End of Act I

This is not going to be the highest graded blog post I have written, in fact I am going to ignore any rubric and write about what I want to, have to, whatever last notes and reflections that I have to get off my chest. Because if there is one thing that I have learned in the last few weeks of ETAP640 it’s that the grade is secondary to the learning, the grade is meaningless if it is not backed up by actual knowledge and education. And boy have I learned.

I started off this course ETAP640 – Introduction to Online Teaching with a question “Can a drama class be taught online, can an acting studio be recreated in a virtual environment?” and I’ll get to the answer to that question in a moment. I also have to ‘fess up to that fact that I chose drama as a course to create as a means to provide myself with obstacles, with plausible deniability. When things went wrong or when learning activities and materials could not be recreated online I’d have reasons, I’d even have anticipated that they would not work. “Brilliant” I thought, “Post-grad professors love that, self-evaluation, what doesn’t work? They’ll ask. Why didn’t it work?” And I could tell them, in detail. I could have chosen dramatic literature, theatre history, technical theatre; I could have chosen any number of avenues to go down that are topics based in facts and details. Topics that have text-books and for which you can create vocabulary quizzes and tests, topics that I KNEW would work online. But I chose Drama, acting, my subject, a class that relies on human interaction, immediate visual recognition, actual physical and instantaneous feedback and contact. I chose, for my course, a subject that would – in my mind – be almost impossible to teach online! The problem with this theory and my plans: Every obstacle that I thought I’d engineered for myself was never an obstacle, every problem became an opportunity, every difficulty and area that I thought would give me a challenge or I expected to fail turned out to a chance to create something new, to do something different, to think outside of what I believed to be conventional and an opening to reconceptualize the norm into something fresh.

I failed to fail. Everything that I thought couldn’t work did.

Yes there were stumbling blocks, my desire to avoid my students self-disclosing fully was unfounded, I had to produce a number of videos that dented my own ego and, if I ever teach this course, I would like to re-make but there were not as many stumbling blocks as I had anticipated, it all came together fairly smoothly. I also discovered that teaching online is not that much different from teaching F2F; effective online teachers have the same practices as effective classroom instructors. There’s a joke in there somewhere: Q: What’s the difference between a classroom teacher and an online teacher? (answers on a postcard please.)*

Ultimately what I have learned is that online instruction is a large and significant part of every educators future and to ignore that is a mistake and a disservice to the students we currently and will be teaching. It may not ever replace F2F classrooms completely but it will become a substantial part of them. Be it for credit recovery, as college prep or AP, for professional development or as part of blended classrooms, online teaching is here to stay and will only continue to grow and become more and more relevant.

This blog post is called “End of Act I” because it is certainly not the end; this play is far from its conclusion. At this point, although I am proud of the course that I have created, it still exists only in theory. All classes do. The only way that I can ever move to Act II is to have students, real tangible human take the course. Only then will I know if what I have created truly works, sadly I don’t see an opportunity for that to happen any time soon (perhaps I should create one!) but one will arise some day in the next few years and because of ETAP640 I think I’ll be ready when it does.

So onto to the next step, applying everything that I have learned about student-centered classrooms, using social networking tools, Flow, peer assessments, teaching presence etc. etc. to my F2F classroom and thinking about the creation of future online classes – Dramatic Literature, Shakespeare, Scenes, (how would you teach scene work online???), Set Design, Greek Theatre, Absurdist Theatre the list is endless and none of them unachievable, I know that now.

“Can a drama class be taught online?” Yes, absolutely, yes.

So Alex (this one’s for you), If the University at Albany ever wants to attempt the creation of an online drama course, Facebook me.

At this point I’ll leave the stage, grab a bottle of water and wait for the intermission to be over before Act II begins. I hope it’s as good as Act I.

Luke (2)

*Q. What’s the difference between a classroom teacher and an online teacher?

A. Online teachers can type faster.

A. Online teachers use less Purell.

A. Online teachers can also come to class in their pajamas (just like the students).

Pickett, A. (n.d.). ETAP640 Introduction to Online Teaching. SUNY Learning Network. The University at Albany.


