What have I learned? What have the students learned?
It has been a very interesting week of discovery for both myself and my students. We have learned how to flood our server and not flood our server! We have learned how to flood a chat and to be far more careful in what we post on chat and in discussion boards, but most of all, we are learning to work collaboratively as a group.
The students are learning to take ownership for their online environment and work. It is a slow process with one class slightly ahead of the other, but the second class will be the one to benefit most from this experience provided “teacher” here can keep her patience.
There seems to be a definite gender issue happening in both my classes. In the first class (Class A) there is a large number of high achieving girls who are out performing the boys in almost all areas, especially academic ones. In Class B there is a very large number of boys, over 3/4′s of the class, who are, for the most part, extremely immature and rowdy. Each class having its own special and unique dynamic has provided me with some great learning experiences through the online classroom.
In Class A, I have noticed with great delight, one young fellow who is able to lead a chat discussion on a topic, stay on topic and keep his group mates, including other boys, on-task. Seeing the word “think” aimed at one of his buddies was just amazing considering that not more than 20 minutes later, back in the face-to-face classroom, during a discussion about the online assignment, he was taking apart a hockey pencil and not engaging in the discussion at all. Online he was leading a discussion and had relevant ideas to contribute. He took ownership for his work and his group. He was also the one to show his classmates how to open 3 chat boxes simultaneous on their screens and assisted those who were confused. It was awesome to see the playing field levelled, even for a short 35 minute time frame.
Class B – Well here we have some significant teaching challenges. We have learned to flood the server, fix the server, flood the chat with spamming or face-rolling if you’re a gamer. We have had the use of several minor inappropriate texting shorts, some very insignificant assignment work being done, and unfortunately, they have all but squashed the girls right out of the chat. But, all in all, some really good learning came out of this chaos.
The students in Class B have discovered that I can find those inappropriate shorts, highlight them and print them in less than 1 minute. That I know exactly what those shorts mean and I have laid out some very hard and fast rules based on our first two classes of “play” time.
The class managed quite well overall. Everyone had a chance to get their ideas out, and carry out a discussion with others. There were the same surprising leadership showing up here as there was in Class A. I had a student, who in the face-to-face classroom would make you wonder if you’d chosen the right career path, keep his group on-task, keep the discussion going, if rather superficially, and surprise me to death. He took ownership for his work and online presence. It was wonderful.
What did I learn as a teacher? To let go of the control to see where the students would go. Class A can handle that lessening of control and a more open-ended assignment, Class B cannot and needs very clear boundaries, rules and expectations. Even though I did exert a fair amount of control back over Class B, they still shared, discussed and worked collaboratively, which they could not do before. I learned that if I used the errors made as learning experiences, even with Class B, the students will continue to take a risk and give their ideas in the chat. I learned that the students will rise above and beyond what you may expect. They are very engaged with the assignment in an online environment, whereas if I attempted this unit in a face-to-face classroom, Class B would not engage at all, and only some of Class A would engage.
I also learned a few technical things like how not to flood our server, how to get multiple private chat boxes up, what spamming/face-rolling is, and how to find it in the chat. I have to thank my gaming crazed son for all his help. I also learned how far I can let go with which class and that my Class B will need more of my guidance (“sage on the stage”) than Class A for now and that’s OK. When Class B arrives where it is going, it will have been a tremendous and wonderful journey for the students and for me. (I may need a couple dozen Hail Mary’s to get us there!)