Distance learning prep

This year I agreed to teach one of my German I classes in the distance learning lab.  I will have 10-12 students in the room with me (exact students still to be determined) while I will broadcast and interact with three remote sites that each have four students.  This summer I’ve been training on how to adapt to the distance teaching environment, and I’ve had to do quite a few tweaks–several of them actually quite productive.

The first thing I really need to get in my brain is that I’m not teaching (being the on-camera feature), but I’m also selecting camera angles, camera positions, how zoomed in or out the camera is, etc. (being the camera crew).  In other words, I have to choose what my remote students are looking at all the time, and finding a way to keep my studio audience (students at my high school) involved.  We’ve got all the bells and whistles, from VCR/DVD players, to document cameras, to flat screen LCD TVs (and air conditioning — finally!).  But the trick is coordinating it all together.

The first huge problem I face is that I can’t stand up in front of a whiteboard, write on it, and talk to my students easily that way.  I even had a whiteboard installed at the back of the room, but during the pilot teaching I did, I discovered that because many remote sites have CRT monitors (the big, classic TVs) rather than flat screen, the resolution isn’t very good, so they can’t actually read what’s on the board unless the camera is so zoomed in that I don’t have much room to move.  That’s a problem, because I need that space to reinforce my target phrases, write new words for pause and point, etc.  For all the bells and whistles in the room, I don’t have a lousy whiteboard that does what I want it to!

So after growling about that for awhile, I finally found something that works–mini whiteboards!  On the front of my teacher desk (I have to teach behind a desk, but they can’t make me sit down) I am propping up three mini-whiteboards that each contain a target structure for the day.  In other words, they can’t look at me in my default position without seeing the target structures at the same time. That seems to work.  When I occasionally foray among my studio audience to work the crowd, I’m going to take my mini-whiteboards with me, so I can hold them out whenever I do a rep on the target structure.  If I need to do some additional pause-and-point words, I am going to put another mini-whiteboard on the document camera, and just write it out there.

The thing that really helps me here is that I will finally be VERY conscious about how many new phrases I am introducing, because for each one, I’ll have to display and lug around one extra mini-whiteboard.  That has been a problem for me in the past, but this is going to help me with that really quick, because I’m going to have all those darn white boards in tow.  Now that I think about it, that will help me have some empathy for my students because their trying to process and manage all the new German words I’m giving them will be very akin to me having to carry around and manage all those whiteboards.  We’ll both be happier if I can keep it simple.

Another beneficial forced-change came from the sample lesson I taught to other teachers being trained in the distance lab, when , I did a very basic “Circling with balls” activity.  My students wrote down their names and pictures down, but I just can’t see the darn things at remote sites.  I even had them hold them up to the camera, but the process of me zooming in to get resolution is so clunky and obstructive, I won’t be able to do it on a regular basis.  So my workaround is having remote students (and my local students to be fair) take their pictures up to the document camera and broadcast it for everybody.  Klar!  That would force me to stay with one student longer and actually develop that student well, because the process of changing pictures is cumbersome enough that I don’t want to do it that often.  Maybe I’ll use  those mini-whiteboards for my target structures in my normal room as well.

Anyways, my first day with students is two weeks from today.  Looking forward to it!


5 responses to “Distance learning prep

  1. Nathan,
    Have you ever used the giant sticky notes? I got the idea watching Linda Li teaching a Fluency Fast class. I use them because I don’t have a white board at the front of the room. (They are both on either side of the room!) It’s nice for me because I teach two languages (I color code my languages) and I can just put up the structures from the previous day by class. They are lighter than a whiteboard and don’t have to be erased so you can keep track of everything you did the day before, etc. I always think it will help me keep track of what I did last year but by the end of the year I have such a pile I just recycle them at the end of the year.

    Just a thought…


  2. And if you want to be cheap about it, you can use your school’s butcher paper with a repositionable glue stick.


  3. Great ideas on the sticky notes! I’m going to be using the document camera quite a bit, and if I use a giant sticky note with a Sharpie, it should provide a useful record from which I can transfer the terms to record on my website daily (I think I’m taking the plunge this year!–hat tip to Erin and Carla) and spin stories out of. Carla, I never even knew there was such a thing as a repositionable glue stick; where would I go find one?

    Sorry for the radio silence of late. I’m trying to cram as much dissertation writing in as possible before the beginning of school and one of the sacrifices there is cutting myself from all the interesting reading that would otherwise engage me. I’ll catch up on about two weeks worth of blog posts during our teacher inservice days as I can rightfully justify that as professional development.


  4. Nathan, you are awesome. I would love to be able to do distance, but it’s just too scary for me.

    And…as the next four weekends are times I’m going to be away (three school days included), it’s going to be great to have you back!!

    I kind of exceeded my personal ten-minute rule today, but I am totally wowed by this SL stuff.


  5. I found repositionable glue sticks at Office Depot (or was it Office Max?) after hearing about them at IFLT. Nathan, if you do a website do you think you’d share a link? You’re so creative and you have so many fun ideas for talking with students, I’d love to see what you come up with.


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