Letter to my Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas

My blog post for this week is slightly different from others and I’m taking a risk on it’s validity within the course but it is an email that I sent to my district superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas partly inspired by work I have been doing in ETAP640. To give a brief background, with the publication of state assessment scores it was seen that, sadly, the Rochester City School District recieved the lowest scores in the state. Dr. Vargas sent an email to all district employees reassuring us that it was not our teaching that caused this and that the district as a whole was making moves to improve. For the record since Dr. Vargas took charge of the district we have seen improvements but Rochester as a city faces so many problems of its own our task as teachers seems somewhat impossible. I wanted to write to Dr. Vargas to voice my opinion on what I see as one of our major problems. This is the email I sent:

Dear Dr. Vargas,

Your recent email to the district with regards to test scores was very interesting and also very generous. Although it is stated that the low test scores are not the result of poor teaching I think that it is time that we as a district stood up and took responsibility for everything that we do. Poor tests scores should fall at the feet of the teachers but also at the feet of the students and their families. We must start taking responsibility for our place in all of this.

We are a district that seems to be in perpetual turmoil, every year: poor grades, every year: low graduation rates, every year: poor attendance. We can point fingers toward poverty within the city and changing state tests and core curriculum as much as we want but we cannot continue to paint ourselves as victims of circumstance. These economic factors are things we cannot influence and therefore cannot change, so we must point the fingers at ourselves and look at what we can do to engender change.

I fully approve of your decision to remove the short-day Wednesday, the shorter day never really made any sense for a number of reasons. However getting students into school for an extra 45 minutes a week is not going to solve the ultimate problem. That extra 45 minutes when disseminated amounts to an extra 5 minutes in each class, not a significant change. It is certainly better to keep students where students should be, but is there any evidence to suggest that it will result in higher grades or better graduation rates? In my mind the problem stems not from the time that the students spend in school but from their lack of motivation when they are there.

The key to better grades, higher graduation rates and greater preparedness when our children leave our schools therefore is not more work, it is motivating and incentivizing them to do the work. To create a student centered environment that values a student’s requirements and makes the need to sit in class significant to them.

There is a reason that School of the Arts has one of the highest graduation rates in the district and it’s not better staff of smarter students, it’s because the students are motivated, they have incentives to obtain grades. I am a School of the Arts teacher and I direct one of the school plays every year, in those plays I may have between 20 – 100 students (up to 10% of the student body give or take) in order for a students continued participation in that extra-curricular activity they must maintain academic eligibility. So that is equal to 1 teacher incentivizing up to 100 students, am I the motivation? I’d like to think so but no, the play is the incentive. It is the experience, the desire to be with friends, to part of something that provides the student with a sense of community and bite-sized achievable goals. And that of course is just one aspect of SOTA, as you know, we also have dance concerts, choir groups, Jazz Band, art shows etc. All year round School of the Arts is incentivizing its students and the graduation rates are evidence that it works.

So the big question has to be: How do we motivate and incentivize students across the whole district? How do we incentivize a city with all its problems learning? I am not writing to you to push the “arts in every school” argument. Although as a drama teacher I’d love to see that happen, I’m smart enough to realize that the SOTA model works at SOTA because art is that schools area of student interest, the same may not be true of East High or Freddie-Thomas. So we need to ask ourselves; what will work in those environments?

I think that it is important to not just set out a program of extended hours, but also a consistent and structured program of district wide incentives designed to motivate our student body. These should be visible at every level of our district from every classroom, to every school to the entire city school district. They should feed every individual student’s very basic need to achieve and receive reward and recognition and they should be exciting and out-of-the-box. From a simple “If everyone passes this quiz the person with the highest grade gets to decide what we do on Friday.” To “If everyone in Grade 7 achieves a passing grade this marking period we’ll have an ice-cream social during lunch.” Up to “If we achieve 100% graduation Dr. Vargas will personally pay for everyone’s prom tickets and college tuition!!” The last one may be a bit extreme but I hope you see my point. Small incentives that increase to larger ones will ultimately yield big rewards.

Extra hours in school will only solve part of the problem, unmotivated, disengaged, disenfranchised students are or bigger issue. Incentivize the students: increase the grades.

I appreciate your time.


Luke Fellows

Drama Teacher

School of the Arts

In response to the blog question for Module 6: What have I learned in ETAP640? Engaged students learn.

