“Teaching” from a Distance

Late Friday afternoon I found out I had to be away Monday thru Wednesday, which meant I would not be able to attend the first year seminar Tuesday. What to do?

Saturday morning while listening to our new President Bill Frawley’s powerful inaugural speech, I got an idea. I would ask the class to read and discuss the speech, and explain its relevance for our class. The assignment is here. After the speech, I ran into Martha and casually asked if she was planning to come to class Tuesday. She said she thought so, after which I asked if she would moderate the discussion in my absence. She agreed.

Sometime later, I had another idea. Gardner has been after me for a couple of years to podcast one of my class sessions. Perhaps this would be the opportunity. I emailed Martha and Jerry and asked if they could record the class session Tuesday. They assured me that it would be very easy to do so.

Monday I went off on my trip. Tuesday morning I made a posting to our course webpage letting students know I wouldn’t be there for class, but that I expected them to carry on in my absence.

The discussion was held. A student unilaterally decided to take notes on the class wiki. (The notes make more sense in conjunction with the audio recording which I hope to post later when it gets cleaned up, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) He later reflected on his perceptions of the discussion in his personal blog.

Wednesday afternoon, as I was returning to my trip, I called Jerry to ask if the audio was available for my listening pleasure. He said it should be ready later in the day. Last night I downloaded it from home. This morning, on my commute, I listened to the audio and was very pleased with the thoughtfulness of the discussion. I identified seven of my fourteen students’s voices on the discussion. That’s fewer than a discussion where I’m present but then I call on the students who don’t speak up on their own. Martha and Jerry didn’t do that. The second great pleasure of the recording was to hear for the first time really, how Martha and Jerry teach a class. Of course, I’ve witnessed their teaching technology tools before, but this seemed different. We are very fortunate to have these minds at our institution–they are indeed (administrative) faculty.

I began today’s class by asking their impressions of the discussion, and in particular, whether they felt intimidated by the recording. The consensus of the students who responded was that they did feel uncomfortable at first but soon forgot about it. I don’t what those who didn’t respond thought and it’s possible that was a reason for their not participating.

I observed that my view of class is not where the instructor delivers predigested knowledge to the students who absorb it.  Rather, I stated, the class session is a crucible where knowledge is created through our collective engagement with the material.  As such, it’s not my presence per se which is important for learning, but theirs.
One final note: At the end of class today when most other students left, Stephen told me that during the discussion, he and Hart had been carrying on a side conversation about the topic via IM, because they didn’t want to disturb (or dominate?) the rest of the discussion. It was as if he had gotten away with something.

Does the episode described here constitute teaching on my part? If so, it sure is a different mode than giving a traditional lecture.

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2 Responses to “Teaching” from a Distance

  1. Martha says:

    So there was a backchannel going on in the room? Cool!

  2. Gardner says:

    Wicked, wicked cool. Can’t wait to listen to the podcast. I can anticipate a big smile on my face.

    A question for the guest (admin.) faculty: were you intimidated by the fact you were being recorded?

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