I was thinking back to the first time I was in college, back in 1988 (ooh. I’m really dating myself now). There were no computers in the classroom. We lugged around armloads of textbooks and binders with foolscap clicked into them. There were no text messages coming in on our mobile phones to distract us from what was happening in class (although we did pass notes). Times sure were different back then.
Ironically, I was in a technical school, taking a technical program (TV Broadcasting). So, I was surrounded by technology every day, in the form of TV cameras, video switchers, lights, editing controllers, and the like. To add insight to irony, we were using these tools to communicate messages to audiences. Our great instructors used the technology to help us learn to communicate. I guess I was lucky that way.
What the Tech? Flash forward 20 years or so, and technology isn’t just something you learn about in trade school. It’s incorporated into everything we do. Kids are growing up not knowing life without mobile devices and the Internet, and any of us who are Gen X or earlier are being forced to catch up to a world in which technology is at once ubiquitous and elusive.
As teachers, this can put us in a hairy predicament. We’re just trying to figure out how our new dumbphone* works, and our students are toting iPads and Androids in their backpacks. Yet, we’re supposed to be the experts in the classroom that have it all figured out. We’re supposed to be using the technology as proficiently and seamlessly as they are. It’s enough to make some teachers want to bury their heads in a heavy textbook and never come out.
Rocket Surgery 101. It doesn’t have to be this way. Bridging the gap between what we know as instructors and how our students are learning isn’t as scary as it seems. The problem is, there are SO many choices as to how we’re going to leverage technology in the classroom, that it’s hard to know where to begin. So, I thought it might be useful to provide a couple of tips that you can try out with your students starting right away. I want you to give it a whirl, and report back on how it works. Remember, it’s all an experiment!
Keep in mind, that these tips don’t just have to apply to education in a formal classroom environment. If you’re holding any kind of workshops or training on any level, these techniques can apply.
Virtual Office Hours
Most Learning Management Systems (LMS) have some sort of capacity for holding live chats. Some instructors use this to hold Virtual Office Hours – a set time every week where they are available online to answer questions or concerns, or discuss various topics. It works well and students like the interaction, particularly in a Distance Learning environment. I suggest taking Office Hours to a new level. Why not start off the discussion by posting a video on YouTube and sharing it with the class? You can record straight into YouTube, so you don’t need any fancy editing gear – just a microphone and a web cam. I use this to discuss current events and give reminders of assignment deadlines mostly. But we’ve all been in the situation where we get 20 emails from students asking the same question. Why not use the video to respond to everyone at once?
Once you’ve posted the video, send out the link to the class with the announcement of when your Virtual Office Hours will be taking place. They can view the video, and then show up to the chat already having some discussion points and also having any potential issues cleared up.
Then, if you want to get really fancy, you can take your chat outside of the LMS, and move to something like Skype (live audio chat, good for small groups), or Oovoo (multi-way video chat). Other tools worth looking at include TalkShoe, where you could do a live broadcast and have students “call in”, then share the show with anyone who couldn’t make it to the discussion, or even share it with other classes!
If you haven’t already created a group for your class on Facebook, do it. Let’s face it…the majority of your students are spending all their time on Facebook anyway, so why not be where the action is?
Think of a Facebook Group as an opportunity to create a living, breathing environment where the class can share links, have discussions, and comment on things. You can post photos, videos, links, and events – so there are tons of possibilities. Perhaps you want to post your Office Hours video there, instead of on YouTube? Easy peasy, and again, you can record straight from your web cam. Maybe you want to share links to recent news, or post industry events like tradeshows and conferences to the calendar.
What’s cool is, anything you post will show up in group members’ Facebook stream, so as they go about their day, they will see bits and pieces of things relevant to what they are learning. It’s a way to keep them learning even when you’re not in the classroom. And once encouraged, people love to share, so suddenly, your class is helping to create the content for your course!
The great thing about Facebook Groups, is you can make them secret. That means, the class group won’t show up in public searches, and it’s by invitation only, so you can carry on in a private manner without worrying about a bunch of non-students getting in there and cluttering things up. And if you’re worried about becoming Facebook friends with your students just so you can have them in the group, don’t. You can set individual preferences inside of Facebook so particular friends only see what you want them to see.
So there you have it. Two quick ideas that you can start to experiment with today. Try it out…and get back to me with your thoughts. I’m eager to hear your experiences! And also, if you have any of your own tips to share, please do so in the comments. Happy teaching!
*Hat tip to Jon Swanson
[photo credit: katiew on Flickr]