Even as things have clearly changed in my classrooms (due to the whole distance-teaching thing), some things haven’t. It all feels SO different, but I’m trying to assess how much of that is just my impression, and how much is reality.
Here is a list of What I Can Still Do, even online or in a Zoom session. Caveat: some of these things exist in a highly modified form, and may be less effective than in a face-to-face setting. But still, some version of these things exists. I can:
- Talk to students (more easily as a group)
- Encourage learning (does it feel as sincere over a video feed?)
- Present information (sync and async)
- Ask questions, have conversations (Sort of. Video is different, right?)
- Ambush students with questions in class
- Assign work (formative evaluations like homework)
- Collect work (via uploads, copy-paste, etc. Is that the same?)
- Evaluate work (Painful if I’m evaluating digitally, and also if I’m evaluating with a pen and then scanning)
- Return work (via email)
- Give tests (summative evaluation, but zero test security)
What I am unable to do:
- Impose/Impress/engage with my physical presence
- Say something funny and not have to have students unmute to so I can hear them laughing
- Have a spontaneous conversation
- Be easily interrupted by a spontaneous question
- Wander the room, asking my students one-by-one if they have a question or need any help
- Get to know new students in a “normal” social setting (ie. face-to-face)
One of the things that has made the Zoom videoconference solution so impressive and useful to teachers is the set of classroom-similar capabilities that have been built into the interface: strategies for raising a virtual hand, a system for virtually “clapping” for someone, breakout rooms that students can be easily assigned to… It’s so well done, and I understand that there are security issues around some aspects of the service. Most of those, I believe, have been addressed in recent updates.
My classes have done a surprisingly good job adapting to our new circumstances, and although there’s no doubt that things have been disrupted (especially in my Physics classes), we’re going to survive to the end of the school year.
I am engaged in ongoing conversations with peers, however, about what we might have to do at the beginning of the school year if we’re still under some sort of restrictions, as we almost certainly will be. That bears some consideration.
Fortunately, most of my summer plans have been cancelled so I’ve got some time to think about this….