I had a very enlightening experience this week being spontaneously invited to participate in a new online videoconference about learning to pivot as a teacher to the emergency responsive teaching that we’re being asked to do while we’re social distancing by Dr. Verena Roberts and Dr. Bryan P. Sanders. As usual, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into but I just pushed through any hesitation I had, and said yes.
Being a secondary teacher has some precarious moments. When I moved this year to teach in the community where I live, people warned me that the awkward moments would happen more often. So I was walking through my local park at night around 10:30 pm, and especially during social distancing, I didn’t know what to expect but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see anyone. Of course I did. I saw a clunky old car filled with people playing really loud music while the now familiar smell of sour skunk leaked out. A second car ran up and three young people ran past me to investigate the river from the bridge. I didn’t know these people but I really intentionally started walking in the opposite direction. Reflecting on that decision, I realized I didn’t want to know if these people were my students and I wanted them to let me be alone with my Google Fit steps and my Wizards Unite game. I wanted to be alone in my sphere as much as they wanted to be left alone in their sphere of socialization.
In our discussion on learning to pivot to online discussions. I told this story as an example of how I want my online classroom space to be very clearly defined. I said that I want some social media distancing from my students as we all jump into online spaces for the sake of education. Dr. Anders Norberg seemed to enjoy my new phrase and talked about how the very nature of communication is so thin and liquid in online spaces now. I don’t know what he’s reading, but I need to get a hold of it as I totally agree!
In another conversation this week with Albert Fong, I talked about the inadequacies and urgency I felt about being able to set up real conversations with my students. He told me to put the brakes on and gave me some very strong arguments about how teachers should never need to see our students online. This gave me pause for thought. As a seasoned online teacher, I’ve been whining about getting an embedded videoconference tool of my own, but that’s within the very formal schedule of my allotted 75 minutes per day, sort of an office hours approach I suppose. As someone who is now in the position of trying to coerce and cajole my students into finishing strongly with a beautiful portfolio of creative writing work….I’m not sure I need to go through the period of orientation and infantile behaviour that seems to come along with any new crowdsourcing, cloud-based tool especially one, as Albert said, that could potentially lead me to see into my students homes, and private lives.
So as cool as I am, and as much as I am on social media, I don’t want to hotbox with my students in their social media spaces. I had a student talk to me out loud on Twitter about handing in an assignment, and I responded as nicely as I could that sure he could but could we talk about that in Google Classroom? He immediately realized his overstep but this is the lack of definition I’m talking about. If I see you at play in the park late at night, we don’t need to talk about that. If you see me playing Legends of Zelda through my Nintendo account, we don’t have to talk about that either. But I’m still wrestling with how to negotiate these liquid places of information and communication. I don’t need to know what they’re doing outside of my classroom, and at the same time I don’t want to give them the message that I’m not approachable or open to their weird and wonderful ideas. I guess we’ll all find out in the coming weeks a little more than we know now.