Final tweaks for the final draft

With only my final review and revisions to go I can say that my online course Introduction to Drama – Online is now virtually (no pun intended) complete. And I am surprisingly proud of myself. It has gone through several drafts and I have made changes almost daily, nothing major from my original concept but small tweaks and alterations that, I think, make the course easier to use and better for the student.

Every time that I read or re-read a section something would arise that would need improvement or explanation, a small detail that was overlooked that suddenly became very important in order to make it work. The addition and link to a Glossary for example when I realized a word needed explanation or the choice to use one site (Facebook) for my students to post videos and images. A quick note on that, I am predominantly choosing to use Facebook as it is a social networking site with all of the capabilities I require in my course. It is web based and so my students can access the information wherever they are and it is built on principles of social interaction, an aspect that I was afraid to lose as my class transitioned from studio to web. How do I keep the social aspect of my class? Use a social site that most of my students will already be familiar with and is very easy to use, the answer was staring me in the face (pun intended that time).  But as I stated my course evolves every time I go through it and I think will continue to do so even after ETAP640 is over.

It is worth mentioning that I have also tried to be very aware of when to stop, when not to provide information but to allow the students to discover it for themselves and to teach each other. It is easy to explain everything in detail but that is very teacher-centric or “sage on the stage” as Bill Pelz termed it. In trying to be student-centered sometimes I have sometimes chosen brevity over convoluted explanation, the glossary being a good example again, if a student doesn’t understand a word they are encouraged to look it up through the links posted and share the meaning with the class.

What has surprised me the most in creating this course is how similar effective online teaching is to effective classroom teaching. The concepts behind both are the same: be organized, present engaging material, communicate, be visibly present, be transparent, build a sense of community, assume nothing, challenge your students and let them guide you. I’m paraphrasing and summarizing a lot of what I have learned but this, in my mind, is what it boils down to. In really trying to make my online course effective I have become aware of my own F2F practices which might not be as effective as I hope. I have been able to reflect on myself and my teaching and seen holes, areas for improvement. Learning to teach online has, I hope, made me a better classroom teacher.

In many ways the most surprising aspect for me about creating an online drama course is that it can be done. I was skeptical at first and yet in reconceptualizing my F2F classroom I found that a social, online art-studio is possible and, in theory, works. The next step of course is to take the “in theory” part away, for the next step I need students…

Luke (2)

Where I am as my online course moves toward completion

As I stated in my previous post reconceptualizing my F2F classroom for an online learning environment has been challenging on my ego and has definitely made me consider the perspective of my students as to what I will be expecting from them. This is something huge that I have gained from this process and class as a whole, really looking at what I teach from the point of view of the student.

It is so easy to be teacher-centric, to see our own goals and to envision what we need to achieve in regards to grade averages and to “getting students” through, I hate to say that with the current change over to APPR evaluation system the onus is being further placed on the teacher as the responsible party in graduating students, the responsibility is being eroded from the student, but APPR is for another discussion. My personal belief is and always will be, as I’ve said in earlier posts, education is a conversation it moves and flows both ways teachers and students are responsible for moving that conversation forward. This course has made me see the student side of the conversation a bit more than I had before. This is because I have been obviously been a student in this class and by creating a class that is online I really have had to take the viewpoint of a student in order for my online course to work. In proof reading the instructions and course documents and learning activities that I am creating I am constantly being met by questions for myself: “what do I mean by that?” “How will I know how to produce that piece of information?” “How will I know how to find and acquire that knowledge?” Aspects of my F2F class that I take for granted or that I know I can explain off the cuff may be but can’t be overlooked online. An answer to each of these questions requires its own section/page in the course or a clarifying statement within the document so that I know my students will be getting all that they need Early in the course Alex told us “assume nothing”, I can see why. No piece of information or instruction can be taken for granted.

What is fantastic about all of this is that I am, as it’s impossible not to, taking what I am seeing in the development of my online course and re-applying it to my F2F course. I am addressing, almost sub-consciously, aspects of my F2F classes that have been set in stone for years, such as the use of technology and how I explain certain material, I am envisioning changes that I can make from work that I have done for this class and I’m hoping to bring a significant amount of what of learned back to my classes in the Fall. Maybe I’d forgotten that a conversation has to evolve in order for it to remain interesting.

