7 ways to support learner-teacher interaction
Here's a few ideas for you to consider:
1) Lecturers can make sure they maintain dialogue with their students through participation in social media sites. But be careful. It's not as simple as 'going where your students are'. That never worked in the student bar and it won't work on Facebook. In both cases I wait until I'm asked before joining students. The last thing they want is their lecturer hanging around like Dad at a disco when they want to talk frankly and openly about their courses, assessment results or what they got up to in the small hours of the night. Student groups tend to set up their own Facebook groups anyway, without any prompting from their teachers. When I'm invited in to a Facebook group or Google Hangout, I tend to lurk until asked a direct question. Then I wade in, give my advice or opinion and join in with the conversation.
2) One popular social media site - Twitter - is a different proposition entirely. It's more public, more succinct (messages are limited to 140 characters in length) and more appropriate for brief conversations between students and their tutors. Interactions can be managed around a specific hashtag related to the course, or can be private between the tutor and students using the Direct Message (DM) option. Hyperinks and other media can be sent as tweets. I have managed many meaningful conversations with students about their work through this method, both during lessons and also post-lecture, but it's clearly not for everyone.
3) Your Managed Learning Environment (or VLE) - in whatever flavour your organisation has chosen - is a walled garden that allows conversations to be protected from outside eyes. However, bear in mind that most VLEs have online discussion threads that all of the group can see and read. Use your discretion about whether your intervention, coaching and other contributions should be publicly available or should be confidential between you and a specific student. Openly discussed topics on a VLE can escalate into valuable, wider discursive events depending on how many students decide to contribute, and how long the conversation is sustained.
4) Set up (or get your students to set up) a group blog (or wiki) which only you and your student group can see and contribute toward. Encourage everyone to let the group know how they are getting on with their studies, project work, placement experiences, and so on. Often, students solve each other's problems long before lecturers can respond. I have used these to great effect with smaller groups to enable them to document and share their progress during project work. As above, use your discretion and professional judgement as to whether you discuss student issues in this kind of semi-open forum, or take them to a one-to-one personal and/or completely confidential level.
5) Mobile phone Texting is always a useful option, but not everyone wants their mobile number to be accessible by academic staff. Decide with your students whether any of them want to choose this option - on the proviso that you are also willing to be reached at odd hours on your own mobile phone. Some lecturers have a second, dedicated mobile phone (or one that is owned by the organisation) that can be used for the purpose of student - teacher interaction. Texting is ideal for sending a quick message, but it's usualy advisable to then move on to another platform to continue a more protracted interaction.
6) Using Skype or another videoconference tool enables tutors and students to interact in a visual mode. Some research suggests that seeing the person at the 'other end' of the conversation improves interaction. The claim is that seeing the other person's expressions, coupled with their body language, vocal tone and posture makes it easier to understand social cues and ascertain meaning. Some are put off by these affordances, and prefer a simple telephone or Twitter conversation instead, so choose wisely with student preferences in mind. Take care with Skype however, as unlike all of the above methods, there will be no record of what has been said, agreed or highlighted, unless you contrive to record it.
7) Finally, if all else fails, resort to e-mail. It's not something many students like to use when they are chatting informally, but most get the idea that e-mail is a formal communication tool. Bear in mind if any students do e-mail you direct with a request for help, a question or a comment, it is best practice to answer as quickly and as comprehensively as you can. They may be relying on your advice to complete an assignment before a deadline, and your rapid considered response will be appreciated.
I'm certain there must be other methods out there that lecturers use to support greater interaction with their students. If you know of any, or have had experiences (good or bad) you would like to share, please do so in the comments box below.
Photo from Search Engine People Blog
7 ways to support learner-teacher interaction by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.