Thursday, May 7, 2015

If not Dave, then what...? Week 4 in #Rhizo15

So, in this week's paradox vortex, it's only appropriate to start the "if not Dave" post with ... Dave:

That challenge immediately made me think of a fabulous response Amanda Rachelle Warren shared at G+ in a similar discussion a while ago:
I am a coach, parent, mentor, cruel despot, enabler, cheerleader, resource, sounding board, index, FAQ sheet, sherpa, touchstone, motivational speaker, big sister, angry god, pack mule, lightning rod, turbine, mama bird, judge, jury, executioner, sidekick, mythical beast, and many other things. — Amanda Rachelle Warren
If you are a Google+ person, check Amanda out. She is a G+ goddess.

Is that list awesome or what? :-)

For the purposes of #Rhizo15 here I picked out what would be my top five. But first, I have to observe that the university calls me "lecturer" ... which is ridiculous of course because I DON'T LECTURE. Nice job, university.

So then, setting aside the official designation of "lecturer" (eeeek), here are my top five:

Teacher / Mentor / Tutor / Co-Learner: Yeah, that works for me (I'm one of those people who cannot imagine any other job really...), and it works for a lot of my students, especially the ones who have a desire to learn something that I can teach in that mutual coolness that is teaching and learning. So, the question then becomes figuring out just what it is I can teach (lots of possibilities) that a given student might want to learn (again, lots of possibilities). Some of them really do want to learn to write, and there's a lot I can teach them about that. I also can teach them a lot about blogging and social media. Sometimes there are students who really are interested in the actual subject matter of the class... although I teach Gen. Ed., required for graduation: I don't count on people necessarily having any interest in the subject matter, at least not to start with. So, that is how I have ended up with the current course design: one that tries to be responsive to student interests, assuming those interests are likely to include at least one of the following: writing OR web tech OR the actual subject of the course (Myth/Folklore is one, Indian Epics the other).

Cheerleader / Motivational Speaker / Lucky Charm: This is huge, especially as students are doing things that are often new to them, and with a fair amount of anxiety too. Students often have fears and worries associated with writing, and some of them have technology anxiety also. Cheering them on is good. The way the class works, they are doing all kinds of things that I find really exciting (creating stories, blogging, building websites, finding and sharing things online), so my cheering is not just some kind of rah-rah formulaic ritual. I am able to share my sincere enthusiasm with them all the time. (Yes, I love my job... and I've designed the course trying to maximize the love all around.)

Coach / Trainer: This varies a lot from student to student, but for students who are not good at coaching themselves, I can be the coach as well as the cheerleader. So, I try to get them on a good training schedule (this is especially true for the students who want to work on their writing; that takes a lot of discipline over time), coming up with the kinds of exercises that will help them work on weak points and build up writing strength. I don't expect this to work for every student, though. For a lot of them, their real work is happening in their other classes or in their internship, etc. I am glad the online course set-up gives me the flexibility to coach or not, in response to how much time/effort a student has available to invest.

Tour Guide / Sherpa / Pack Mule: This is probably my favorite of the different roles. If the Internet is a space, and for some students a foreign space (I often travel different parts of the Internet than they do), I love being a tour guide who shows them around. And yes, I'm glad to tote the luggage, stand in line to buy the tickets, etc., so that the students can focus on just taking it all in and having a good time. And it's even better when they say, "Hey, that was great, and now I'd like to just go off on my own and explore." For the students who are making a small investment in the class, this notion of "tour guide" is probably the one that describes our relationship best.

Librarian / FAQ / Resource: I love to read, and I especially love books. Love love love them. So it is my great pleasure to be a librarian in online digital libraries like Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, Google Books, etc., ready to put heaps of digital books into each student's hands ... if they ask. If they even look like they might be about ready to ask. If they so much as seem to be about to glance in the direction of a book. And since these are free digital books, there are an infinite number of copies on the shelves; nothing is ever checked out so that I cannot just give a copy to the student who wants it.

Friend / Sidekick / Sounding Board / Big Sister / Parent / Mama Bird. This also varies a lot from student to student. Some students keep their distance, which is fine, and some students really seek out the instructor as a potential friend, and that's fine with me too. So we socialize (emails, Twitter, whatever), and sure, that can be about stuff that has nothing to do with class — just life and school and whatever. Sometimes students might be in trouble and they need help (someone who will just listen, some advice perhaps, etc.). Sometimes students are just super-excited about something they are doing and want to share that excitement with someone. It's nice: I really like the fact that, unlike office hours, this kind of online connection can happen in different ways at any time. And sometimes we get to stay friends after the class is over, which is really fun too.

And that covers a lot of Amanda's list. Since I have the luxury of creating an online class that is ultra-flexible, without me giving grades on work, I can avoid the angry god part, ha ha.

As for mythical beast: I'm not just a fox; call me a kitsune. :-)


  1. Laura, as I read each of your 'dave's' (roles), I recognized myself. You mention that you change your 'self' and your relationships from student to student -morphing into what they need from you as their teacher. This is one of the biggest challenges teachers who are new to their roles face - it's the quick shape-shifting that is required to be just what each student needs to have them engaged and learning.

    Very appropriately chosen mythical beast! Shape shifting involves relationships!

    1. Oooooh, shape-shifting AS instructional strategy, Helen: that sounds so cool! So much more cool than "differentiated instruction" or whatever sleep-inducing pedagogical label we might normally use. Instead of "run with the wolves," we can "teach with the kitsunes" ha ha. That would definitely make teaching into an adventure! (as it should be!)
      Just practically speaking, teaching online allows for all that flexibility, for that shape-shifting. I was just confused most of the time in the classroom because I could not figure out how to do all those different things at once in a room full of people. Full of such different people!


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