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C'est la Z

Less Engagement For More

I think many of us are finding student engagement to be one of the more challenging aspects of remote teaching. I sure am.

In person it's much easier to have in class discussions. You can read faces and body language, move around the room, encourage cross discussion and, well, you know, teach in the usual sense.

Much harder on Zoom.

The default behavior isn't a room of people all together but rather a bunch of individual teacher student connections. The sense, at least to me, is that it's more a whole bunch of simultaneous individual meetings rather than one big all together group. This makes cross talk harder.

Next we have cameras. I wish I had more kids turn them on. I don't force them but it's really hard talking to a bunch of names and it really makes it feel like less of a class. When you've got a grid mixed of people and blanks engagement is made even more difficult. Of course I have no idea as to how engaged or disengaged camera off kids are. They might be really engaged and involved. It's just hard to tell and hard to assess.

So, business as usual from an in person class isn't working - time to try something new.

Instead of questioning and working to start a discussion in class as per usual, I'm reworking some questions more into small group prompts with discussion points and something to report back on, sometimes as a group directly and sometimes through some shared platform like a Padlet. So far results are promising. This means a lot of short quick breakouts throughout the class.

The upside is that the students should be more engaged in the small group discussion. That seems to be the case based on what they're reporting back and what I see when I drop in.

The downsides include the added time as we get in and out of breakout rooms and while it's more engagement overall, it's less engagement with the teacher and harder for me to use engagement as an assessment. I know I can drop in on breakout rooms but dropping in changes the dynamic - it's very different from lurking in a regular classroom and observing what's going on. I also can't get to all the breakout rooms as each visit is clunky and takes time - more time than doing similarly in a live class. On the additional time this takes, I'm not really concerned about that. Remote takes longer, that's life.

Overall, this looks to be a promising approach so I'll see where it leads.

Since this started I've sat in on or read a bunch of remote best practice and none of them came close to leading me to switching things up in this way. I came to try this through honest self reflection, observing how my classes were going and talking to my peers. The truth is, this might be great for me but doesn't work for other teachers and other teachers might not have the engagement challenges at all.

If anything this left me stronger int he belief that best practices are not best practices at all. They're practices. It's up to the teacher to figure out what's best for their students and themselves.

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