RHere’s my fantasy about online teaching: at home in my lumbar support chair, a view of the bird-filled trees, a steaming mug of hot tea on my desk, and clad in my pajamas. Too often, the real-life student corollary is not so idyllic: limited WiFi, a capped data plan, a busy household with younger siblings vying for attention. Your 47 minute lecture (exactly!) on Ibn Battuta IS riveting. In a lecture hall. In the real-life remote learning context, though, very little can keep a student’s attention for too long.
Your meticulously planned and carefully tweaked group assignment on the Bandung Conference is a hit every year. But how will students with varying degrees of bandwidth collaborate to mark up a document together?
Let’s presume good faith and the best of intentions on the part of our students. And then let’s factor in the realities of anxiety, isolation, strained or distant social networks, keeping a job, looking for a new job, difficult access to tutoring or support, limited study space, and unlimited distractions.
If you’re making videos for your students, keep them short and to the point (10-12 minutes, ideally). The same material delivered in several shorter segments is better than a long disquisition. Use Kahoot, Poll Everywhere, Play-Posit, quizzes in your LMS or via GoogleForms, or Live Zoom to re-grab their attention and encourage interaction after each video segment. Finally, practice compassion. It’s going to be very hard for many of our students to stay plugged in while the demands and distractions of life at home take them out of their campus headspace.
As teachers, we’re going to need some of that same grace in return. Few of us are online experts. Many of us (me especially!) are just learning tools that we want to use with our students in this new, uncharted way of teaching. We’re bound to screw up, forget the steps to share our desktop, or accidentally delete something important–all while students are watching.
They’re looking for leadership from their instructors, but not perfection. If we can show that we understand some of the constraints in their new work spaces, it will help lower their stress and enable them to to better work. With luck, it will also help them empathize with our humanity. And our own steep learning curve.
I sign off today with principles from Professor Brandon Bayne at UNC, Chapel Hill. This document has been making the social media rounds, with Prof. Bayne’s permission.
By Laura J. Mitchell, WHA President