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New Way of Teaching for a New Way of Learning

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Rachel Stanley, Reporter

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In today’s world, technology has become a ubiquitous feature in nearly all parts of life. We are a society that seems to be “plugged in” more often than not. And given the changing landscape and scope of technology use, it’s not surprising that Pres’ teaching methods are evolving as well.

For both Graphic Design II and Digital Video Production II classes, this has been especially true. Due to outside events, Ms. VanderMaas moved to New York City mid-way through the semester. However, instead of having the school find a substitute, she has continued to teach the class via video learning – from all the way across the country.

“When Ms. VanderMaas moved out of state…the school was excited about the opportunity for her to continue teaching the class using the technology available and having an onsite faculty member facilitate the class meetings,” Ms. Edson said.

This new form of teaching has the potential to open up many doors for students such as providing a means of accessing class lectures off campus – an ability that, according to Edson, would be indispensable for sick students.

Edson explained that video learning would be an ideal way “to keep students on pace with their classes if they cannot be on campus due to an extended illness,” since making up class work would be easier. Actually, falling behind in the first place would be difficult with this new form of learning – a fact that VanderMaas was eager to talk about.

For two months, she has been creating video lessons using programs such as Zaption, Camtasia and YouTube to create a lecture archive open to student access throughout the semester. So if a student missed a lecture in class, she would be able to keep up with the lesson plan without actually attending class.

VanderMaas explained in an email that this allowed students “to return to the video lessons and brush up on skills or review concepts at any point during the semester.” She also went on to say that “this ‘library of lessons’ was one of the unforeseen highlights of the online format explored this semester.”

“This approach allows for class time to be spent on practice and application activities,” Edson also commented. When put in the context of math or science classes, this ability would be a highly useful method of teaching. Any lectures the students did not understand in class could be rewatched – unlike a traditional classroom setting.

Additionally, Edson said that distance learning also gives “students the opportunity to take a class that may not fit into their schedule.” Personally, there are several classes at Pres that I would have liked to take but did not have the time to fit into my schedule, so this notion of being able to take classes that would not fit into the block schedule is very exciting.

However, while video learning clearly provides amazing opportunities for students that otherwise would not exist, there are too many variables and potential issues for it to be used full time as a replacement for a teacher in the classroom.

For one thing, video learning is technology, and technology is prone to more glitches and complications than a person. If there is a blackout or the network is down – a common issue in today’s world – the lesson plan is thrown out the window.

Additionally, if the teacher is using Skype, there are many other issues that can arise. For example, if the school’s network is not fast enough, if there are too many people on Skype at that time of day or if the bandwidth is not large enough, Skype tends to have issues such as image freezing and audio lag.

“Audio systems, cameras and document sharing all needed to be addressed in different ways to accommodate the online structure,” VanderMaas admitted, but also said that these problems were “only a challenge because this format had never been done before at Pres.” Additionally, she said that “several key people on campus helped to problem solve the technology needs that arose as we developed the strategies for implementation.”

But VanderMaas also faced a separate difficulty – one not so strictly related to technology.

“Personally, I was challenged by my role in the classroom…while not being in the classroom,” she stated. “As a teacher, I see my role in the community not only as a facilitator of learning Art and Design, but also as a mentor. Not being physically in the classroom felt like a huge challenge to that role.”

However, VanderMaas continued, saying that this challenge was more of an adjustment than a crippling problem. “It just took more time to write out my comments on projects and to communicate back and forth with students,” she said. “But the depth and richness of the discussions was very much still present.”

Ultimately, video learning provides amazing opportunities for enhancing the curriculum and giving people a chance to continue their school work without falling behind. However, due to the potential problems, it is too risky to be used as a primary form of lecture.

And, it seems, Presentation agrees.

“Distance learning will continue to grow in education,” Edson stated. “And while we have no desire as a school community to replace teacher-student interaction in a traditional classroom setting, it allows us the opportunity to do what we have always done and more.”

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