Distance learning/distance teaching AF
So, folks, I am recently with a new job and for more than a month I have been struggling with all the great insecurities caused by Corona. One of the big new things: distance learning. So, what is distance learning?
Well, of course, distance means that you sit at your own desk at home, because we all are at home, and your students sit in their rooms and homes and you are communicating via Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, … – the list of apps and software and techniques is long and exhausting.
I am submitting my thesis in the next days, so I have to deal with the new guidelines on submitting everything virtually – even the fact that maybe my exam will be held online. I am teaching a course at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and one at the University of Bamberg in Germany. So, next to my problems dealing with my soon-to-happen move to Bamberg, I have to focus on my teaching material and the different software usedat both Universities.
What are the difficulties with distance learning?
What are the difficulties with distance learning? I have to admit that this is a very subjective post – but I guess a lot of people teaching out there in academia feel the same.
My biggest problem: I miss the personal interaction in class.
Really. I am used to talking in front of people and I need to see their faces. I need to see their reactions on my presentation. I love the discussion – because questions and discussions always rise very spontaneously. And as a teacher you see it in your students’ faces when there is a problem, right? But being online and talking to a bunch of people on the phone – without seeing them – is really exhausting and complicated when you are used to a free and easy style of discussing and talking about your material in class.
The next thing are technical problems. So far, everything worked out last minute, but hell, yeah, it is getting on my nerves. 😉
At Innsbruck, I give a course on epigraphy and I promised my students that we will learn to document inscriptions and even how to do 3D models with SFM – so, a lot of practical training. And due to the lockdown there is not the slightest chance to do practical documentation with ancient inscriptions. So, I had an idea – and Sarah helped me a lot with it.
I took my love’s video camera and we met at our city park. There, statues of the “Austria” and the “Styria” are located – and they have inscriptions at their bases. It took us all morning, but in the end we had a nice set of mini-movies on how to do a proper documentation on epigraphic monuments and how to get your data for a 3D-model. I know, it is rather odd to practice epigraphy with a modern monument – but hey, you have to improvise, right?
What did I learn during the preparations for my online sessions?
1. The planning and setting. You need a decent background and you need a good camera and a good microphone. I read a lot of information and material on distance teaching and blended learning. I thought about how I will dress in front of the camera, and I did my hair and even my make-up – everything like I will just stand in front of my class in real life.
2. Love the camera. Practice it. My first try was really awful. And I admit it – I hate talking to the camera. You have to visualize an audience. After five minutes on the camera I get a very stressed-out look in my face. Actually, annoyed look, it is an annoyed look. And when I re-watch the video I get annoyed because I look annoyed. A vicious circle… 😉
But it is getting better. During the session with Sarah I was so happy, because I just told her everything about epigraphic documentation – I mean, she already knows everything about it, but it helped a lot.
3. Be gentle with yourself. I am no professional actress, my talking (and teaching) style is relaxed and I don’t want to produce dull presentations and talk my students to sleep. So, my videos are somehow relaxed and short and easy-going. It is totally different compared to a real life class. For a very first course at university it is somehow a baptism of fire. But I had to tackle the challenge. I was successful so far. I think, I did a good job. This semester will be so different and strange, but it will be a good one, because my students will get their grades and they will at least learn all the things I want them to learn.
Stay safe and healthy, whereever you are. We will get through this. Let me know your own experiences on distance teaching and distance learning.
All the best,