Why did I call my blog McSquared?
My first name is Audrey, and my last name, depending on whether I am functioning as a regular person or a teacher, is either McLaren or McGoldrick. More about that later, but that’s a brief explanation for why I named this McSquared. Plus I think it sounds cool!
Who I am:
I am an online math teacher (plus lots more of course). I taught math in a brick and mortar classroom for over 20 years, and the last 3 years I have been online. I teach math live over the internet to students all over Quebec who, for one reason or another, do not have access to an English math teacher at their school.
I also happen to love technology. At my last school, I was known as the SmartBoard Queen, because, well, it’s probably self-explanatory. I had to give up my beloved smartboards when I got this job, but at the same time, I got to use a boatload of other cool stuff, like a wacom pen and a webcam!
What is the purpose of this blog?
To share ideas with other online teachers, for starters anyway. We onliners crave contact with the outside world! I am happy to share my experience and tools, as well as get feedback and other ideas from readers.
My deep thoughts about teaching online: Establishing presence
When you never see your students, establishing presence – your’s and their’s - is everything. In the brick and mortar class, this is of course not an issue. When you see someone, you not only know that they’re there, and whether or not they’re listening to you, but you also immediately learn a lot just by how they dress, whether or not they make eye contact, their body language, etc. In the online environment, believe it or not, it is simply not that easy to believe that there is even a living breathing, real live person at the other end of the internet!
For example, most of the time my students use a chat feature to communicate with me during class, that is, they text me their questions or comments. But every now and then, I disable the chat so that I can hear their voices. This always has such a huge impact on me! Suddenly I find that Susie has an accent, or that Joe is smiling (did you know that you can hear someone smiling? You can!). Their presence is now so much more real to me because part of their personality has been revealed in a way that text never could reveal.
So how do I establish my presence? With my voice, for one thing. I also use the webcam, but most of the time I don’t because some of my students have limited bandwidth, and video is such a bandwidth hog. My assignment solutions are often in my own handwriting (using Smart Notebook software) instead of typed. Handwriting has way more personality, and it’s also a subtle message to them that I do all the work I expect of them.
What about their presence? If you teach teenagers, you know that many of them are only too happy to be invisible! Of course, there are always the few who are happy to participate no matter what, the ones you had at hello, so their presence is easily known. But for the rest of them, I need to do more than just disable the chat. I and my colleagues are trying out a few things to get more participation and hence presence:
· Voicethread: kind of like a blog in which posts and responses are made up of images and voices instead of text. We have started by uploading lessons, problems, and review questions (in powerpoint format) to voicethread and requiring the kids to respond. So far, it’s looking very promising! Here is a link to my first one, although you might want to click to the last slide, which is where most of the kids responded: http://voicethread.com/share/1630431/
· Classblog: Every day, one student will post a summary of the day’s lesson, including a sample question on the topic. Everyone else has to comment on that post. At the end of the unit, there will be a test using at least some of those sample questions. Just starting this now, so I’ll get back to you on how it goes.
· Googledocs: Picture a word document that is online instead of just your computer. This document can be edited by anyone else that is online, in fact, several people can be editing it simultaneously, and even chatting about it at the same time. Students will be using this to collaboratively create a memory aid for the unit. Also just starting that one.
Final deep thought:
My son played the cello in high school, and my daughter the violin. It took a lot of doing just for them to be able to play actual notes on those instruments, but they got there eventually. The thing is, it took even longer before they were making music with them, and there is a world of difference between getting the notes right and making actual music!
I think that as far as using online tools to teach, I am still getting the notes. I know it’s not music yet. Not YET!