Saturday, November 21, 2015

Interview with a Practicing Online Educator

When the opportunity to attend a conference in Vegas arose I jumped at it.  Who wouldn't?  A chance to ride the Manhattan Express; take in the view from the top of the Stratosphere; attend a performance of Cirque du Soleil; and participate in professional development.  It was too good to be true.

What I wasn't expecting was the chance to chat with a practitioner in my field of focus for my graduate studies.  I am new to the world of online teaching and learning and overwhelmed by the wealth of resources and educational theories that exist.  When I had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with someone currently working in the field of online education I felt an adrenaline rush not all that different from when I did the loop-the-loop on the roller coaster at New York, New York.

I constructed some questions that addressed the current areas of study in the course I was taking and equipped myself with a pen and notebook (roaming charges precluded me using my smartphone as a recording device) and waited for an opportune moment to get an exclusive.   I imagined this must have been what Lois Lane felt like interviewing Superman.  I was excited and nervous all at once.

The first question I posed was whether or not she felt there was a difference between online and face-to-face teaching and learning.  My expert addressed the benefits she experienced as an educator, such as the convenience of being able to work where and when she opted, thus freeing her to be more available for her family.  I agree that is a benefit for both teachers and students but it didn't really answer my question.  What I really wanted to know was how the planning process differed.  What considerations must an educator take into account in order to move from a face-to-face teaching environment to an online or blended environment?  Lesson number one for this fledgling journalist....construct your questions carefully.

Next I asked if her teaching was influenced by any particular learner theories.  My response was a vaguely puzzled expression.  I clarified by asking if she applied more of a bahviourist, constructivist or connectivist approach.  I could see the neuropathways lighting up as she recalled some of her earlier formal studies.  She cited all of them as shaping her program.  Lesson number two for this inexperienced interviewer - don't assume prior knowledge.

My third question addressed learning styles.  I wanted to know if she felt that online education was better suited to one style of learner than another.  While she acknowledge that it is possible for all learners to be successful, kinesthetic and visual learners likely struggle more.  Lesson number three - include icebreakers at the beginning of an interview because the subject will likely need time to feel comfortable and get into the right mindset.  My subject seemed much more at ease now and her answers were more thoughtful and confident.

Finally I asked about the challenges posed by introducing online or blended models of instruction in primary classrooms.  She agreed that this was challenging.  She directed me towards a tool called Zoom.  I was pleased to have a tangible takeaway from the interview; something I could go and explore and maybe utilize in my own practice.

My quasi-ambush interview may not have been peppered with "aha" moments but it was by no means a disaster.  I realized that while I had not previously given much conscious thought to which learning theories influenced my practice, I was not alone.  I could move forward in my ongoing quest to become a more effective teacher and stop beating myself up.  I also realized that I made the right choice in pursuing teaching rather than journalism.  I will leave that to Lois Lane.

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