There’s a nice article here, “Portrait of an Online tutor as Thelonius Monk” by Paul Maharg, that got me thinking about teaching styles, strategies, and dynamics in collaborate. (it’s a good, short clear article, that uses a good metaphoir to describe a looser more collaborative style of teaching).
Maharg’s ideas is that excellent online tutors mix scaffolded, structured sessions with improvisation, that lessons are a meeting point between teacher and student, and that, as well as having a set bag of tricks, teachers need to improvise with, and riff off their students.
In his own words
“Imagine tutoring as if you were a musician in a jazz trio. When you rehearse,
you might play and think about the music on your own, but it’s only when you get
together with the group that you begin to explore the musical piece and work out
improvisations as a group. You take account of the character of other musicians’
play, you use your instruments and styles to play off, answer and elaborate,
build upon each other, all within a framework of conventions that the group
implicitly accepts and works within. You’ll use the styles of contemporary and
earlier musicians, and incorporate that in your performance. You’ll have bits of
improv routines you’ve learned (‘licks’) and you’ll be coming up with new
phrases that you embed in your learned routines”
This is a solidly constructivist way of doing things. You encounter the student, with their history, preferences, needs, contexts and experiences, and the interaction shaped the learning.
And the Simon Rattle school? Straightforward instructor centred, behaviourist lessons, with linear, relatively unchanging structure. There’s a conduuctor, there’s an orchestra of 4, or 120, and the orchestra are largely directed, controlled, funnelled, and the course of the concerto is set, and to be followed. Performances vary slightly, but what characterises them ultimately is a large degree of conformity.
There’s places for both. A colleague of mine attended a seminar on social constructivism. He loved it. It spoke to him as a teacher, as a philosophy graduate, and it spoke to his experience and hopes for his own teaching. But no way in hell was he going to employ it in his primary practice. He’s a firearms instructor. Responsible for police training in both policy, and deployment of firearms. He’s solidly Behaviouriust, relatively uninterested in what’s happening internally for his students. He has a set of learning goals that are non negotiable, that are measureable, and that he absolutely must hit.
In another context, a friend spoke to me about a colleague of theirs, responsible for training the police re relating to the LGBT community. And, once again, he is solidly Behaviourist. When he encounters homophobes in training, he has no hope, or desire to change what they think, feel, or the reality they have constructed. He’s just interested in changing behaviour. He has bno possibility to change what officers think of people who walk through a police station door, but he does have possibility to change how they act (when change is necessary…I have no intention here of painting the police force as homophobic)
These thoughts surfaced in the Twitter session last night.
This was a more instructionist / instructor centred approach. I know in some circles, that’s considered a criticism, and in some sacrosanct, but I mean it just as a description. This was more of a skills based seminar, and more for novices, and a somewhat instructor led / centred approach
The interactive whiteboard wasn’t used, and that led to a less improvised and improvisational seminar/class. There was improvisation, and responsiveness to the students in the room, there were other students being given the mic and running parts of the lesson. And there was impressive flexibility from the main tutor when the web tour facility broke down (she used slides, and then shared an app on the screen so we could follow what she was doing in twitter).
But it was, or seemed, more instructionist. And that worked well.
Key, perhaps, was that the interactive whiteboard wasn’t used. It can be incredibly difficult to draw a class out with the “any questions” gambit. But the interactive whiteboard, and the “I’d like everyone to use the board to share their thoughts on this” or “what do you think when I say Digital Citizenship” gambits work really well when used with a whiteboard students can type on. And if you are a Thelonius Monk style teacher, that’s the material you need to riff off. For some teachers, the desire to be improvisational is there, but the strategies for enabling improvisation may be lacking. Alec had good strategies.
So, here’s what I learned from thinking about this.
- Try to establish the collaborative space by using something that piques curiosity, engagement or humour. Or all three, Alec used a map of the world to get us to notice and use the interactive features. This was good, as it didn’t seem important, pressured, but also was quite motivational. I want to see where people are from, and I want them to see me. So, I engage.
- Use the collaborative whiteboard, but use it with open questions (that can be answered in multiple ways) and generally avoid closed yes/no questions.
- Use the whiteboard several times, as the first time or two it can be tricky.
- Leave plenty of time when using the board, as it can take time for everyone to contribute.
- Think abpout whether to specify thaty contibutions come through the whiteboard, or opening it up so they can also come through chat and talk (though these worked well for the end of session q&a). Alec’s approach seemed to work – initialy specify the qhiteboard, and, in latter sections, suggest the whiteboard first, and then open it up to chat once there’s some stuff up.
- Closing down the whiteboard, and opening up a new non interactive slide is a good way to re-establish structure. There are times when you might need the seminar to be instructor centred
- the raised hands button on collaborate doesn’t seem to be fantastic. When using it for voting, it’s unclear to the students what’s happening, and a transparent voting system that registers votes clearly is much more engaging, and as a way of attracting instructor attention, using chat to ask a wquaetion seems better – imperfect, as questions can get lost once they scroll, and lots of interaction causes it to scroll quickly, but the hands up button just seemed to be confusing. No one knew who had used it.
- Audio seems to be an issue in collaborate. I don’t know if this is because it’s a new technology for people, and they need time to work with the interface, or people havn’t done the pre collaborate setup. But it’s something you’d need to be aware of, and maybe work on with a novice group.