The educational “rock star” videos that we watched this module were very interesting and definitely set some light bulbs off in my head for both my online course and my F2F course. I had been considering using tech in my classroom a great deal recently and am even starting a collegial circle with a colleague next year to research and discuss the possibilities of further using the tech that our students already have to further their engagement and learning. I was happy, therefore, to hear George Siemens reaffirm my belief that technology, including the tech our students carry around with them, can be used to engage students. I was especially drawn though to what Bryan Alexander had to say, I really appreciated his thoughts on using tech but also storytelling in engaging students. As a drama teacher I teach dramatic literature and utilize things like the power of myth and Joseph Campbell’s, Hero with a Thousand Faces to relate information to my students but to apply those concepts and ideas to an entire class is a fascinating concept and really set a light bulb off in my imagination, I’m not sure what it is illuminating yet but there is an idea/concept in there somewhere! When I can see it clearly, I’m sure it will be brilliant. Finally I really liked what Bryan Alexander had to say about gaming, gamification seems to be coming up a lot and applying gamification concepts to education is certainly a way to engage students but the question is how to apply the games and make them relevant, pertinent learning exercises and not just frivolous “engagement” activities. As with everything I am learning it must always be about how and what the students are learning and not that they are just chasing the game or grade.

Luke (3)

Seeing what my students see.

Seeing what my student’s see.

Module 4 has been one of the most difficult weeks for me as far as work load is concerned. Tasked with building our learning activities it was necessary to start producing not only the activities but also the materials that would feed into the activities, for me that meant transferring the modeling that I do in my F2F classroom into videos to be viewed within my course. It was, for my ego, a challenging experience.

To give some background, there is no text book for teaching drama, there are a number of methods and a wide variety of techniques and schools of thought but it is not a subject that can be taught from a book. I cannot say to my students “read chapters 2 – 4, answer the questions at the end of each chapter and then we’ll talk about them next class.” I have to explain concepts to my students and then be prepared to model them myself, this usually result in me prancing around my classroom pulling ridiculous faces and twisting my body into a mixed bag of contortions. I’ve been doing this is my classes for many years and so have no shame in doing it. However in putting this material onto video I see what my students see. In playing back the video I look, for want of a better word, like a giant plonker. I showed parts of the videos to my wife and family and it took them just twenty minutes, several deep breaths and a couple of large glasses of water in order to stop laughing.

The videos are embarrassing and I’m not sure how I feel about them being on the internet, available to all.  In my class I have no shame because I know that the only people who will see me are those in my classroom I have no control over who will see the videos online. And yet I will be asking my students to do the same thing. In my course my students will be expected to self-disclose, it will be mandatory. As part of the discussion this week I looked into self-disclosure and found out about what are considered the two types of anonymity: Visual Anonymity which relates to the control we have over what other people see. Discursive Anonymity which refers to how we present ourselves through spoken or written words (Qian and Scott, 2007). As humans we like to control our levels of anonymity to avoid the risks associated with looking foolish or failure this is called uncertainty reduction (Palmieri et al 2012) which is how we control and measure ourselves within social interactions. I argued this week that creating community online is easier than doing it F2F as the students have more control over both aspects of anonymity, Visual Anonymity online is virtually (no pun intended) a moot point. But students can control their discursive anonymity because of the extra time provided to consider and word answers or questions in the “classroom”. My students won’t have that luxury they will have no visual anonymity, I am asking them to record and upload video of themselves carrying out exercises that could be, no, are embarrassing. I would love to be able to predict how my students will react but there can be no way of knowing until they and I are doing it. For me, and I really don’t have much shame when it comes to these things, I had a very hard time pressing the upload button, I was nervous,  anxious about who might see it, that I would become a joke a video that people would show their friends just to laugh at. If I am feeling that way, how will my students feel? Stage fright is a very real thing in a classroom where students can see the people who are watching them and where they know that when the moment is over it will be forgotten, once the video exists online it will not go away. But again, I have no way of knowing how my students will react until I have some. It is just something that I am now even more sensitive to.

Luke (4)

Palmieri, C., Prestano, K., Gandley, R., Overton, E., & Zhang, Q. (2012, January). The Facebook Phenomenon: online self-disclosure and uncertainty reduction. Retrieved July 2013, from thefreelibrary.com: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The Facebook phenomenon: online self-disclosure and uncertainty…-a0280092817

Qian, H., & Scott, C. R. (2007). Anonymity and Self-Disclosure on Weblogs. Retrieved July 2013, from Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication: http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue4/qian.html


Teaching Presence… at sea(?!)

