Sunday, August 10, 2014

Can an On-line Course Teach Poetry Slams? A Guest Post by A3 Teacher

This is Part 2 of two posts about online learning by A3 Teacher. Here is Part 1.

Last week I wrote about my experience as a student taking an online course. In my experiences, as both a student and teacher, critical thinking skills are better developed in a traditional classroom.

Many on-line schools would like to give you the idea that you can teach or do (almost) anything virtually that you can do in person. For example, for the past several years, the Michigan Virtual University has hosted a Poetry Slam Contest.  Check out the video below.

Anyone who has been to an Ann Arbor Poetry Slam will be able to clearly see, hear, and feel the difference.  

Screen shot from a Communicator article which featured
the high school poetry slam. Videos are embedded
in the article.

[Editor's Note: I couldn't figure out how to embed any of these videos, BUT if you click on the link you can watch several videos from an Ann Arbor Poetry Slam.]

In this case, I believe that the coaching, mentoring, and collaboration of face-to-face meetings results in a drastic comparison.  This is just one comparison that is an example of the depth of learning and skill-building that can happen in a classroom.  

Classrooms benefit from face-to-face interaction and discussions.  Most private schools in the Ann Arbor area do not offer online classes but instead focus on the development of relationships and cultivating inquiry and deep critical thinking skills.  Some classes are taught “seminar-style” where discussion about topics and texts is in-depth and focuses on critical engagement and theory work.  Programs such as International Baccalaureate build on the concept of mastery through the intense development of discussion, verbal practice, and depth of knowledge. Certain assessments for the IB are audio recorded and sent to other countries for objective assessment.  

I am not yet convinced that online learning has reached the ability to adequately serve even the highest achieving students.

Something different happens in a classroom discussion that cannot be replicated online.  In the on-line class I took, most of the time I spent posting to the online discussion took 5-10 minutes each.  I could also be very selective in what I read (whose posts I read) and which posts I responded to.  In contrast, a Socratic Seminar, or a discussion that pulls in students’ perceptions and opinions, or a real-time discussion that can go on for over an hour is an important skill for students to master (this being said, discussions can also go very poorly without clear parameters or an instructor who knows how to guide students).  

When students engage in sustained reading, writing, and thinking, they develop critical thinking skills that develop true depth and mastery.  A Harvard professor has students spend three hours in an art gallery staring at a painting as part of an assignment.  She states that “Every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, toward immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity—and against this other kind of opportunity. I want to give them the permission and the structures to slow down.”  This is crucial.  

When a student spends 45 minutes with a primary document, or 70 minutes discussing a 10-line poem, or 50 minutes debating the ethics of cloning, students learn how to slow down, listen, and think.  This does not mean that discussions won’t get messy (sometimes good discussions have no definite result or a clear decisive outcome), but it means that students will develop deep critical thinking skills that will benefit them in a variety of areas in life.  Students learn impulse control and to consider multiple viewpoints as opposed to seeing the world in a reactionary and simplistic way. 

Something different happens in the human brain when students spend long amounts of time thinking, reading, writing, and listening. These processes - reading, writing, and thinking - go hand in hand. Isn't that what we want?

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1 comment:

  1. Agree. Agree, agree, agree! I am a grown woman with multiple advanced degrees, a nice IQ, and generally fairly intelligent. And *I* have a hard time with online classes, simply because I miss the interaction of the classroom and the teacher-student relationship. My online grad classes always have some sort of chat board, and at least one student says something that comes off as sounding odd or offensive. Then that becomes an issue and we lose sight of the original topics while we try to figure out what that person meant.

    I work with special needs students and I can't imagine a situation in which the online school model would work for them. They need a teacher, their classmates, and the whole school environment to be successful. Sure, they could watch/listen to a video, but I don't feel that they would retain the information and I know that their attention would wander after a few minutes.

    Speaking of which, in all of the talk about online education, I have yet to hear anyone mention special education.....