Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Teaching K12 online vs. teaching adults

    As I continue to teach hybrid middle school classes (a blend of online and face to face), I continue to see differences between teaching K12 online and teaching adults.  I’ve just finished reading The Online Teaching Survival Guide by Judith Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad; a terrific book, and enormously helpful, but all through it I kept thinking, “yes, but…”

    Adult classes are typically short, often just 8 weeks long.  K12 classes last for around 36 weeks.  This makes teaching K12 online or hybrid very different.

    For example, the planning cycle is different.  I confess that don’t yet have a year’s worth of online activities all ready to go in September for my middle-schoolers.  With an 8 week class for adults, you really have to have everything planned and ready to go ahead of time.  Yes, I have objectives and curriculum, and yes, I have many activities, units, and lessons from the past that support the objectives and curriculum, and from which I will heavily borrow.  But every year I change things, based on what worked – and didn’t work – last time.  Sometimes based on the personalities and capabilities of this year’s kids.  And as I become more adept with Moodle during the year, I try whole new things.  This is a work in progress.

    Another thing: the rhythm is different.  There is an intensive gearing up that takes place with adults because of the time constraints.  You quickly break the ice, break down barriers, help students find common ground, build community, into a crescendo of interaction that strengthens both learning and community.  At the same time, learners are interacting more and more deeply with the content as they fold their learning into their own lives and make it their own. And then it’s over. 

    With K12, yes, you build community, but it’s an ongoing effort that lasts 9 months.  Some kids already know each other, but there are always new kids who need to find a way in.  Kids stop participating and you have to address that.  Kids aren’t so nice to each other and you have to address that.  Kids get sick, have parents deployed to war zones.  Kids have good days and spectacularly awful ones. It’s pretty much all the time, and it’s for the long haul.

    The rhythm in K12 gets wrapped around units and also around activities that weave through the whole year.  A unit starts with interest and hopefully excitement.  Students may dive in or just dip their toes, but there is momentum that builds, peaks, and wraps up; sounds a lot like an adult course.  Then we start again on another unit, and another, all year.   And as with music, the regular notes of repeated activities sound all year.

    I love the intensity of an adult class, but it’s short-lived.  One thing I love about K12 is that I get to work with my students all year.  That time gives us the chance to explore, stumble, figure out, practice, and then practice some more. 

    But for all the differences, there is one big similarity.  It’s all about connections.  When the teacher/facilitator/guide creates meaningful connections with learners, that’s when the learning really goes into high gear. 

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