Teaching presence has been the main scope of thought for this module and I have certainly given more academic thought to my overall teaching presence than I ever have before. Teaching presence is defined as “the design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the realization of personally, meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.” (Shea, Pickett, & Pelz, 2003) now, not for nothing, that is a definition that has been overused in this module, I think that I’ve written it myself at least once in every post and it is a clear definition using a lot of very big words that look very good in a report, but what does it mean? What is “teaching presence”? A knee jerk reaction to the term would be that of the presence of the teacher, how available they are to the student, how they impart their “existence” on their students and their vast well of knowledge of their subject onto those eager young minds. But that is NOT teaching presence, that is teacher presence, the presence of the teacher. The ego-centric, teacher centered view that they are the axis of the classroom around which the students rotate and absorb knowledge. Great in concept, limited in reality.

So what is teaching presence? What is the hub around which we turn and what does the definition above really mean? (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan, & Pellegrino, 2000) assert that good learning environments are Learner, Knowledge and Assessment Centered within a community environment. Shea, Pickett and Pelz (2003) add to this Checkering and Gamson’s (1987) Seven principles of good practice (Contact between students and faculty, student reciprocity and cooperation, prompt feedback, time on task, active learning techniques, communication of high expectations, respect for diverse talents and ways of learning) together we have a sound learning environment. Shea et al (2003) go on to suggest that within that, in order for that environment to be successful there must be Social Presence (students ability to project themselves), Cognitive presence (the ability of a student to construct meaning from instruction) and Teaching Presence – which leads us back to the definition we started with. Any closer to finding an answer to what it means? Stick with me we’re almost there!

In my role as a Drama teacher I am called upon to direct one of the school plays each year one of my older colleagues once told me that as a Director we are like the captain of a ship. We are in charge of the journey (the rehearsal process) and the destination (the final performance) but how we get there is down to our crew (the actors) each one will make their own choices and have their own job on our ship – navigation, galley, deckhand, boatswain, set, lights sound, lead, chorus (depending on which metaphor you’re keeping up with) – and we must respect each of them and allow them to do their job in order for us to get where we are going. We cannot control them all and we cannot do their work for them but we can provide them with a destination, a good environment to work in, a clear indication of their role on the ship and leadership, guidance and mediation when they require it. This is teaching presence it is good leadership in an every changing and changeable environment.

In one of my posts I called teaching presence the ambient occurrence of education, by this I mean that it comes from all sides, in a F2F classroom it is how you address the students, how you insist they address each other, how you leap on a teachable moment to broaden knowledge, possibly outside of your own discipline, it is how you allow your students to answer questions from each other and engender respect. It is the posters that you put on your walls that the students read and retain without even knowing it. It is the education that occurs continuously.

Online it is the ability to guide learning and provide feedback such that the student knows you have seen or will see their work, how you “talk” to them and address them in written communication. Professor Pickett always asks that we write as if we are talking to one person and in building my learning activities I am seeing the difference and noticing when I “sound” like a human being and when I sound like IKEA instructions “You have purchased an Aanskarrga bookcase, take side 1 and place next to Back B”. It is the difference between being spoken to and spoken at. I am starting to see opportunities for adding information that I have left out and for letting the students find their own way rather than me giving all information. Hopefully I am starting to see how I can improve my teaching presence in my F2F classes as well as in this course.

Luke (4)

Bransford, J., Brown, A., Cocking, R., Donovan, M., & Pellegrino, J. (2000). How People Learn. National Academy Press.

Chickering, A., & Gamson, A. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. The Johnson Foundation.

Shea, P. J., Pickett, A. M., & Pelz, E. W. (2003). A Follow-Up Investigation of “Teaching Presence” in the SUNY Learning Network. JALN Volume 7.



