Last week I began my second year of online learning with a 7th grade class in Deerfield Illinois. For me, living in Israel, this means waking up at 3:00a.m. to teach the 7:00p.m. Deerfield class. But despite the challenge (it usually takes me through Shabbat to get my internal clock back on track) I enjoy the interaction with the kids who are engaged, curious and ready to explore new concepts and ideas.
My 2014 class started off on an awkward note. We are using the Webex conferencing software to facilitate the class and, immediately after I launched the class, I received a message from Webex to tell me that the "audio part of the conference is not working today." Since the class runs for half an hour, there seemed to be no reason to close the class and start it again which would have taken up more than half the class time so we decided to conduct the entire class on chat.
Luckily I'm a fast typist and I spent the next hour typing my heart out -- answering the kids' chat questions and comments, giving them directions and providing them with an overview of what subjects would be covered during their 9-week class on "Israel."
The second challenge occurred when Facebook failed me. To show the kids some of the unique aspects of Israel I had planned to have them take a look at the Facebook "Only In Israel" page. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/OnlyInIsrael/). I created a username and password so that the students would be able to click in but Facebook doesn't like multiple sign-ins from multiple devices and they effectively blocked my activity.
Live and learn. We moved on to the next activity and I quickly located an appropriate video that would fill in the class time.
1. There's more than one way to skin a cat. If something goes wrong, you can usually find your way around it and should be prepared to do so. In the future, I'm going to make sure that I always have an alternate platform available -- probably Skype. I don't like skype as well as Webex because it doesn't offer the same opportunity to post documents, videos and other materials directly on the screen. However, it would have been a lot easier to have moved over to Skype and continue the class there than to type like a madwoman for 60 minutes.
2. Always have a back-up lesson plan. I've found that, for a half-hour lesson, we generally have time for 2-3 activities including preparatory activities, the core information that I want to present and follow-up activities. It's important to have one extra activity ready to supplement anything that doesn't work.
When you're counting on technology to facilitate your lesson plan, you might as well assume that something won't work. If everything goes smoothly, that's great. But I will, in the future, be preparing a back-up plan for all of my lessons.
3. The kids will give you the benefit of the doubt. I don't think that I could get away with a chat lesson a second time but here, the students were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. They participated fully and we completed the material. It didn't go as any of us had intended but no one took advantage of the technological lapse and they did their best to ensure that the lesson was, under the conditions, a success.