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humanMOOC wk 1: teacher presence, listening, and the inconvenient act that is caring about students

December 20, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

As Week 1 of HumanMOOC is coming to a close, it’s fitting to continue the trend of reflective blogging to capture thoughts about this week’s content.

Week 1 explored the “teacher presence” within CoI. Teacher presence is “…the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning objectives” (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001, p. 5).

Basically this means teacher presence is both behind the scenes setup of a course and active direction/guidance once a course is in progress so students have an experience that actually makes a difference in their educational/vocational journey. Teacher presence is crucial so students don’t feel isolated or alone.

Teacher presence is, for me, the most important of the CoI trifecta. I know there’s much to be said for general student agency in learning but even in a course as somewhat amorphous as HumanMOOC there still seems to be strong teacher presence (albeit disguised as wayfinders) working behind the scenes to ensure that events unfold. For example, though I’m tending my garden and watching new ideas begin to sprout…without the wayfinders doing the work of (metaphorically) giving me the chance to connect my plot to a whole bunch of others, I’d never have cultivated these ideas at this time and in this way.

All this to say coming into and going out of the week…I’m still a believer in the idea that all. the. things. may indeed hang on teacher presence.

But, lest this be a reflection of me blindingly praising teacher, this week did bring up a new idea for me namely that perhaps with teacher presence the ultimate end goal isn’t so much the teacher doing everything humanly possible to get their presence within the course but rather the ultimate end goal might be the teacher setting an example for all participants of what it means to model genuine human care within the distance mediated space of an online classroom.

It’s a subtle but significant difference.

If the goal of teacher presence is to create ample touch points within the classroom so students know the teacher is in fact human, all a teacher needs to do is create some videos, vocally-modulated audio comments, let an occasional spelling error slip and generally exhibit behavior that proves someone who isn’t programmed robotically is in control of the course. And yet at the end of the day…does it really matter as a learner to know that my teacher is in fact human if all I see exhibited is generalized human behavior? Or, does the real benefit of teacher presence come when the teacher becomes curious enough to understand my preferences as a learner (spoiler alert: I actually prefer text based comments…in fact I prefer text based everything), learn to recognize the nuance in my vocally-modulated/text-based comments (i.e. note when I’m standing on a ledge contemplating jumping), and gently correct my occasional spelling (or more likely APA) errors?

What this week has made me think lots about is that perhaps the real genius of a teacher being human in an online course context is that it enables the teacher to discover student intention and from there partner with the student so personally meaningful/educationally worthwhile learning outcomes are achieved.

In my own current experience working with my supervisor, I have little doubt he is human because I’ve watched videos of him on YouTube, and had emails/phone calls with him. While those things are nice, if I am honest the real reason I care about his humanity is for the very selfish reason that I need him to help me find my own intention amidst all the fuzzy dissertation ambitions I have and even more I need him to share his story with me and show me how I too can be a bit more human in the crazy online spaces we both find ourselves in on a regular basis. I need him to periodically check in with me not to remind me that I need to write more but to inquire how I’m feeling and genuinely listen/guide me when being a doctoral student takes a heavy mental toll.

His video/audio/text touch points are great but if I don’t get the sense that he actually cares about me as a human…I don’t think all the touch points in the world will have lasting transformative impact on me. Knowing he cares makes me want to care too and in that reciprocal connection…I am certain transformation in both of us happens.

So, in a lot of ways this week has messed me up and made my life as a teacher more difficult. I once patted myself on the back because I was clever with multi media and great about sending out regular messaging to students but admittedly I wasn’t so clever about actually listening back to them. If I believe that presence is a reciprocal relationship is just showing myself as human enough or is the real key showing myself as caring enough to draw out the intentions and ambitions of my students?

Reference: Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D. R., Archer, W. (2001). Assessing Teaching presence in a Computer Conference Environment (Links to an external site.). Journal of asynchronous learning networks, 5(2), 1-17.

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4 Comments

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  1. December 20, 2015

    What a great post, Lisa! This is something I have thought about a lot: I care about my students, and that’s just a given. Something spontaneous from me; it’s why I am a teacher: I get a big boost of vicarious joy when my students learn something new (just as I enjoy learning new things for myself). But… what happens when someone is teaching who doesn’t have that feeling to start with? There are some people who really love their subject matter and got into teaching out of that love for their subject, not so much for their students. I’m at a research school, so I see that pretty often…

    And then, of course, given that a teacher does have an impulse to care, how do you build the spaces and habits for that caring to manifest itself? One of the reasons I like the way my students have their own blogs is that I can “check in” with any student at any time just by clicking and going to their blog. I might or might not leave a comment for them, but at least I can keep an eye on them quickly and often that way. The students might not even be aware that I am checking in like that, which makes it an odd kind of teacher presence I guess — invisible, but real. And important! It works for me, anyway. I’m missing their blogs during the holiday break… but there will be new blogs in January.

    So, given that I am blog-deprived at the moment, ha ha, THANK YOU for sharing in your blog, and also for putting your blog in the hub. I saw your blog pop up there! Three cheers for RSS! 🙂

  2. December 20, 2015

    I got a weird error message with Twitter login here so I am trying again with Google+ 🙂
    ======
    What a great post, Lisa! This is something I have thought about a lot: I care about my students, and that’s just a given. Something spontaneous from me; it’s why I am a teacher: I get a big boost of vicarious joy when my students learn something new (just as I enjoy learning new things for myself). But… what happens when someone is teaching who doesn’t have that feeling to start with? There are some people who really love their subject matter and got into teaching out of that love for their subject, not so much for their students. I’m at a research school, so I see that pretty often…

    And then, of course, given that a teacher does have an impulse to care, how do you build the spaces and habits for that caring to manifest itself? One of the reasons I like the way my students have their own blogs is that I can “check in” with any student at any time just by clicking and going to their blog. I might or might not leave a comment for them, but at least I can keep an eye on them quickly and often that way. The students might not even be aware that I am checking in like that, which makes it an odd kind of teacher presence I guess — invisible, but real. And important! It works for me, anyway. I’m missing their blogs during the holiday break… but there will be new blogs in January.

    So, given that I am blog-deprived at the moment, ha ha, THANK YOU for sharing in your blog, and also for putting your blog in the hub. I saw your blog pop up there! Three cheers for RSS! 🙂

  3. December 21, 2015

    Teacher has to be present for the learners, I absolutely agree Lisa. One of the things that this week (OK, last week now!) really underlined for me is that of all the clever tricks we have for establishing teacher presence: start of week ‘welcomecast’ (not sure if I like that word), end of week summary announcement, twitter hashtags to share resources and news etc, most important is teacher actually responding to learners on a one-to-one basis.

  4. December 21, 2015

    Totally agree on the importance of the listening part of teacher presence. Often people forget that. Thanks for this.

    I, too, prefer text btw 🙂

    Buuuut some people are awful at coming across human through writing. Those of us who prefer text sometimes forget it’s not everyone’s preferred mode. Audiovisual used to make me soooo uncomfortable but I am glad I got over it. It exhausts me but it means I have more options to communicate w different people. The problem is when a teacher/supervisor doesn’t have a full repertoire to engage students according to the context, right?

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