Hello Everybody! Today I'd like to tackle what I'm sure is a hot topic in education right now... the digital classroom!
So first of all a lot of teachers are scrambling because of how quickly this all happened. Most kids left school on Friday only to learn they all of a sudden have an extended holiday until April or May. We're not sure right now, but it's looking like the rest of the school year might just sort of be paused or cancelled right now.
Teachers are probably in a similar boat. I'm sure they've all had to react tremendously fast to put infrastructure in place ASAP. Those that bother to do so, anyway. A lot of our students are reporting back with mixed results. A lot of people are trying to figure out the best way to do it. We had our first online day this past Sunday and it went okay.
To support our classes, we decided to go with three platforms: Google Classroom, Discord, and Twitch. Below I'll get into a little bit of why for each one.
Google Classroom we've already been using to manage our classes for a couple of years and it's ability to index and log assignments is fantastic. We use it primarily as a means to organize the class including attendance, assignments, and readings.
An important thing to remember is that a certain amount of your students just will not bother checking things. It doesn't matter how many emails or notices you send on the various platforms, they'll just have their heads in the skies and somehow miss the notifications you send out. To notify students digitally, it's best to send them pings throughout all of the digital outlets you use + email if possible. Even then you know the drill...
Discord is a chat platform similar to the work platform Slack. It features a centralized server with many sub channels and voice channels along with robust link and image sharing. It's a younger skewing platform that a lot of kids use to play games with each other and build communities. I think in a lot of ways the functionality of Discord is streets ahead of Slack... and it's free.
Each team of students has their own voice and text chat which only they can and the Coaches can see. We do this so teams have their own private space in which to work. I think this is a very important concept when it comes to virtual work - privacy is key! Nobody likes it having someone look over their shoulder 24/7. Give the students room to do their assignments by themselves and each other instead of having them on the line the entire time. Crucially, too, the kids are on it and know how to troubleshoot if need be.
Twitch is a streaming platform for gamers and gaming culture. I use Twitch because outside of pornographic webcam platforms it's the most widely used and adapted stream platform in the world. The kids are familiar with twitch because again games and we stream our lectures at the beginning and end of class to the audience,
Personally, I don't think it's important to see students when you're teaching them virtually. More important is communicating with them when you need to (which can be accomplished by voicechat or text) BUT - I do think it's important for them to see you. A teacher's job is to lead and guide and I believe seeing someone communicate directly is necessary for that. Speeches have always been an important part of leadership :D.
Next time I'll tackle some lessons I've learned after another week! Design, test, and iterate!
Today marks the second day of what has been novelty coined as 'Social Distancing.' In the United States we are in semi-quarantine, mandated somewhat by the various states of emergency but for the most part voluntarily enforced. I suppose you could really go out and get a pint if you really wanted to, but do you really want to in a time like this...? The answer is yes, I really do. BUT! - in the interest of the public at large, I will refrain and enjoy my pint at home, thank you very much.
Usually Sunday's are my busy teaching day with Breakthrough running six sessions of classes between 10 am - 6 pm. We announced a postponement of classes Friday and will reevaluate the situation as the weeks go by. A lot of things are probably going to change because of the Wuhan.
Businesswise, I think it's reasonable to expect a 'new normal' as a result of what's happening to the economy... survival of the fittest, or most well equipped to deal with the sudden change in social ergo economic behaviors. Last recession, many businesses did not rehire at a rate commiserate with their economic recovery as they realized they could be equally or more efficient with less bloat on salary. Something similar is probably going to shake out when this is all said and done.
