Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Teaching at a Distance: Keeping it Human

I'm thinking a lot about my students right now. I miss them. I've done distance office hours both yesterday and today, and it was so, so good to be able to hear them, see them, and communicate live for a little while, even if at a distance.

I'm grateful for technologies that allows so many different avenues of communication. One of my research interests is social presence. There are multiple different definitions for what "social presence" is all about, but one that I really like is, "the degree to which a person is perceived as a 'real person' in mediated communication" (Gunawardena, 1995).

How can I do this? How can I share a sense of myself as a "real person" in my communication with students? How can they share a sense of themselves as "real" with me and their classmates? There are lots of different ways. Videoconferences are a great way to connect. But lower tech tools--even good ol' email--can also be great ways to connect. How can students perceive me as a real person? The affordances of a particular technology matter, I think. But even more important? My tone, and the way I use the tool to communicate. Basically, I'm working with the belief in mind that my students are real people, whole people, and the way I communicate with them matters.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Teaching at a Distance: Human Connections

Today is day one of our emergency distance learning adventure.* As I'm writing this, it's about 2:30 in the afternoon. So far, so good.

I've had about half a dozen emails from students so far today, mostly just checking in to make sure they understand what is expected of them for the work this week. One shared a concern for a grandparent who is ill--not COVID-19, but a broken hip and related complications. I've had a couple of colleagues check in to see how I'm doing, which was really nice and thoughtful of them. (Last week was a crazy busy week for me, helping many folks figure out new skills and strategies for engaging with their students from a distance. Don't get me wrong; it was a good week...but I crashed on Friday night and rested well over the weekend.)

As much as I'm working on helping my students keep learning--and my colleagues too--I recognize that am learning things throughout this process as well. Here are three things I've learned already:

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Emergency Pivot to Online Teaching and Learning


Here we are.

This is a fascinating time.

It seems to me, based on what I'm reading online, that most colleges and universities in the US, and many (most?) K-12 schools have either already made the decision to suspend face-to-face meetings, or will very soon.

You might think, given my field (Educational Technology) and my particular interests in that field (Online Teaching and Learning, Social Presence Theory, Technology Integration, and Social Media for Learning) that I would be cheering for this whole scenario.

Honest answer: I'm a little worried about how this is going to go.

I say this because I know how much work it takes to teach online. It's not less work in any way than teaching face-to-face. And especially at the beginning, when you're first learning how to teach online, it might very well be more work--perhaps substantially more work.

And I also recognize that I'm biased in all of this, because I actually really like teaching online, and for folks who aren't already on-board, it's going to be even more challenging.


How are we going to do this, folks?

Well, this post is just a place where I figured I'd share a few initial thoughts and resources. This is just my take on things, and a few ideas I've gleaned from other places and Twitterfriends. But if you're suddenly thrust into teaching online, and find any of this helpful, please feel free to run with it, okay?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

When Should We Go Digital?

I'm teaching a course this semester ambitiously entitled "Teaching and Learning with Technology." It'a actually the...eighth time I've taught it, and I have it almost dialed in where I want it at this point. (But it's always a process of refinement, you know? Always becoming, and never arriving...)

A perennial question that comes up at some point each time I teach the course is along the lines of, "When should we use technology, and when should we avoid it?"

I love it when students start asking that question. All too often, I think we assume that technology is somehow going automatically improve teaching and learning. But I think that "when should we use technology" might be the wrong question, honestly. Probably this has to do with the fact that I tend to take a very broad view of technology; sure, computers and tablets and projectors are technologies. But so are books, and pencils, and crayons, and paper, and white boards, and scented markers, and play-doh, and protractors, and juggling balls, and...well, you get the idea? We use an awful lot of different kinds of tools to support and encourage students to learn. Some are digital. Some are not.

So the way I'd like to reframe this question is, "When should we go digital?" Here too, there are probably a variety of answers, and it's not always clear.

