My current teaching situation has me at home, teaching through my computer screen to nine students in various places in the US. It has been an interesting assignment, to say the least. Especially, considering my previous teaching experience was at a small, family-like, international school. I don't know that I could have experienced two more extreme environments:
Online teaching = no "human" interaction, separation at its best. The classroom is held together by invisible wires and transmitters that connect our words but not our beings. The intersection of our lives lasting for 90 minutes a week, one semester of a lifetime. The content administered view Blackboard videos, emails, and Haiku and Kidblog.
International school teaching = close knit community, students and staff operate with many faucets of life intersecting one another. The faces that I see in the classroom are the ones I also see on the cross-country course, performing on stage, and living life on campus as dorm students. The intersection of our lives (for some of my students) lasts years. (In fact, two former students are now going to college in the states and are flying in to MN to spend Thanksgiving with us because they have no where else to be.) The content was administered through activities, active learning, conversations and built upon a tangible relationship between me and my students. I hated lectures as much as my students, so we were always learning in other ways (when possible). I loved it, and I think they did too.
But I am like a fish out of my fishbowl in the online classroom. I struggle to figure out how to get the technology to work to my advantage--how to use the technology to create active, constructivist approaches to learning how to write. And it truly bothers me to my core because I want to use instructional strategies that I know are best practice, but am too technically challenged or unaware (or it is just plain impossible) to be able to create learning that mimics the "real" classroom. Add to that I work from home, which really means I try to work with 2-3 lovely, precious, loud, demanding angels floating around the house. There is no "prep" hour for the stay-at-home, teaching-from-home mom. Well, not until about 8:30pm--not the most productive time for the synapses in my brain!
But this week I had a bit of a break through! I gave myself permission to use 45 minutes of our Monday lecture to allow the students to meet in break-out rooms with a partner and peer revise together using googledocs and breakout rooms. And it actually went well! I had tried this one other time but I did not leave enough time for students to share with each other and most students were so tripped up by having to learn how to create a google doc, share it, make comments and then find those comments later that the experience didn't produce the peer revising I had hoped for--most students didn't even get involved. The technicalities of getting their work shared was so much of a headache I didn't see how it would ever work to continue with the technology available. But because we had to do another constructivist-style lesson, and because I had a busy week and didn't find the time to write a 90 minute lecture on reviewing revising, I decided to try again.
This time, however, I tried to eliminate anything that would slow down the process and didn't need to be a part of the experience to make it constructive. So, I uploaded all the papers to the google docs, I shared them, I sent out the links, and I partnered the students who were finished together (and connected together those who were behind). We did a quick review of how to make comments on google docs. And away they went. It was beautiful. By the next day I had an email box full of messages revealing that students were communicating with each other about their work. I could see they were conversing back and forth via the google doc comments, and it made me happy!
Because I gave myself permission to be removed from the lecture seat (which I might get in trouble for later because I don't think the school is a big fan of this constructivist approach to learning)I was able to see that all they really needed was time to connect (and a means to do so). I don't think it really replaced a "real" classroom experience, but it got us a little closer to actively participating in an authentic learning experience.
Links to all the, Go and See Study, sessions.