Symbiosis in teaching and new tech

One thing that developing an online course is having me do is really focus on what is important in my F2F classroom. It is really making me consider and think about my classes and what is important, what works and what doesn’t I am already beginning to see changes and envision development that I will be bringing form ETAP640 into my F2F classes come September I am also going to try utilizing technology more in a way to connect with my students. For some time I have been thinking about embracing current tech as opposed to fighting against it reading Josh McHugh’s article Connecting to the 21st Century Student (McHugh, 2005) has really solidified that for me as well as the discussions the class has had this module regarding student centered learning and putting their requirements first, making the student the leader of the work. The student of the 21st century is so plugged into technology that education has to keep up, their ability to obtain information is far greater than any generation than has come before, education has to embrace this in order to prevent bored students. The very idea that a teacher can stand in front of a classroom and dictate notes (which the student already has in their pocket, on their smartphones) is in some way ridiculous, the student just needs to know what phrase to Google, how to obtain and access the information, and so a new role for teachers becomes apparent.

Teaching is a symbiotic relationship, a conversation, equal parts student and teacher. We are both equally responsible for the success of the other. Bill Pelz in (My) Three Principles of Online Pedagogy (Pelz, June 2004) notes “I want to admit that my ever changing philosophy of education increasingly diminishes the role of ‘the teacher’ in the teacher/learning equation.” But I have to disagree with Bill, the teachers role is not diminishing there is no less a need for teachers now than there was but the need now is for teachers who guide and mediate and show students how to access the correct information. The teacher’s role has not diminished but the acceptance that the student should take more responsibility for their learning and therefore a greater role in the type and method of instruction has increased. This symbiosis is reaffirmed in A Preliminary Investigation of “Teaching Presence” In the SUNY Learning Network (Shea, Frederickson, Pickett, & Pelz) as Shea et al reassert The National Research Council’s Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Educations guidance that good learning environments are Knowledge Centered, Learner Centered, Assessment Centered and Community Centered.  That is they are:

  • Designed in consideration of desired outcomes(teacher)
  • They function in a manner that connects to the strengths, interests and preconceptions of the learners (learner)
  • They promote and benefit from shared norms that value learning and high standards (community centered)

To me this confirms the idea of education as symbiotic, knowledge comes from the teacher (this includes knowledge on what should be accessed) but can only be accepted on the student’s terms, assessment relies on both teacher and student and the community is the class as a whole. Like a conversation or any symbiotic relationship, a class is a living breathing organism capable of growth and change and one that should benefit from that change which can occur either slowly or at a moment’s notice. A teacher as “guide on the side” must be sensitive and adaptable to these changes in order for their teaching and therefore the students to be successful.

Luke (4)

McHugh, J. (2005, September). Connecting to the 21st Century Student. Retrieved July 2013, from edutopia.org: http://www.edutopia.org/synching-ikid

Pelz, B. (June 2004). (My) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy. JALN Volume 8, Issue 3, 33 – 46.

Shea, P. J., Frederickson, E. E., Pickett, A. M., & Pelz, E. P. (n.d.). A Preliminary Investigation of “Teaching Presence” In The SUNY Learning Network. State University of New York.

What can change, what can stay the same, some decisions made…

Halfway through Module 3 and my course is slowly evolving based on the decisions that I am making, the revelations that I am having about my curriculum and how I can reconceptualize it and also from the materials that we are viewing. There is no singular through line for me this blog post so here are my general thoughts and views.

I have decided that the discussion area of my course should be less about the material, as it is in the course we have been observing, and more for trust building and creating a community dynamic within my course.

The heart of studio work is the people that you are working with and the trust that you have for them, such that you are willing to take risks around them and disclose aspects of yourself, I need that for my students online. How I see myself being able to achieve this is through the discussions. It was summed up for me during Beth Harris podcast as she said that she’d also had challenges with discussions and she felt that Bill Pelz had it easy with Abnormal Psychology in that his students “will always know someone who is abnormal psychologically and will have opinions about it.” But for her she questioned how can you have students discuss art history. I was having the same dilemma: what are my students going to discuss? But then I realized that what they should be discussing, no, what they must be discussing is themselves and each other and in that way they will gain trust, get to know each other and be more willing to self-disclose and take risks around one another if I mediate and guide those conversations I can insure that that happens. In effect I will be taking the ice-breaking activities used in most online course and using them throughout my entire course and wanting my students to dig deeper in getting to know each other and then hopefully revealing more of themselves. In truth I actually wish this were done more in the online classes I have taken, after the initial “who are you?” write up, the profiles get lost, abandoned on some page never visited again, I want to be certain that my students get to know each other as well as they might in an actual physical drama studio.

