“When are you going back to school? When will in-class teaching resume? How will classes be organized this fall?”
Like all teachers, I get asked these questions a lot right now.
It’s difficult to make any firm predictions, but I think we can learn a lot from online content creators.
Many of my colleagues are desperate to go back to the classroom. They view the use of teleconferencing tools and remote teaching as a temporary measure — a failed experiment, if you like. The experience over the last couple of months has confirmed one thing: traditional teaching methods are still the best.
And, in one sense, they are right. The new tools worked surprisingly well when schools were forced to shift classes online. We could get the job done. Things were much better than expected, and the available applications — Zoom, Skype, Teams, etc. — offered a number of useful features. Polls. Breakout sessions. Chat boxes. Content sharing.
But, even the strongest advocates of this experiment, must admit there are problems with shifting classes online.
One issue is the lack of genuine interaction and in-class involvement. To be effective as a teacher, you have to be able to “read” the students. Do they (as a group) “get” the content? Body language has always been one of the best indicators to measure the effectiveness of a class. If you had the feeling that you were losing the group, there were many techniques to “re-capture” them. A different example. A break. A joke.
Moreover, an important task of a teacher has always been to find the balance between the students who “get it” and want to know more and identifying the ones who need a bit more assistance and time. Achieving this balance is so much harder when teaching online.
Because when you do lose the students, they are gone. Either literally or they start doing other things. Catch up on Twitter. Check Facebook. A quick game of Fortnite.
And I cannot blame them. We have all become masters of multitasking when we attend online events.
So, I don’t look forward to continuing online classes when school starts again this fall. But going back to the old days of in-class teaching doesn’t appeal either. The world is changing, and I don’t think education has done a very good job at keeping up with these changes.
Are we witnessing the early moments of the end of schools? What must schools and teachers do to remain relevant?
The Educator of the Future
One response is to change the business model of higher education and transform teachers into online instructors. This will put schools in the footsteps of the fast-growing online education providers and start-ups. Think Coursera, MasterClass, Skillshare, and Mooc.org.
I am already seeing the first signs of this trend.
Recently, my university asked me to record a video to welcome our new students in August.
They encouraged me to make use of the university’s “professional” TV studio. I was there five years ago to make a promotional video for one of our programs.
The studio is a sophisticated — state-of-the-art — facility. Green screen, professional cameras, several camera operators, video editing equipment, and lighting. All the things you need to make a professional production. I even received training from a professional TV host. The video was slick and well-designed.
But this time, I declined the invitation.
I don’t believe a professionally produced TV-style film is the answer in 2020. I can barely watch modern TV shows myself anymore. The acting, the editing, the pace. Somehow, they are from a different age — a world that more and more of us have left behind.
Instead, a strong dose of “un-corporate” amateurism is needed to capture the attention of today’s audience (young and old). Smooth is out. Authentic (even if manufactured) is in.
When I need information on a topic or want to learn more about something, I turn to YouTube. The best creators are able to tell a story in short, engaging packages that educate and inspire.
The algorithm identifies the “best” based on the reception of the “crowd” — the number of people who watch and like the content. The feedback in the comments from the community identifies alternative viewpoints and offers an additional mechanism to learn from the content — I quickly learned how to filter out the negativity and focus on the useful remarks.
Have the online content creators and influencers become the educators of today (and the future)?
Yes, I think they have. They have recognized the new forms of literacy that young people now have and developed the unique skills necessary to deliver content relevant to a generation that consumes information (and learns) in a very different way from any generation in human history.
Learning from Content Creators
The best content creators seem to focus on 5 “I’s:” inspiration, interaction, involvement, innovation, and image building.
Their content inspires and invites the consumers to dig in deeper and discover more content,
They involve their community, ask questions, and start discussion.
Building a community is all about engagement and dialogue with the audience. In-person meetups and live sessions are increasingly being used to interact with the community.
They innovate and experiment with new content and formats to better engage with the community.
They are human and evolve. It’s like you get to know them and become part of their “family.”
The Self-Learning Teacher
I have come to believe that teachers must learn from the best social media content creators and influencers.
But, to achieve the 5 “I’s” it is necessary to acquire new knowledge and develop a new set of skills.
What gear do the best content creators use? How do they construct a film to attract people? How do they communicate their message? How do they build and sustain an online community?
All educators need to engage and develop the techniques for content delivery in a digital age.
So, I decided to spend the summer immersing myself in the vast ocean of online videos, vlogs, and podcasts and to self-learn (with the help of content creators and influencers) the “ins and outs” of content creation in a digital world.
I want to understand the hardware and the software needed to create crisp and effective content. I need to develop a new skill set necessary to package content online. The “dos and don’ts” of scripting, online video creation, and editing.
This self-learning process goes beyond collecting and consuming information. I am now experimenting fast, improving myself, and looking for my own unique voice to deliver my brand of content.
Other teachers should do the same. Because in this exciting new world, there won’t be a “one-size-fits-all” model of the teacher. For sure, some will continue to deliver traditional classes (either in-class or online). Others will become content “curators” — finding great content and sharing it with their students.
Again, now is not the time for making firm predictions. But, one thing is for sure. We must change the conversation about schools and add “content creation” to the equation. We should realize that we have the opportunity to make schools “schools” again: a learning environment that allows for the personal exchange and sharing of meaningful content, but in a way that is more attuned to the needs and expectations of young people in a fast-changing digital world.
This is the kind of school I could get excited about going “back” to in the fall.