Monday, May 18, 2020

Thinking Out Loud

Media Modifier via Pixabay
Yesterday afternoon, I turned in my grades, officially bringing the online experiment that was our spring semester to a close. As I graded final papers and responded to a flood of emails, I often talked back to the screen -- sometimes in joy, sometimes in frustration -- and I talked to my family about my progress (and my students' progress) -- anonymously, of course.

A lot.

Each time I'd have one of those conversations, I wondered why. I mean, grade the papers, do the work, check it off the list, right? The fact that my family's eyes would glaze over as I worked through my own thoughts out loud for the twentieth time made me wonder why I couldn't be a grown-up, do my job and keep my mouth shut.

Yeah. Sure. That's me.

I have never been a woman of few words. When I was a teenager, one of the phone companies did a promo where they handed out buttons that said, "I've got the gift of gab." I wore mine proudly. Never did a button describe me so well.

It isn't (just) that I like to talk. It's that I process out loud. My daughter does this, too, but less so than I do. And as I was processing all of this, partly in my head and partly out loud, it occurred to me that part of the reason for all of this was another loss I can ascribe to our rapid switch to online teaching.

No team.

From the time I was in graduate school, I was trained to work as part of a team. When a team of teachers works with students and shares ideas, good things (usually) come out of it. Different styles  converge around the table to consider multiple solutions, both inside and outside of the box. As brainstorming ensues, the list of "what if we tried this?" grows and a shared plan emerges. Emailing colleagues just doesn't have the same effect. When a gift of gab team player goes online, she talks back to her computer screen, but it rarely has anything relevant in the way of a reply.

The concept that the first step in solving a problem is identifying it definitely applies here. As online learning becomes woven more deeply into the tapestry of education, losses like this are something we need to consider and plan for. Well-designed online courses definitely have a place in our busy, tech-focused society, but operating in a vacuum is a real danger. As the semester progressed, I found small ways to up the social ante for my students, using tools that allowed them to post videos and respond to one another, and to virtually visit with me through Zoom office hours. It's not the same as face-to-face, but it's a start. While the feedback I got was largely positive, offering options matters, too; not every student wants to post a video and not every class should be asynchronous (not meeting at specific times).

Peggy Marco via Pixabay
Being thrown into online teaching was quite the experience. I learned a lot, I made some mistakes and, as it turns out, I learned a few things about myself as well. I didn't hate this (I thought I would) and I see real potential for turning my classes into dynamic online learning communities where those who think out loud (like I do) can find their space alongside those who are happy to be alone with their laptops and the content. And, while I haven't yet solved my need for a team, recognizing its importance will help me identify when and where it's needed most and, eventually, find a way to make that work as well.

Till then, my husband and daughter are probably on the hot seat. But, right now, we're all on break.

No comments:

Post a Comment