In regards to chunking, luckily a great deal of my curriculum won’t need to change much to be “chunked” for online digestion. I already chunk much of my course so that it is easily understood by my high school students. My classes are already aligned with Blooms taxonomy: information is given to the student; they prove they can remember it by applying it within an exercise or assignment which is then graded/evaluated and so on and so forth. Chunking the modules is not the challenge they follow a logical pattern leading to a specific conclusion. My biggest challenge is that my subject is a medium established on listening and speaking. Sadly, for me, Bill Pelz (Pelz, 2004) says it very succinctly,

“In a traditional classroom interaction requires listening and talking, online interactivity requires reading and writing. In [his] experience and opinion, reading and writing are superior to listening and talking for learning.”

This may be true for a Psychology course but leaves a Drama teacher slightly adrift. Listening and talking are the most important aspects of a drama class. Reading and writing comes second place. This is something I have yet to reconcile. Thanks Bill!

A couple of assignments and learning activities that I think I could utilize were from John Prusch’s  Elementary German II, his being a language class it obviously relies on speaking and listening. Within his discussions area he allowed his students to have conversations asynchronously, to do this they would take turns to respond to one another one line of dialogue at a time, they would be speaking, in written form but would have to respond according to the previous line of dialogue. This could be a way for me to incorporate a limited Improvisation aspect into my course. The other was his use of windows voice recorder that allowed students to record their voices so that he could evaluate them, definitely a tool that I may find useful during the speech aspect of my course.

Finally a phrase that Professor Pickett used in the Community of Inquiry speaking on Social Presence videos resonated with me she stated that “it’s not about my passion but about catalyzing passion in [the students]” This is something that I think every teacher should keep at the back of their minds. We feel passion for our subject (it’s why we chose to do it every day) but we must always try to instill that passion in our students, from that they may learn.

Luke (3)

Contemplations on the need for privacy in an online actors studio

In starting the concrete development of my course I have gained a great deal of information regarding making the course easy to use and clear to students. I have also been dealing with a major reconceptualization of my standard classroom course, that of the Actor’s Journal.

It is standard practice for acting students to maintain a journal about their processes and observations usually this is visible only to the student and the teacher who will grade it. In an acting class the product, a performance, is very visible, the work carried out in an acting studio is very collegial but the actual process for developing a character is incredibly personal. As an actor the performance is yours, the character you are becoming is your portrayal of that character, the memories or emotions that you are relating to and connecting with are your memories and emotions. The journal therefore serves to be a window into that process for the teacher who needs to see thought behind what the student is doing. Some of these memories though, and observations, can be too personal to share as part of a group, and these thoughts should be private unless the student wishes to share them, the actors journal satisfies this need. The other need is to create an area where students can express anxieties and vulnerabilities away from the rest of the class, these anxieties and vulnerabilities probably being the thought of being watched and looked at by the rest of the class, stage fright. I wanted to create a zone then where a student can write but only I can see what they are writing. It’s a catch 22 though as students likely to be thinking/feeling this way may then overuse this area in order to hide and to seek one-to-one guidance from me, something Bill Pelz in his exemplar course interview said an online instructor should not get drawn into. Also, if I am grading these diary entries they are, by their nature, being judged.

So there are challenges: how to create a personal, non-judgmental area in my course that a) allows students to vocalize private concerns b) provides those less confident student’s with an area of safe support and guidance, but c) doesn’t become the table at the back of the room where students can hide. How can my class ever become close to the cooperative learning experience of a true actors studio if I’m creating ways in which it doesn’t have to be?

My conclusion is to provide a safe area within the course, only seen by me, that can be used by students to express anxieties should they wish but will not be mandatory and will not be graded. I will, as teacher, have to mediate well enough to encourage the student’s to be comfortable enough to share their more private emotions and memories with group. I will achieve this within the discussion groups, every week there will be a trust building exercise or discussion question alongside the discussions on the work we’re doing, I will set up a “Green Room” the backstage area where students will be encouraged to chat casually and where some of these questions can be posted. The exemplar courses we viewed all had examples of this, “coffee shop” being the general term for this area. In essence if I can nurture a trusting, collegial environment my students will be willing to reveal their innermost processes without the need for a secluded area and it should certainly not be an area that I insist that they to use.

