As an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, I thrived on having infectious energy and passion to make my lessons as fun as possible for my students. Their reactions and energy in turn always gave me an extra boost of confidence that what I was doing was working.
With an online class, that is difficult to do. The students’ school life and their home life are completely different, making your students react differently than you expect. You are limited to a computer screen in their home. You are a guest. This is not your teaching and learning environment that you have control over anymore.
When it is said like this, online teaching feels so limiting because you have to fight for your students’ attention. You think that they are “listening” to you, but actually they are watching a YouTube video—but you also have access to those same tools to get their attention. A computer is a tool of endless possibility that is “restricted” to a small screen. It’s hard to know where to start when there are so many choices and techniques. It is overwhelming, and it is easy to give up on the new things that are available to us and go back to what is comfortable—trying to treat this like a normal traditional class.
The screens will be illuminating in so many houses this year. Even though it seems restricting, it is full of untapped potential through using YouTube, games, and new teaching techniques to help students get fully on board and committed to this change. I am excited to see what creative teachers do to capture their students’ attention through a screen.
I see myself as someone who is walking in dark and unfamiliar territory with a stick lit from my own bonfire, searching and igniting other bonfires.
How does the role different than that of a F2F instructor?
It differs because you have to keep students’ attention in an environment that you have no control over, and that is really intimidating and challenging at times. However, online teaching makes it easy to look back on recordings and student activity to see where you went right or wrong. It makes the reflective process more accessible to learn and become better than before. You don’t have that opportunity in a traditional classroom, unless you set up a camera and record, which is a pain to do, so you usually just think about the class from memory.
What are competencies you think are the most important?
From what I have experienced with Online Teaching as a university student, I do not think that pedagogy skills are the most important. I think that content knowledge is the most important because the teacher needs to have a good grasp on the content. Majority of the time they did not create the curriculum for the online course. Many teachers make this fact really apparent when you ask them questions, creating a disconnect between them and the student. It is hard to become passionate about a course when your teacher barely knows anything about it and seems to be riding on the coattails of someone else’s work.
You need both organization and technology skills to create smooth and understandable activities or discussions for your students to complete without you being there to aid them through the process. Without these skills, it would near impossible to teach an online class without being flooded with questions and concerns from the students.
Pedagogy skills, of course, are also important, but I wish it was more important in current online classes because it sometimes feels like the professor is just there to answer questions and not teach because the content has been outlined to be clear and understandable by someone else.
Obviously, this would be different depending on the student’s level and whether you created the curriculum.
For traditional teaching, pedagogy is the most important because you are there in front of the students and need to be able to teach and manage the classroom environment well in order for the students to learn. A classroom environment relies on your skills as a teacher while everything else is useful in making that easier for you.
To what extent if any, does your online teaching philosophy differ from your face-to-face teaching philosophy?
In terms of my overall philosophy, it does not change all that much.
I will still try to be entertaining and make learning fun through new techniques and mediums. I was already implementing YouTube videos and GIFs that the students liked to capture their attention.
I just want to make sure that students know when it comes to a certain time of day, they can turn on their computer and expect the same passion and energy that they are used to in a new format, regardless of whether they can provide the same enthusiasm in their home environment.
I think you make a really good point when you talk about the online space blurring the boundaries between the learning environment, and the students own personal spaces. In the F2F classroom, your teaching/learning space is often defined by the configuration of the room – tables/chairs and technology (project/whiteboards) – and by attending the learners may be signalling their motivation/intention to learn (though I think distractions such as youtube and social media still compete for attention in that space). As Gulia mentioned in her post, knowing why your students are present might help you design the learning space in either venue – which leads to questions about motivation. Why are students taking the course, and what are they hoping to get out of it? How can you help scaffold their learning? As others in the course have highlighted, creating clear communication so learners know what to expect may be one key aspect – adding on the types of activities that may get their attention might be another.
You talk about pedagogy skills not being as important as content knowledge – but I am not quite sure what you mean by pedagogy. Pedagogy goes beyond the delivery of content (ie standing up and delivering) – it is considering curriculum within a broader societal framework (what knowledge and skills are important in this time/place), what your theoretical assumptions about learning are (which we explore more next week), and then aligning those with your outcomes and assessments. Then the strategies and tasks you use to help learners meet those outcomes are just one aspect of your pedagogical approach. If you have a constructivist or connectivist perspective on learning, your pedagogical strategies will be very different from a behaviourist one (and may not include any direct lecturing at all :)).