Collaboration by distance

Classroom teachers aren’t commonly called upon to get involved with conference calls, either the traditional voice-only phone kind or the modern, newfangled video kind. I’m not averse to Skype or Google Chat — quite the contrary, I float around cyberspace quite easily outside my work — but as a teacher I don’t have cause to use this technology at work very often.

This is not Zach Grant. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

This is not Zach Grant. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

As part of the first assignment for PIDP 3100, I was asked to Skype with a classmate named Zach. If he’d lived in the Vancouver area, I probably would have tried to turn it into a face-to-face meeting. There’s never a bad excuse to get together for a pint, or a coffee, or a pint of coffee for that matter. Zach, however, lives up in the interior, and as much as I like a drive up the Coquihalla now and again, the in-person thing just wasn’t going to happen.

More after the jump.

During our first Skype session, Zach and I chatted for a bit and shared some personal information. His background, like that of many who take PIDP courses, does not involve teaching — his work experience and training to this point has been in the trades — so we spent some of our time discussing our respective academic motivation and career paths. I always admire people who look outside their comfort zone for new challenges, and Zach is eager in his attack upon this new subject. I tried to eat up that energy for inspiration in my own research.

Once we moved on to the collaborative assignment, we shared our respective experiences in the classroom. As mentioned, I’m all about the gadgetry at home but I tend to use old-fashioned book-learnin’ and whiteboard work to connect with my students. But Zach mentioned that he had noticed a distinct difference in the flexibility of study styles in his third and fourth semesters when more technology was used in his classes. That led me to reflect upon my experiences as a student at Douglas College, UBC, and even as far back as high school.

We decided to read up on technology in the classroom, and would report back to Skype in a month’s time. I, of course, left much of my research to the last possible moment. No matter how many times I ask my students to plan ahead and use time wisely, I seem to put things off till the due date for my own work. Go figure. (Note to self: research the axiom, ‘teachers make the worst students’.)

In all, I felt the Skype session was not only effective in reaching across our physical distance, I found it was incredibly useful in keeping us on topic. Perhaps this was because Skype is one of the technological tools about which we’ll now be reading, or maybe it’s because we weren’t able to get distracted by passersby (as we might have been if we’d been at a coffee shop on the Drive, for example.) We were also able to immediately search for information when we stumbled upon that awkward moment of ‘I dunno. D’you know?’ Because our friend Google was there, not as part of a smart phone barrier, but rather as a bridge between us, we were able to leap from ‘I dunno’ to ‘I’ve got something’ very quickly.

To wit, here is an infographic that came up quite often when I searched for “technology in the classroom” during our Skype session.

Powers, Jason. Tech in Classroom. 24 Jan 2012. http://www.onlinecollegesanduniversities.net. Web. 24 Feb 2014.

This infographic came up during our Skype session when I typed a search for “technology in the classroom”. Powers, Jason. Tech in Classroom. 24 Jan 2012. Online College and Universities. Web. 24 Feb 2014.

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