In terms of my business, one 'bold prediction' I'll make is that this looming economic downturn will catalyze the adoption and popularity of online classes. That all said, creating online coursework has been on one of Breakthrough's 'To-Do' lists for quite a while. Might as well use the time I would otherwise be spending at school teaching designing, and doing it with you, my loyal blog audience! Anyway~~
The first thing I do when designing something is look at what's already out there in the current market, who does what well, and what can be improved. Here's what I'm looking at as models for our own curriculum:
International Writing Program: MOOC Packs
Did you know that MOOC stands for 'massive open online course'? I did not until I visited this site! I am all for sharing resources and free education... hence this blog. I am also all about making money off of education... hence my school. Here's to hoping for much more of both in 2020! Anyway... back to analysis.
So, I really like how each class is broken down in the IWP program. Each MOOC-PACK (module) contains five sessions, further broken down into four segments per lesson:
A couple of random thoughts post-analysis of the IWP model:
So, a little bit of background: I asked for a copy of Aaron Sorkin's Screenwriting Master Class for Christmas back in... 2017, I want to say? My sister got it for me, bless her soul, and ... I stopped on lesson 7/35 - the one titled "Writing Habits.' I know I know. Ze Irony is Delicions. Before I get into why I wasn't engaged let's get to the break down!
That's a lot of words! I'm going to check out some more classes like MIT Open Courses and whatever else is online and free. If you have any recommendations or thoughts, let me know in the space below!
(PS I don't know how to get rid of the bullet point at the bottom of this).
The world seems like a particularly scary place this week. Markets are down all over the world, Italy and China are under quarantine, and it seems like this is only the beginning of the COVID19 (previously known as Corona, previously known as the Wuhan) epidemic. Everyone's been saying we're overdue for a recession, and a global emergency seems like as good a bet of any to be the catalyst for such a thing...
So anyway, that's been on my mind lately! I've also been thinking back to the last time there was a recession, way back in 2008. I was but a wee lad of 20 just entering my junior year of college at NYU. Though the ground events were happening hard and fast right mere miles away, I really had no sense of what was going on or what it all meant.
To be honest, I didn't think it would affect me at all. It was that perfect blend of upbringing, ego, and youth - see, I was always taught that if you work hard and keep your head down, you'd be able to succeed no matter what. That's the mantra we're given at school and at home. Do your work, do it well, let the rest sort itself out.
Except it doesn't always shake out like that, does it? Sometimes you get swept up in a thing out of your control, like a global pandemic or global recession. Or a global pandemic leading to global recession. Anyway - the point I want to reiterate is that I had no real sense of what a recession was or how it could effect the last time one happened, and I'd be willing to be a couple of pennies that many of my students are in the same position I was back in 2008!
So... part of my week has been spent wondering how to best teach global economics and recession in a way that will be understandable to my kids. And of course the subtext behind all understanding is teaching.
Off the top of my head, here are some ideas I'm floating around:
Gamification - The economy is an interaction of participants. Creating some sort of barter /. currency game that shows how global supply chains work and how they can be disrupted by something like COVID seems like a cool way to learn. Caveat: I don't think my own understanding of the economy is strong enough to abstract something so complicated into a fun and meaningful game. So hmmm.
Group Discussion - Always a good choice as it gives you a framework to bounce off of and when done well can create agency and participation among students. The key to any sort of group discussion is building enough kindling of information for the students to be able to take and run with... and if there isn't enough ideas bouncing around.. well, we've all had bad group discussions in the past, right? I'll probably implement some form of a group discussion and supplement it with a list of say ten questions that help stimulate debate. Alright, let's just hash it out here:
3. Article Sharing - Coach Miles recommended Marketplace's How worried should we be about the COVID-19 and the economy? I guess the litmus test is if something helps you understand, it stands to reason it will help your students understand. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. On the flipside, articles take a while to read and process and letting that take over a 1-2 hour session is also not the most engaging or stimulating use of a student's time. The radio show above is 27 minutes... hm.
So yeah, I don't really have the answers right now. I don't think anyone does. Some other random thoughts associated with COVID19 / the economy:
Okay, that's it from me. Keep calm and quarantine on!
