On Tuesdays afternoons, urged by the much admired Sherri Spelic, I joined an engaging weekly series of webinar discussions from the Office of Open Learning called “Open Teaching Tuesdays”. I am so glad that I did!
The first session was a lively combination of onscreen chat from the hosts and guests, combined with conversations and questions posed in the chat function. Amanda and I texted back and forth enthusiastically from our phones during the webinar and the 45 minutes was over before we had time to breathe. It ended and I felt rejuvenated, even inspired.
I listened in again on the second week and couldn’t wait to for week three. This most recent Tuesday included discussions of Michael Moore’s theory of “transactional distance” or the psychological distance between teachers and students. The focus of discussion was on largely on the social aspects necessary for learning and the need for teachers to shift to a “pedagogy of care” during a global pandemic. We (the panelists in the webinar and the participants in the chat) talked about the characteristics that create and maintain caring relationships, how small acts of online teaching build relationships. I quickly typed a question in the chat: “What does a teacher listening to students look like in an online classroom?”
I was completely unaware in the moment, but they were modelling online listening for me in a synchronous environment. I posed the question in the chat, and they responded in the panel discussion.
After the webinar, I did what I usually do. I started researching and tried to find ways for teachers to demonstrate “listening” online, but I was quickly frustrated. Most of the advice involved getting students to listen, or getting teachers to improve their own listening in a physical space. Then I did what I usually do next. I explored metaphor, analogy, and figurative ways of “listening remotely”.
I brainstormed a list of visible actions which I could take which show to students that I’m “listening” to them.
I can show my students that I am “listening remotely” by
- responding to a statement a student said in a Google meet either synchronously or asynchronously
- commenting on something unrelated to course material that the student shared in email or writing or discussions
- quoting students and crediting them in screencasts or in synchronous meetings or in asynchronous announcements
- mailing them hand written notes home about my observations of their remote learning and contributing to the class community
As this list developed, I started to envision a way of showing the whole class that I’m listening and thinking about them. My brain lit up and I wondered about a weekly newsletter posted to the classroom which sums up some of my learning and what I needed to teach just as I had done in the physical classroom whenever the students had finished a rich task. I wondered about creating a collective news bulletin board where students post thoughts, questions, ideas and we start building a new way of interacting and listening to one another online.
I’m still wondering and I know that I’m not there yet, but as I head into my Google Meeting for the day, I know that I will need a heightened sense of patience for myself and for the muted voices as I remotely listen.