Monday, February 28, 2011

Flying Blind

Last week I taught the second half of a writing-fiction course. Nothing new in that -- I teach often. This one, however, was different. Sponsored by the Odyssey Workshop run by Jeanne Cavelos, it was on-line, conducted with Go-To-Meeting conferencing software, and I could not see any of my fourteen students. Two of them were in Australia, two in Japan, one in Canada, the rest scattered around the United States.

It's very odd lecturing to people when you cannot see their faces. I am used to nods, smiles, expressions of interest or concern or puzzlement, raised hands to ask questions. Questions were possible; the student typed a Q in the "chat box," the monitor "un-muted" him or her, and then everyone could hear the question and my response (they could also hear my dog bark). Other classroom activities were likewise possible: I "wrote on the board" by typing on my screen, which typing then appeared on theirs. Prepared hand-outs could be put on screen, scrolled through, and discussed. Email took care of homework assignments. In fact, everything was there from a usual classroom -- except faces.

Faces, it turns out, are critical. Even for me, who has trouble recognizing them (see previous post on prosopagnosia). I'm not saying I would not teach on-line again, but I am saying it was an eerie experience. Sort of like teaching ghosts.


Author, Planet Heidi said...

Yep, I've guest lectured a few classes up at UW this way. A decent chunk of the students were virtual and unless you really structured your material with this in mind, they pretty much get left behind. Even if you do prep your material for remote, they still do not get anywhere near the full teaching experience. Learning is a f2f activity!

Author, Planet Heidi said...

Oops, got cut off there. Even without any cognitive challenges (aka broken facial recognition) the whole remote teaching thing is tough challenge. But in general beware, more and more institutions are pushing for doing remote instruction as a way to push up enrollment. Like I said, UW has started doing this and overall, it's been very painful on both the students and the teachers.