Teaching for the first time in sixteen years continues to be exhilarating and fascinating.
LDES-703 is an interesting experiment, a hybrid on several levels. Our live sessions take place one night each week. For those most of the students gather in a face-to-face classroom on Georgetown’s campus. One student, based in California, joins via videoconference. I, based all over the place, follow suit.
The classroom has multiple cameras and microphones. An Owl camera captures a wide range of views, and also rotates to face whichever student is making the most noise. As instructor, my experience looks something like this:
At the top you see me, an overview of the whole thing, the remote student, and our class name. The second tier shows the Owl view, around 270 degrees of the class (maybe more). The bottom row offers glimpses of students, including one speaking on the right. Sometimes the second and third tiers offer two different glimpses of the same person, which is pretty neat.
(There’s a chat box, but only for students who aren’t in the Georgetown classroom.)
In practice… it’s really smooth. I can hear students speaking, which is essential. I can also get a sense of the room’s vibe or gestalt. Students can see and hear me, so long as I score places with sufficient bandwidth.
In terms of course material we have moved into looking at futures, so we’ve covered a series of methods. We have fun crafting a four-scenario quadrant set. Some students were familiar with the Horizon report from last year, and several had actually built their own versions, so discussion went well.
We had one major reversal when it came to asynchronous technology. Readers may remember that I offered a set of technologies for the students to choose from:
Canvas (the official campus LMS)
Discourse (nice discussion board tech; would plug into a WordPress instance)
Domain of One’s Own (Georgetown already has this set up)
Email (for communication and also Google Alerts)
RSS readers (thinking of introducing Feedly and Inoreader)
Instagram (will need a class hashtag)
Twitter (” ” ” ” “)
WordPress (either a single class blog or each student with their own blog)
I presented each one with its affordances, advantages, and limitations. On the sly I built up a quick little WordPress site for them to use. I was surprised to hear a class consensus in favor of… the learning management system. Some saw it as more private, and they valued their privacy. Many others liked its integration into calendars and workflow.
So I had to very quickly stand up a Canvas instance, which I’d never done before, despite having followed the LMS scene closely from the start. That entailed a rapid dive into online tutorials, ruthlessly exploiting a friendly Georgetown technologist, and applying all of the online pedagogy I’ve developed and studied in my career. Canvas was by far the easiest LMS I’ve used. I did hit some odd blocks – modules didn’t work for my purposes, and discussion thread organization was iffy – but managed to build and roll the thing out. Students requested formal Assignment pages for each assignment, which was fair, so I wrote those up.
Again, note that this is my taking classroom democracy seriously. The students got to make informed decisions that practically shaped and reshaped the class. I want them to own this, and have to be ready to change my plans and do more work as a result.
So far the students approve. They’ve been using the discussion items well.
Also in terms of democratic pedagogy, we continue to share our respective experience of higher education. The combined population is pretty diverse this way, so our conversation yields a broader picture of higher ed than if we just hewed to a single view. I’m fascinated by their individual trajectories and excited about where they’re headed over the next several months.
Next week they will wade into Brian C. Mitchell and W. Joseph King’s How to Run a College: A Practical Guide for Trustees, Faculty, Administrators, and Policymakers. The idea here is to deepen the students’ understanding of how an American college or university actually works. We already began on the first week with an exercise that shared their pre-class knowledge of academic institutions. Now Mitchell and King will take them further.
Also up for Wednesday: they are to check out current news stories from Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle, blogs, and Twitter content that they find. This is their start in conducting environmental scanning, which we introduced last week.