Online Learning In Person

I’m expecting to return to school in person in the coming weeks. I’m a little concerned due to the endemic ventilation issues the school has always had (which is why we don’t have a vent hood in the Makerspace) but on the whole, I’m quite excited about the opportunity to return, to see these kids in person.

There are some elements of online learning that I’d like to be able to retain and develop even when we can be in person. While the social isolation has been difficult (and something I think we needed practice with since this might not be the last time we have to do this), there have been some teaching techniques that I’ve developed that I don’t want to lose.

  • Ongoing List of References
    • I keep a #references channel going in Discord where we can go back and look at Wikipedia pages, tutorials, parts lists, and so forth. It’s incredibly useful. The whiteboard gets erased. Notes get lost and forgotten. But a live set of links with embedded conversation is useful almost every day.
  • Letting quiet students work alone or with one other person
    • Quiet students genuinely often need and thrive in a quiet environment adjacent to the larger social environment of the class. Giving them a channel in which they can still communicate, but can move at their own social rhythm has been really beneficial, particularly in a rowdy class.
  • Keeping an open discussion channel outside of class
    • This one is really important. I have several students who check on me with questions about class topics, general ideas, and their personal lives. Because I’ve been using Discord, I get a notification, but also because it’s Discord, its asynchronous so I’m able to answer when and how I can. We can do text chat, voice, and video according to their needs. And because it’s Discord, a large number of the students are already using it to stay in touch with their friends and play games together.

I feel like it would be really neat to put a shared 360° camera in the center of the Makerspace with a screen showing their faces so students can log into it, see who’s there, and talk to people in the space, whether they’re in an adjacent room or somewhere else. The biggest challenge for me when I was teaching in person was dividing my attention between in-person and online students. Since we may have to do this kind of thing again (and even if we don’t it may work well for part-time and homeschooled students, as well), it seems like it can be a weird little experiment to do.

Connected to this same system, I’m imagining a “hands view” camera so everyone can see the hands of someone making things. We often find ourselves unable to show each other what we’re doing simply because heads are big and what we’re working on is small. I’m kind of eager to build a little device that can show what you’re doing as you’re doing it.

But most of all, I’m looking forward to the broad, rich social bandwidth of in-person learning again.

So much.