Like trivection ovens and sitcoms, teaching online involves harnessing three kinds of heat.
As teachers, we should take care to diversify our pedagogical tactics. Using both synchronous and asynchronous elements, as well as preparing students to use technology effectively, are essential to a well-run virtual classroom. We often think that moving a class online means we must minimize or overhaul our approach. But the virtual classroom is only one point of contact between students and instructor, and many of our most reliable strategies will work just as well online as in-person.
thermal, adj. Of, pertaining to, or of the nature of thermae; Promoting the retention of heat.
Before you begin an online discussion, consider preparing students in two ways. First, give students the opportunity to learn the basics of your online conferencing tools. Set up a fifteen minute trial meeting in which students will learn how to log on, how to use functions such as mute or break-out groups, and how to “raise their hands” or signal other kinds of participation.
And while specific to Zoom, these tips can give you an idea of the variety of tools available in most conferencing platforms. Your virtual classroom should have rules, and unlike the traditional classroom, in which most rules are tacit, online classrooms require making explicit many of the basics (how to signal a speaking turn, etc). So before you run this beta-test, make sure you have your own protocols in place and can communicate them to students.
Second, consider using an agenda for the actual class meeting and have students come in prepared for the day’s activities. Make students aware of what will be accomplished in the meeting and what the expectations are for their participation. I recommend giving students asynchronous prompts, exercises, or small group assignments before the synchronous class meeting. In my experience, keeping an online discussion focused can be a difficult task -- using prompts and other kinds of content prep can help a lot.
While students may be familiar with many kinds of online conferencing, rarely will they have used such tools pedagogically. In fact, most of us have used such tools only for general meetings and not for teaching or learning. The goal of preparing students for discussions or class-time is to minimize the presence of the technology itself, by eliminating user error or distraction, and by giving students clear expectations of how they will participate, both logistically and generatively.
Rapport and intimacy
microwave, v. To transmit (signals, information, etc.) using microwave radiation as a medium.
Many of us will miss the energy and intimacy generated by in-person instruction, especially the feedback loop that we use to gauge our effectiveness as teachers. Students especially may be lonely for the contact provided by the classroom setting. The classroom itself is a powerful motivator -- students can see and be seen, and have opportunities for casual and low-stakes participation (chatting, joking, small group discussion, etc). I want to dispel the notion that such intimacy is impossible to replicate in an online setting -- it may look different, but creating student accountability, first through preparation and then through rapport with their classmates, remains paramount.