Exploring My Philosophy
As I consider my online teaching philosophy, I am acutely aware of my role in alternative education and the vulnerable population of youth we serve. As I reflect on my own experience as an online student, I realize it’s important to consider my cultural context and lens and acknowledge that the perspective and needs of those I teach can look quite different than my own.
This week I also found myself challenging some beliefs and biases I’ve held. Although I consider myself digitally savvy, my educational philosophy would align most closely with a land-based, environmentally-focused approach. I am beginning to see how teaching and learning online doesn’t have to result in a loss of relationship with students, community, and space. We don’t need to share the same place to discover and share why our place is meaningful. For many of our students, their strongest and most meaningful relationships are formed online.
The Use of a Metaphor
The metaphor I am choosing to use is that of the horse trainer. There are terms used in the horse training world that apply to online teaching and learning; they are harmonious education and submissive obligingness.
The course material referenced Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) Seven Principles of Effective Teaching and indicated that they apply to the online environment. Working with teenagers, I think our margin of error in these competencies can be less as an online teacher. It is much easier for students to disengage and tune-out/off if they don’t see the value in being there. The week’s activities highlighted this with the emphasis placed on the importance of planning. I think students often simply submit and oblige us when we share the same space even if our planning was a little choppy.
In horse training, to accomplish harmonious education, it’s really important to maintain a spirit of partnership in your relationship with the horse and be sensitive to the fact that as a trainer, you hold more responsibility in this partnership than the horse who doesn’t have a lot of choice in being there. Teachers must consider their students’ needs in much the same way as the trainer needs to consider the horses’ need for safety, comfort, playfulness, socialization, variety, and enjoyment as they plan for the day’s lesson.
I have found that in an online environment, I tend to want to maximize my “live” time with students, and I seem to err on the side of being too task-oriented. I’ve recognized that I need to be careful that I am “doing with” rather than “doing to” students (like us, teens are very tuned in to resisting demands!). I want to be a source of comfort to students, not just a source of pressure. If I’m too focused on the agenda I’ve set for our time together, I can easily miss those teachable moments and moments where I should step back and let students explore amongst each other.
Differences I’m Experiencing
Several comments were made in the course material this week regarding how it was more challenging to be spontaneous in an online environment. In my planning process, I am very intentional in using consistency and variety when planning for the student experience. I like to be consistent enough in my approach that my students are confident in what to expect. I try to balance this with enough variety (planned spontaneity?) that students don’t start assuming what will happen and become bored. I want them to stay mentally engaged and not to tune out.
I am learning that this balance looks a little different while teaching online. Being more consistent with clear and predictable patterns as to what needs to be accomplished and what our time will look like avoids confusion and anxiety. One practice I’ve adopted has been sending out the lesson plan for live classes in advance to avoid any elements of surprise. Being spontaneous seems to risk cameras getting turned off. Practices that I might consider monotonous in person can have a very different and positive impact online.
How my Perspective has Shifted
Anne Trepanier (2017), from Carleton University, spoke about the need to help students organize their findings and make sense of what is out there, essentially managing a meaning-making system for students. This resonated with me and highlighted the importance of having an online student experience while in school. Many students are currently seeing their doctors online and gathering critical information online as it is simply no longer accessible in person. As teachers, we have an essential role in supporting and scripting those online interactions and what a great opportunity to practice and receive feedback on these skills in a supportive environment.
I started the course with the mindset of “might as well embrace it, it’s not an option” and am currently feeling that regardless of need, the skill development of being an online learner is one every student should experience while at school. As a teacher, the same passion and willingness to be open and adaptable will see us succeed in an online teaching environment.
Symbol of Online Teaching and Learning
I am choosing a fire pit as an image representing how I see online teaching rather than creating a visual representation of the key skills and competencies. I believe these can vary depending on your teaching context. Knowing yourself as a teacher, being committed to growth, and leveraging your strengths, is always important.
Like the fire, the teacher creates a shared space and draws people in while the magic takes place in the interactions surrounding the fire. These are the interactions between students and the material, students and the teacher, and students with each other.
I also like the image of the fire pit as it is not about technology. Keeping things simple and focused on the intended outcome is important. As an administrator, my experience was that when COVID forced us to move online, teachers with very low digital competence very quickly gained the skills necessary to teach successfully online. Our most successful classroom teachers were also our most successful online teachers. They viewed teaching and learning online as a process or journey rather than a destination. They remain open to new ideas and were willing to learn alongside their students.
Lastly, the fire pit represents leaving the stress of our day or our home behind us and simply focussing on what is right now. This allows us to be authentic, relaxed, calm, and be in the moment with our students.
If you made it this far, thank you for sharing in my post of the week! I’m looking forward to hearing about your evolving philosophy as well. Shoot me a quick comment to let me know you were here.
See you next week, Kate.
Carleton University. (2017). Online teaching skills [Video file]. Retrieved from https://mediaspace.carleton.ca/media/Online+Teaching+Skills/0_9k12pa89 CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Carleton University. (2017). Teaching online and teaching face-to-face [Video file]. Retrieved from https://mediaspace.carleton.ca/media/Teaching+Online+and+Teaching+Face-to-Face/0_cor94y41 Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)