Ask most teachers and they'll tell you that the ideal learning scenario is when students become passionate about a subject and begin actively engaging, participating, and self-teaching themselves with minor course correction or feedback from the instructor. How,, though, to reach that point?
One of the major challenges I face as an educator is how to motivate my students. Because we are an after school academy, I can't leverage the threat of a permanent grade that has a bearing on a student's potential future like a traditional school.
How then, do you get kids to do anything? Sure, some of them will of course willingly participate and engage, but I've found that without some sort of external pressure it can become extremely difficult to get students going.
Here are three things that I've found helps motivate my students:
When students work as a group, they have to hold each other accountable. The external pressure from a group environment is often strong enough to get them to participate, engage, and learn as a collective unit. Sometimes a strong leader in a group can lift the others up as they influence the whole by creating a culture of accountability and respect. Sometimes a student may have to step up in a void of ability or leadership and discover they are capable of more than their previously held perceptions. When collaboration works, it's a beautiful thing.
On the flip side, sometimes group projects can go spectacularly wrong. This in and of itself is a learning experience, in my opinion. After all - most paths in life revolve around working or getting along with others. Better to learn young how you function in a group ( emotional intelligence) so that you can better deal with those types of environments that become more inevitable with age.
The worst case scenario? The diffusal of responsibility. Instead of students holding each other accountable, egos dictate that of course it is not the individual's fault and the others share a greater burden in the collective failure. Fingers are pointed, frustrations raised, and excuses multiply in a petri dish. Parents can also be particularly guilty of this. Not my child, it was clearly X, Y, or Z's fault.
Success has many parents but failure is almost inevitably always an orphan.
Competition provides two important drives: deadlines and awards.
Deadlines focus students on the task at hand and create linear pressure to perform and deliver by a certain date. As a deadline approaches, any party will naturally work harder to meet the deadline and deliver a final product - whether in the form of an essay, pitch, deck, speech, etc. As a creative, I know that without hard deadlines projects and tasks sometimes feel intangible and loose. A hard and firm date gives me something to aim for which in turn transforms ideas into deliverables.
And who doesn't love an award? Awards are a confirmation of our abilities and perception of self. They help fuel confidence: in my opinion one of the most important predictors of future success. Some students naturally have a ton of confidence, while others need their confidence built up. Competition is one process by which confidence can grow leaps and bounds with a great result.
On the flip side, missing too many deadlines can become habitual for a student, and habits are hard to correct. Similarly, confidence is a fragile thing at the best of times. A series of bad results or lack of external confirmation can lead someone to question their own worth. It's important as an educator to remind students that while competition is important, it does not ultimately define who you are unless you let it.
Projects ask people to work together to create something. By nature, projects are defined by their participants within a given prompt. That prompt may be something like a skit or play, science experiment, or business proposal. Regardless, all projects require participants to create, and creation implies ownership.
Project based learning thus inherently encourages students to take ownership of their educational experience. Whatever they create is in some ways a reflection of their personalities and abilities. The presence of an open ended, abstract prompt creates agency through the inherent question: what do you think is a good idea?
My students are accustomed to being told what is good, worthy, or valuable. Read these works of literature. Learn these equations. Acquire these skills. And yes - all of which they are being encouraged to learn has of course been vetted by countless educators, agencies, and society at large. Being told what to do is at the opposite end of asking someone: what would you do?
Projects thus put the onus on students by asking them to evaluate, set criteria, validate, and execute. These are all things most of us working adults have to go through daily, so why not emphasize that in what we teach?
On the flip side, sometimes project scopes can be too broad, the prompts too abstract. The endless possibilities of the infinite can become paralyzing. In writing, this is known as "the blank page syndrome." Any sort of education requires guidance - I don't think you can just say "here's a project! have at it!" and be done with it. Doing so only compounds the issues inherent in both Collaboration and Competition.... Projects are a mulitiplier that cuts both ways.
What have you found effective in motivating students? What is the ideal situation for you to learn in?
Let me know in the comments below!