Friday, July 31, 2020

Should Students Be Required To Keep Cameras On During a Virtual Class?

Image Source: Pixabay

I recently took this question to Twitter and my PLN overwhelmingly disagreed with the notion of requiring students to keep cameras on during virtual class meets, unless it was necessary for the lesson or activity.  While I can't say I was surprised that most educators were opposed to a mandate, I was frankly expecting a more even split. Based on my Twitter poll, 62% of respondents opposed the mandate, for 23% it would depend on the lesson and only 15% were in favor.

In our district, all teaching will be virtual until further notice, but instruction will be much more rigorous than it was in the spring. With a solid digital equity plan, most instruction will be synchronous, participation in video meets will be required and attendance will be taken just as it has been when students were on campus. 

And cameras are required to be on. That's a non-negotiable. No longer a mandate, though highly encouraged. See update below*

While I don't always agree with all of my district's decisions, this time I'm 100% on board. Here's why?
  • Accountability. This not about a gotcha. We all know full well that students will slack if no one is holding them accountable. I will speak for myself. Going virtual shortened my commute, but didn't lighten my workload. However, having to be on camera for meetings pushed me to be fully present and at my best. If all my work would have been asynchronous I may not have ever gotten out of my pajamas. This leads to my next point.
  • Productivity. We want our kiddos to be fully present and productive, not just online. I've had conversations with many colleagues that will admit they are more focused when on camera. When cameras are off, they would tend to multitask, check their email and their attention would drift. They were overall not as productive and engaged in the activity or conversation.
  • Body Language. Our gestures and facial expressions speak louder than words. Body language can tell us how receptive they are to the material if they are confused or totally checked out. 
  • Relationships. "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship" (James Comer). Most, or all, of your students, will be new to you and it's hard to get to know someone new without meeting with them face-to-face. If in-person instruction is not an option, this is the main reason we need to keep our cameras on. I personally find it very awkward to have a conversation with someone who's turned off their camera - we may as well have a phone meeting.
Perhaps you haven't given this much thought or maybe you just don't agree that it should be required. Virtual school is still an unchartered territory and we are still learning as we go along. As much as we are trying to replicate face-to-face instruction, let's not kid ourselves, it's not the same. It's a given that student cameras will be on during demonstrations and presentations, but regardless of the content we teach, we win when we know our students well, academically and socially. Keeping our cameras may not seem like a big deal, but accountability, productivity, communication, and good relationships with our students make us more effective educators. 

I don't start back until August 3rd and so at this point, I have no idea if staff will have the same requirement. I'm also curious how this will play out with students, so I may likely address this topic once the fall semester is underway. 

If you have a strong opinion either way or would like to share an inspiring or funny story, I'd love to hear from you. You may comment below, email me or reach out on Twitter.

Until next time, stay well and stay strong. And remember it's the tidbits that make it all grand.
*Update: It is not mandatory for students to have their cameras turned on, as per district communications released in September. We are, however, asked to create conditions for students to want to share their cameras, their attendance or grades should not be negatively impacted based on their decision to not share video.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

To Podcast Or Not To Podcast

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

To podcast or not to podcast...that is the question.

Interestingly enough, I asked myself pretty much the same question in 2014 when I was considering starting a blog (To Blog Or Not To Blog...That Is The Question).

I've been as apprehensive about launching a podcast as I was about starting a blog. I didn't think I had anything worth writing about or if anyone would be interested in reading my posts. And if no one would read them and if my blog would be more of a journal...what was the point? Likewise, I've wondered if podcasting will be worth the time and investment. While I don't intend on purchasing additional software and equipment, time is certainly a valuable commodity. It will be one more thing on my to-do list and it could potentially distract me from my priorities and most importantly, take time away from my family. Though I pondered the idea frequently, I quickly dismissed the thought.

That is until recently.

Last April, I joined a virtual PD session on student podcasting and was very intrigued. When the presenter played samples of her students' podcasts, my heart skipped a beat and I knew this was something I needed to pursue. While I would like to eventually facilitate a student-run podcast, for now, I'd like to start a podcast so I can promote podcasting in the classroom.

With most schools going with a remote or hybrid learning model this fall, podcasting is a great tool for project-based learning and assessment. Podcasting can be productive in both listening and speaking about the content in our curriculums. Ideally, we should have students listen to podcasts and once they are familiar with the format, have them create their own.
  • Listening to Podcasts. News and information directly tied to course standards are a great way to enhance the curriculum and keep your content fresh and relevant. I'm a big proponent of teaching with current events, and assigning a listen instead of a read may be a better option for some students. And together with a transcript, it's an easy way to offer a read-aloud accommodation, although it would be helpful to all students. Here's a Free Podcast Reflection Sheet from We Are Teachers that can be used with a podcasting assignment. 
  • Student-Created Podcasts. From self-assessments to group discussion to expert interviews, podcasting provides teachers invaluable evidence of learning while sharpening students' communication skills. There are numerous resources out there to help you and your students get started, but I highly recommend taking a look at two resources from Read Write Think
I also encourage you to check out or download the Anchor app on your smartphone or tablet. Although there are other free options, Anchor is free and super simple. So simple that students can learn how to use it on their own and you won't have to take up valuable class time walking them through it, although you can provide a link to a how-to video just in case.

My head is spinning with ideas for student work, but with all the newness brought on by the pandemic, we'll just have to wait and see how things will play out before I develop a solid plan. I do know that podcasting would be an invaluable experience for our young people. Just like blogging was a gamechanger in my ESL classroom, I know that podcasting will have a similar or greater impact on students. Aside from enhancing communication skills, all the technology involved in the craft can increase learners' confidence and positively impact their school experience. Who knows? A simple podcasting assignment may help a student find his or her calling.

Image by Michi S from Pixabay

So, To Podcast or Not To Podcast?  Teaching Tidbits Podcast is on. Just like my blog, my podcast will feature tidbits of ideas, reflections, and inspiration to keep educators (myself included) moving forward on our teaching and learning journeys. Sometimes it will be just me, but I do hope to be joined by educators and also students. It will be an interesting school year. I'm excited, and certainly a little anxious, but I'm ready for the ride and I hope you'll join me. 

Until next time, I hope you'll stay healthy and strong. And remember, it's the tidbits that make it all grand.