One of the difficulties inherent in online teaching is the lack of personal immediacy. I have taught in large classes and small and run discussion groups ranging from 12 to 25 students. Even in the largest lecture halls there is a connection. You can look in students’ eyes; they can look at you. You might see boredom, or interest. In one class, I noticed some guys whispering and looking at their laptop. I wandered over and they were checking the Liverpool FC site for recent scores. So, I pulled up a chair and sat with them for a minute or two, checking along with them. After that, at the start of each class I would ask how the Club was doing. From that time, they became engaged members of the class (after having checked the Liverpool site, of course… first things, must come first, you know).
How to manage this when you only get emails or text messages, or rare skype messages from students you never see. I have for some time now posted YouTube videos of myself commenting or explaining orally parts of the material so they have some idea of my physical presence. I do joke a little –– the occasional wry comment, for example in both video and text–– to let them see the ‘me’ that is in full display in face to face teaching.
My current class had a live session with a librarian that lasted about 45 minutes. Of a class of 89, only four signed in and two of those left after 15 minutes. Maybe to check Liverpool FC scores?
I don’t blame the students. I intend my online teaching to have only due dates for completion of assignments, not teaching moments where they must be there live and in person, like a webinar. But I do need to contemplate some means of sketching out a body to the disembodied which also produces a reaction from students so I too see an embodied class.