After teaching online for a number of years, I grew weary of the normal “make an initial post, then respond to two others” discussions. Was there another way to engage students? How could I make discussions more meaningful and in-depth? Were there ways to ensure that all students had a voice in a conversation?
Diversity is becoming common in our college classrooms. Not just diversity of race and ethnicity, but diversity of developmental levels and cognitive abilities. With our students’ diverse skills and experiences, faculty members find themselves teaching varied groups of students within one course.
This past November, all subscribers to The New York Times received a Google Cardboard Virtual Reality Viewer in the mail. Puzzled looks quickly turned to awe as recipients took 3-D virtual reality tours of a variety of locations through the viewers and their cell phones. You simply put the viewer to your face like goggles and play 3-D recorded videos of places from YouTube or the free NYT VR app (available from both Google Play and the App Store). The viewers put you in the middle of a scene, such as New York City or a traditional German Christmas market. By turning your head you could look around the scene as if you were actually there. The goggles can be ordered online for about $4 each from eBay or www.newegg.com.
Digital storytelling is one of the most effective teaching tools in an online environment. In its loosest sense, “digital storytelling” just refers to a means of communication by video that combines images with narration. It need not be a “story” per se. It could be a tour of the Colosseum in Rome or a description of the process of building a bridge. Here the term is broadly used to distinguish the video format from a live action shot of someone in front of a webcam or in a study.
When faculty see students missing information from a reading, they generally assume that the student did not read the article carefully. However, it might be that the student does not know how to read an academic work. Faculty know how to read because they would not have otherwise succeeded in academia, and consequently, they often assume that students must know how to read academic work as well. But reading academic work for the proper information is a skill developed like any other skill, one which students often lack.
Whereas an advantage of online education for students is the flexibility to schedule their own time for their studies, there is still a place for live events in online teaching. I use them for hosting discussions in my faculty training courses on how to give students feedback. I provide various feedback examples and allow faculty to share their ideas about them, as well as provide suggestions for the best feedback for different student issues. Faculty feel that these live events add a human element to the online environment.