Elevate again

Three courses into the nine courses on digital transformation for learning and teaching I think I know why it was named “Elevate,” Inspired to rise above the challenges social distancing imposes on us. I throw myself wholeheartedly into the training programme.

“Alternative assignments” was interesting and after the event confirmatory rather than revelatory. “Engaging students, was fun with lots of tips and techniques from the session moderators and fellow attendees. We played with various pieces of software, enjoyed the chat, not quite craic but getting there and well, any kind of social interaction during a still slowly easing lock-down is like having a party.

The third course “adapting your curriculum” to blended or fully digital means left me with a throbbing headache and a firm resolve to keep things as simple as possible for my students.

I learned to teach many years ago in the days when a pre-prepared presentation was delivered and visually represented on acetate slides and shown by an overhead projector, during a lecture or other classroom activity.

Technology quickly developed the same thing in digital, for example death by Powerpoint.

We were told, as student teachers, to not say anything different to what is on your slide while the slide is in front of the student. The reason being that the mind cannot concentrate on too many things at one time.

So there I was one afternoon this week, at my laptop, in a virtual classroom with 106 other students, and a moderator assisted by several others. The session was fast-paced and possibilities boundless if you can find your way there in the first place, keep track of the lecture, the materials, the tasks, the links, and the continuous scrolling chat bar to the right.

A preparatory exercise had been sent to us the week before as several email attachments. Some of us had already downloaded and populated the working document.

Before the session I already had it open and ready. To join the session we were emailed a link, this opened to the black space of Collaborate. We waited while the others joined. We could see the list of names growing as people logged on.

Slides were uploaded with a link to download them – some were repeats of what we had already been sent. We all introduced ourselves – important to establish a community and so we did.

Then the moderator talked to the slides, added voting polls, quick quizzes and other demonstrations of what can be done with digital technology – how to set it up was not explained on this occasion.

Then we were placed in breakout sessions, still in the dark but with five of six people maximum. We are asked to talk about another form and to fill it in. it was not the same form as the one some of us had pre-prepared and had open and ready, so they posted a link. The link opened a piece of software requiring an app to be downloaded to convert it to PDF. I already had a PDF converter so I tried to quit but no – the app was not having it.

By now I had around 10 windows open, navigating back to the break-out session was tricky on a tiny laptop. I arrived to a voice saying my name over and over – are you there, have you completed the form? Which form? The link is in the chat.

The chat now has 106 people in animated conversation and more links than you could ever want. I hit one experimentally, I don’t recognise it, but now we are out of the chatroom and back in the main session.

They are demonstrating another piece of software – Padlet, set up in groups by surname, pick the session with the letter of your surname. Here 25 attendees are posting comments on notelets in response to at least three questions. We are supposed to write, read, listen, post and comment intelligently on each other’s posts. We have 10 minutes. In the darkness behind the scene the moderator is moving the posts around.

I hear my name and comments mentioned a couple of times, like a fly buzzing annoyingly while I’m trying to concentrate. I ignore it. Then its the Jamboard – well that was a bit of fun, not perhaps with 106 people taking part.

Finally the pre-prepared homework – the three-page downloaded document that I had worked on last week. It was now suggested that we complete the missing parts based on what we have learned today, to help, a moderator posts a link to a fresh form with additional information, tables, charts and so on embedded in it. The first three pages of this new form are of course blank because the information I so carefully completed last week is not on the new updated version.

I navigate to my filing system download the new form and copy and paste the pre-prepared sections from the old one, but now the session is over and the moderator is thanking everyone and posts another half dozen links to docs that each require several separate actions to save, download, file or convert to a usable application.

Elevate? The session was well planned but would have been better delivered as a week’s training course rather than a two hour module. Let me never do the same to my students – lesson learned – engage the students and try to not overwhelm them.

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