Saturday, August 8, 2015

9 Things You Should Know About Teaching Through Teleprensce

Working in a small district means figuring out ways to be creative with course offerings, there just is not enough time to offer all the classes a larger school can offer.  One way to be creative, which is happening in my school, is shared courses with other districts using telepresence units (thanks WTI!).  After doing this for some time I have some suggestions.  There are issues like homework moving and grading that must be dealt with, but as I think about the telepresence there are other things.  So for those "other" things here are some tips.

9 Things You Should Know About Teaching Through Telepresence:

1) It is not just a camera and a TV.   
I started sharing about 6-7 years ago.  There was a student at a neighboring district who really wanted Calculus, I used a webcam and Web-Ex -- that was like Web 0.2 versus Web 2.0!  A motivated single student and it went okay - he watched but really could not interact.   Now with my CISCO system and SMART board connected to all the other districts we all share a board and can interact in real-time.  Again, I am teaching Calculus to a fairly motivated group(s) - I loathe to think how I would teach a class that took a "high-level" of classroom management, cause.....

2) Students can tell where the camera is looking, or not-looking.
Even a college course like Calculus meant students did not always do what they were suppose to do.  Students are mice, teachers are cats and you know what mice do when the cat is away (or when the cat is trying to watch by telepresence).  Motivation really falls to the students, or someone on location making sure that students are on-task.  Moving the camera around a lot is not an answer either, we are not camera-persons.  Personally I don't worry about the other end with on-taskness, I teach, help and make sure I have someone at the other school to help - to be an ally, so.......

3) Get an ally on the other end - some staff member - a teacher, an aide, a secretary (oh -my!).
These people are your salvation when you need just a bit of help for whatever reason they will rescue you  -- copying a quiz, getting homework back or anything.  Also, administrators are tricky, they may seem like allies (or not!), but their time is always in the air and sometimes they cannot help - typically not the ally you need.  The simplest teaching tasks are difficult without an ally.

4)  Completely test everything for your telepresence class before the start of the year.
Telepresence is different than other classes, when the details don't work your class won't work.  You need to test your connections before school, check how students will get grades, assignments, everything.  Check your roster closely - and make sure all the students have access to your materials (books, emails, etc).  The simple things like adding a student to Google Classroom take more time to do (you cannot add a student from a different district to Google Classroom, last year it meant setting up new emails for my non-district students).  Things like this must be handled prior to the start of the class, because......

5) Start on time, figure out the schedule so teaching time is maximized!
It is easy to lose minutes moving the unit, adjusting unit, etc.  Remember students have a remote let them fine-tune.  As the teacher - you gotta use those precious minutes.  Get the class and students started ASAP, it is important to use the time you get because.....

6) Know that some days it just does not work.
No matter what they tell you, sometimes for reasons known and unknown the unit will not connect (internet lost at your school, their school -- someone forgot to sacrifice the chicken, etc).  The point is pick a set time to work on it (say 10 minutes) - then just record your class.

7) Remember, it is still teaching math (or whatever subject); you are not teaching about technology or to the technology.
I try to remember not to teach about the unit or how we connect.  I teach calculus and treat the camera like another set of student eyes, making sure I look directly at it when I make room scans.  I also remind myself that it really is not a camera but another student.   That helps reduce my Rockwell induced nervousness with the camera watching me.

8) And probably most importantly, since it is teaching - remember relationships matter.
Don't get caught up in the telepresence unit or your material too much.  Even at a HS level you need to take time to make relationships -- even with a real-time connection you as the teacher must make the real-life connection.

9) Finally - have fun.  
Passion sells, if you are excited about telepresence and chance to gain more students, then the students will be excited about you and your course (the telepresence  is just a porthole).