It’s the most wonderful time of the year…back to school time! If you’re a teacher like me, it’s also the busiest time of year – lesson plans, building presentations, making videos and rubrics, and anticipating all the new school year will hold.
One of the things I love best about being a teacher in the 21st century is being able to leverage technology inside and outside the classroom to connect and collaborate. It’s something I’ve had some great success with in the past couple of years, and I’m only continuing to build upon what I’ve learned. Currently I’m teaching classroom based, online and hybrid courses (the latter being a mix of online and classroom-based) at the post-secondary level. In addition, I am a partner in a successful new media consulting and production company, so I don’t spend all day long in the classroom sitting at a desk. I must be mobile and I must be able to connect with my students when they need me.
The Right Tools for the Job
I have a laptop equipped with an Internet rocket stick, as well as an iPhone and an iPad. My students are encouraged to contact me outside of class time via email, Skype, Twitter, or Facebook – and they do. I promise them 24 hour turnaround on a response, and with about 70-100 students per term across all my courses, it’s vital that I have access to these tools all the time so I don’t end up with a backlog of questions. At any time I can link up a screen-sharing session on Skype to help a student with an issue. I can be notified on Twitter when someone has a question, or participate in a group chat with the class on Facebook.
I don’t HAVE to be online and available 24/7, and I do shut it down. But as a teacher, I think being accessible to my students is vital. Often it’s outside of class time when they will run into issues or have questions, and it’s my job to be there to help. Using the right combination of hardware and software, I make my life easier by being able to connect and collaborate from wherever I am.
Connecting to Each Other
Not only do these tools enable students to connect with me, but they also facilitate connections with each other. For my classroom-based and hybrid courses, I always set up a closed Facebook group for each class at the start of each term. This is a space where students can connect with each other outside of class, via their computer, tablet or smartphone. They use the space to share relevant links and help each other out. Some teachers are reluctant to get on Facebook with their students. However, closed groups are a great way to collaborate with classes without having to be “friends” with students – so if that worries you, then set up a closed group. That way, you can connect on one level and your private photos remain private. Last term, my class Facebook group was so successful that my students asked me to turn it into an Alumni group after they graduated – and they are still connecting there!
I often have guest speakers into my classes; experts from industry who come in to share their perspective on the course subject matter. Sometimes, my guest speakers aren’t in my city, and my college definitely doesn’t have the budget to fly people in – not to mention the people I bring in are often on the road themselves, so may need to connect to my classroom from their hotel room in Norway. This is where online meeting tools come in handy. I can start a meeting with the guest and we can see and hear each other clearly – it’s like she’s right there with us! Students can ask questions, concepts can be explained on a virtual whiteboard or via screen sharing, and everyone has a great experience.
Ultimately, when it comes to mobile collaboration with students, it’s not about the tools – it’s about connecting and sharing and learning. But having the right items in your technology toolkit can make your life as both a teacher and a student more rewarding. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!
Photo Credit: C.C. Chapman