What Learning Through Zoom Can Teach Us
How to pivot from digital panic to digital possibility.
As educators, any of us conditioned to teaching, facilitating, and coaching groups in-person are finding ourselves struggling to feel connection to our classes in this new, Zoom-mediated world. Both students and teachers pine for a return to real-time classes under the guise that online classes cannot possibly be as meaningful as in-person education. I have spent the past 20 years advocating for real-time, in-our-bodies, head-heart-hand, reach-out-and-touch-someone approaches to teaching and learning. Not just because they feel good and are often fun, but also because they have been proven to result in higher levels of engagement and better learning outcomes.
In March, I lurched into a new normal, having resisted online education for years. Alongside other educators in every discipline – whose craft relied on in-person connection – I started doing the best I could, but felt weighted down by the discernible disconnect.
After a few weeks of stewing, I noticed my morale crashing and reminded myself of my own research that explores the effect teachers’ personal mindsets on teaching have on the classroom experience. I realized my mindset when it comes to the online space was very negative, and I was interacting with it as though it was happening to me and my students, rather than with me and my students.
I wrote a question to myself and put it on my laptop: Can I pause to consider the possibilities for play, experimentation, and imagination that this new space might provide? The most dramatic result of this cognitive shift has been in my professional attitude. I now wake up excited to explore the ways I can adapt my learning experience design to the current reality we are all living in.
I now approach the online ‘classroom’ with five verbs in mind: reground, review, recall, repeat, and respect.
Reground the work onto the land. I live and work on the unceded, ancestral, and occupied, traditional lands of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Watuth, Sechelt and Squamish Nations of the Coast Salish peoples. As a settler on this land, it remains a critically important part of my teaching: to recognize and acknowledge the land and, in doing so, design the learning experience from a place of humility and responsibility. Beyond surface-level land acknowledgments at the beginning of a session, I try to weave a reminder throughout the session that we continue to live on the earth, and not in an Internet-mediated cloud.
Review the aspects of my educational practice that I can deliver with ease, comfort, and confidence. Every seasoned educator has a toolkit of tricks that they lean on: asking powerful questions, energizing a crowd, dynamic storytelling, demonstrating a comfort with silence, and emotionally connecting to the group, to name a few. Start by trying to translate that “thing” that you bring into an online experience.
Recall what has worked and what hasn’t for myself as a student, a party-guest, a workshop attendee, and a theatre-goer in all of the Zoom rooms I’ve entered over the past few months. Did breakout groups actually result in me feeling socially connected? If not, why? Was it the question they asked (too personal, too flimsy)? Was it because I felt rushed? I use my own recent experiences as a way to get more insight into the audience I’m serving. And then I ask this same question to two or three folks in my network with different perspectives from my own.
Repeat one word throughout the session, and connect that word to the sessions’ purpose. This means I have to first distill my session’s purpose into one word that resonates, and then I need that word to guide my decisions about what stays and what goes in the final plan.
Respect the forgotten senses – touch, feel and smell – in the ‘live’ (synchronous) sessions. Online experiences hyper-focus on sight and sound, so I am always trying to see if I can accomplish the same goal by drawing on another sense.
Although I’m still eagerly awaiting the day I can return to analog educational spaces, I’ve found these tools helpful when I am trying to pivot from a sense of digital panic, to a one of digital possibility.
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