example of the age-old adage, “the more things change the more they stay the same.”  So, as online people we need to remember what we already knew dust it off and make it new again.
Please leave comments if you have suggestions on how to hone non-visual cues from online students.  I would love the feedback.
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