Thursday, March 26, 2020

Teaching From Home–Day 9–Students Backchanneling

My good friend and peer teacher, Tom Indelicato and I share a morning homeroom. It’s online now of course but we join early and stay late to touch base with each other. We’re both teaching sections of our school’s freshmen computer science class and we often start a topic a day before the other because of the schedule. This morning chat is a good time to learn from each other about how things work in this new way of learning.

This morning we talked a bit about student backchanneling. Tom noticed that all of his students had muted his class meeting but many were still talking. One student explained that they were helping each other. Today’s students are communicators. Many of us older people see them on their phones and assume they don’t like to talk; that they play games or watch videos. They sure do do those things but they really do communicate.

Students are big users of all sorts of online chats from Facetime to Google Meet to text messages to who knows what. It probably helps them these days with self imposed physical isolation. During a normal class we might encourage peer tutoring and students working together but demand that they put away their phones but these are not normal times. I’m glad that they have alternate ways to communicate these days.

On the down side, one student admitted that in some classes that he doesn’t care a lot about he “can just play games.”  It’s pretty hard to police that without using some sort of tool that is probably much more invasive of privacy than I, for one, what to implement. That’s some pressure on teachers to hold student attention and to find ways to motivate students to care.

Someone once said, “if people are going to stay away there is nothing you can do to stop them.” The same is true of students who sign into a meeting but are not mentally present.  But as Father Andre Coindre, founder of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart who run the school where I teach, said “When you have done all that you can, you have done all that you must.” And so it goes.

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