But tonight I was in on a Twitter chat with one of my all-time favorite groups of Ttweeting teachers, #iaedchat (Iowa Educators Chat--but there's a lot of folks from beyond Iowa who join in.) Tonight's chat centered around this idea of leadership and learning in digitally-enhanced learning environments. As part of the chat, one of my long-time Twitterfriends, Devin Schoening, shared this wisdom:

I love this! Great advice, Devin. I'm going to pass this along to my students, and hopefully we'll continue to spread this wisdom into lots more schools as well.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Thursday, January 30, 2020

I am a Yellow Crayon

At a meeting last night, my friend, Ruth, gave me a yellow crayon...

This is my crayon. (Thanks, Ruth!)
She gave it to me because--her words--I am a positive, sunny person who spreads joy to everyone around me.

This seriously warmed my heart.

Many people have told me that I am a positive person; this is not surprising to me.

But the tangibility of being given a token like this was a welcome reminder for me of the impact I have on the people around me. Ruth mentioned something specific that had happened a week or two ago while we were working on a mutual, technology-related problem. She tried sharing a file with me, and after I was unable to open it, I emailed her back. My email said, "No joy on my end." And she told me when she gave me the crayon, "I can hardly imagine you with 'no joy.'"

What a lift, from a simple little gift!

I'm embracing it: I am a yellow crayon.

How about you? If someone was going to give you a crayon that represents something about you, what color would they give you, and why?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Grace on Hard Days

In my Facebook memories today, this post came up from 11 years ago...

Interesting for me to see this one.

I remember the context in which I wrote it generally--it was a very low time for me in my personal and professional life--but I am not sure the specifics of why I posted it at this particular time.

As I'm reflecting on this, the thing that I'm finding interesting is that I felt like I should broadcast it on social media. Perhaps it was because I was still relatively new to Facebook, and was figuring out how to navigate the new, online part of my social life. Maybe it was out of some sense that the relatively small number of "friends" I had on Facebook at that time would care to see this. Probably there was some sense of exhibitionism behind this post: I know that early on I shared an awful lot more on Facebook than I do now...and this is the kind of cryptic "you should feel sorry for me but I'm not going to tell you why" sort of post we saw a lot of on social media at that point in history. (Okay, some people still post a lot of that kind of thing, I guess...)

Whatever the full story behind this, what I'm thinking about right now is how we all--and I mean ALL of us--need to have people that we can share the good stuff and the bad stuff with. People who are in our corner no matter what. People who love us enough that we can be our own, true selves with. We all need grace on hard days.

And that, my friends, is at the center of my hope for today. The statement I've seen online about this is, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” (A quick Google search attributes this to novelist Brad Meltzer, but I'm not familiar with his work.) But how about this, all?

I'm thinking about friends whose battles I know, and it's easy to lead with kindness there. But how about the folks I encounter throughout the day? Am I ready and able to lead with kindness?

We all need that grace...and especially on the hard days.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Resolutions, Goal-Setting, and Making a Difference

It's 2020.

I just can't get over the fact that it is 2020.

Wasn't it just 2008 like 6 months ago? The 90s feels like just a few years ago. 2020 is supposed to be "the future" or something, isn't it?

And yet, here we are.

We had a quiet New Year's Eve celebration last night: just my immediate family. We had fondue for supper, played table games, and listened to 80s hits. We didn't even watch New Year's Rockin' Eve or anything; we just spent time together. It was pretty great, honestly.

During supper, we talked about New Year's Resolutions--I asked everyone if they had any resolutions for 2020. My daughter responded with wisdom she had seen on Instagram: "There are two kinds of people in the world: people who don't make resolutions, and people who break resolutions." I was a little surprised by this cynicism, but I get where she's coming from...people do often break their resolutions, and often soon after they are made. I've been there too, honestly. I shared a few examples of resolutions I made that actually stuck, like the year I resolved to lose 30 pounds (which actually took me about 18 months, but I did it) and the year I resolved to read the whole Bible in a year (which I actually did, using a chronological Bible.) But I get where she is coming from. And, when I'm really honest, these are exceptions for me rather than the rule. I'm likely to not follow through on my so-called resolutions either.