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The Great Disembodied Voice of Your Teacher Has Spoken
A few weeks ago, in late September, I found myself having to stay at home with my sick kid. It was a middle school day for me. They got me a sub, plus my aide was in the class for most of the day. I decided to contact my tech guy. He went into my room and set up a spare laptop to run iChat with voice and screen sharing. Then he hooked it up to my projector and speakers. And then I waited for my first group to arrive.
You see, they really needed me to be in school that day. There were going to be a lot of questions that e-mail was not going to be quick enough to answer. The previous two weeks had included off-campus week-long outdoor education trips for two of the three grade levels, and I had been on one of them. This meant my seventh and eighth graders really needed me around for help with some stuff and they had waited long enough. And sixth graders are just needy. So yeah.
My first group of students entered the classroom. I could hear them. And as soon as they started to be noisy, they could hear me. I posted a Word document with some quick directions on my screen (which they could see, remember) and I said, “All right, please come in quietly. Settle down and log in.”
I imagine they started looking around. There was a sub and an aide, but no me. I knew they’d wonder how we were doing this, but seriously kids, it’s the year 2009 and I AM your technology teacher. Luckily, these were eighth graders – whom everyone knows just don’t impress easily – and they swiftly got down to business. (I still think they were a little impressed.) Also, since word travels very quickly among middle schoolers, and recess was right after this first class, I knew my disembodied entry greeting would not have a chance to be repeated with the same effect.
After I gave them a tour of some documents of instructional material and referred to my completed sample (which I showed them while talking about it), I told them what to work on and to come to me if they had any questions. A short time passed, and then I heard, “Ummm? Mrs. Main? Are you there?”
Someone had approached the laptop to ask a question. I was able to respond while also showing the documents that helped answer the question. Before I knew it, several more students approached and had overcome the weirdness of not being able to see me, and got their questions answered. The same thing happened in the next five classes. The kids told their parents and other teachers, and later, me, how “cool” it was that we had class without me even “being there.”
The best part of it is that if I can arrange it in advance and an aide can cover my classes without them needing to bring in a sub, I don’t have to take a full day of sick leave. It started me thinking about more opportunities to use these kinds of online conferencing tools to bridge the distance between my classroom and the rest of the world. Last year, I demonstrated ustream to my middle school students, and I had a group of third graders come in and Skype with a third grade class in North Carolina (we’re in California). I would like to do more of that kind of thing this year, and maybe I could find ways to integrate it into the projects the students do in my classes. In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can arrange to teach from home a few more times this year.