Just the first of many reconceptualizations of my classroom course that I’m sure will keep me up at night.

This was a very dry blog entry and so I will leave you with this thought, you can slap anyone you want as long as you say “mosquito” immediately afterward.

Luke (3)

Making connections, the need to shut off and the plus sides of desensitization

Scorza (2005) states that “[Text based and computer mediated forms of] communication systems make the development of relationships between [online] students and instructors more difficult because they generally do not allow for the kinds of visual and oral cues permitted by face-to-face learning. Pickett (2008) reasserts that “Interactions between students and in particular the quantity and quality of interaction between the student and the instructor, affect faculty satisfaction and student satisfaction and their perception of learning.” I have also seen in the discussion forums that a number of my fellow students have a concern regarding their ability to connect with students in a virtual environment. I am possibly setting myself up for a fall here but I do not share my classmates concerns. I can see that there can be disconnect and there is certainly actual distance between instructor and student but what with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Skype and numerous other online communities being used by billions daily as a significant aspect of their social existence, I don’t see the internet or anything online as being a hindrance to making connections. Social networking sites allow everyone to remain in touch and because they have become so ubiquitous and a major part of all of our lives I believe that the majority of students in online course will be able to find connections with their instructors online. Perhaps this belief stems from the fact that I am an immigrant and I maintain regular and satisfactory contact with all of my friends and family in the UK through online media. I feel as connected to them as I do friends in here in the US, sometimes more so. The video Social Media Revolution (Qualman, 2011) proved that communication and social media is changing how we as humans relate, personally I have been using online communication for many years and most people do now so keeping those connections online should not be difficult with good planning and continuous maintenance.  (Either that or I am setting myself up for a giant fall, Professor Pickett maybe nodding emphatically at this point.)

So far this module I have also learned that clarity in what I present and how I present it is incredibly important to ensure that my students receive the best learning experience. The exemplar model that stuck out for me the most was Rob Piorkowski’s French 101. As an aesthetic person I was impressed by the simplistic and well defined layout, links were posted clearly, the page was free from clutter and extraneous information, there were small design flourishes and idiosyncrasies but these served to better deliver and reinforce the information rather than detract from it. It is a design layout that I will be taking inspiration from.

I believe that I am finally getting into a rhythm with the class and finding my own pace and methods. It is interesting that we learned through Pickett, Scorza and Bill Pelz podcasts that as instructors it is sometimes difficult to “shut-off” to walk away from the classroom and they all asserted that an instructor needs to find that time so that the course does not take over your life. I enjoy online learning because I can do it at my own pace – As I write I am sitting in my classroom between classes, when I upload this later I may be at home on my sofa with a cuppa or in the backyard watching the kids play – but one of the downsides I have found as an online learner is that I can never fully shut off, I feel that I am in class constantly, I’ll check online first thing in the morning and last thing before I go to bed and numerous times throughout the day. In this course I am starting to find that rhythm and allowing myself to walk away but I almost wonder if, for my course, I should build that in. Giving my students estimated timings for each exercise for example or stating: You should be spending approximately xx number of hours on this assignment.

Lastly for this post I wanted to quickly discuss Scorza’s (2005) “desensitization”, again this links back to the lack of connection online students/instructors can feel for one another and the distance poor planning can put between the two. However, I’m actually wondering if a certain amount of desensitization for an online drama course may be beneficial. In many cases new actors and drama students can suffer from anxiety when it comes to a performance, what we call stage fright. The fear of embarrassing themselves or making errors in front of others prevents some students from even wanting to attempt a drama class an online drama class could be the answer for those students. Having some distance from others in the class, not having an intimidating presence of teacher and performing only to a camera may allow those who are introverted to gain confidence and experience a class they may usually shy (no pun intended) away from.

Luke (3)

PS I’m still in my classroom – didn’t get that cuppa yet!

Pickett, A. M. (2008). A Series of Unfortunate Online Events.

Qualman, E. (2011). Social Media Revolution 3. Retrieved June 2013, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0EnhXn5boM&feature=youtu.be

Scorza, J. A. (2005, June). Do Online Students Dream of Electric Teachers? JALN Volume 9, Issue 2.