Coaching and Curation in the Covid-19 Classroom

Coaching and Curation in the Covid-19 Classroom August 7, 2020

As an introvert who has worked hard at not simply teaching in the manner that feels most comfortable to introverts, this article by an extrovert educator is extremely helpful and challenging. Here is an excerpt:

What’s lost in this pandemic classroom? The spontaneity of experiences, the rapport of a community, and vigorous real-time debate will be difficult to produce. The extroverts among us will struggle to thrive. But Susan Cain’s Quiet, a 2012 bestseller that identified and promoted the irreplaceable contributions of introverts to their various communities, has persuaded me that American culture overvalues extroverts anyway. Some of my most introverted students have flourished during independent distance learning.

And maybe I’ve placed too much emphasis on spontaneous, real-time debate all along. It’s probably salutary for our culture to lengthen the time between volleys in an argument, and to open up the media by which the debate can proceed…

So I’m stepping off the stage, hanging up the coaching whistle, and curating my exhibits. All along, did I really need to be the center of attention? Maybe I’m finally liberating my students, as Freire encouraged years ago. Knowledge is not a gift bestowed, he said. “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

I have often used “coaching” as a metaphor for what professors are in relation to students, since it makes clear that our role is no more to provide an education to students than it is the role of the coach to win games. Our role is to facilitate and prepare students to do what ultimately will be up to them. Curation is a very different metaphor and involves a very different role, but it is nonetheless a key educational one. I think that “curation” works well as the dominant metaphor when creating a fully asynchronous online learning experience. Coaching isn’t a word that describes what we do through a museum exhibit or writing a textbook. And yet there is a sense in which even in those activities the learning depends not only on us but on the one reading, viewing, experiencing what we’ve prepared. For a hybrid course, there should be a mixture of both curation and coaching.

Let me also say something that bears repeating and I never tire of emphasizing: Faculty in traditional professorial roles need to learn from librarians, who are well-practiced at educating students in both ways, teaching them information literacy skills in a coaching style, and curating resources so that students can learn through those. At many of our institutions of higher education, librarians have faculty status. If you don’t regularly turn to them as possible mentors, colleagues, and collaborators, it is long overdue, and there is arguably no better time than now to finally do so.

It is also worth highlighting in this context that, in addition to curation being a way of approaching our role as educators (in general, as well as in particular in online and hybrid courses), it can also be something that we ask students to do in order to demonstrate higher order learning.

Despite being an introvert, I’ve forced myself to go into the classroom without a written lecture and teach in more conversational and other interactive ways. I invented Canon: The Card Game to replace a dull history lesson with interactive learning. The challenge now (as I prepare to teach Bible and also Religion and Science Fiction in hybrid and social distancing ways) is to make learning as fun and engaging even when playing a card game in person isn’t possible.

It also bears repeating that what we are facing now is related to and yet not a precisely identical adaptation to what we experienced in the spring. Then we had less time to adjust, less of the semester that needed to change, and had already had a chance to build rapport with students. Starting a course in that mode changes things more than you may expect if you’ve never done it before. I am grateful for the reminder that it is ultimately the same kind of challenge at its most basic level, however: to take something many of us are comfortable doing and learn to do it in ways that we are less comfortable with. Here is an excerpt from an article in Inside Higher Ed that also pertains to this:

It was a strange spring semester across North American college campuses. Professors who once vowed they’d take up sheep herding rather than teach an online class suddenly found themselves lecturing to a video camera and setting up virtual discussion groups. Several colleagues have been surprised by the ease of transitioning to a distance-learning environment. There have been glitches, and more needs to be done to serve communities still on the fringes of the digital revolution, but for the most part, the academy can take pride in its response to teaching in the age of COVID-19.

Some professors new to distance learning have had such positive experiences that they are interested in teaching an online course already in the course catalog — perhaps even a continuing-education offering. And even those professors for whom Zoom is truly a four-letter word must prepare to gird their loins, as theirs may be among the institutions that have decided it’s unsafe to reopen to residential students in the fall.

No matter which camp you’re in, novices need to know that not all online experiences are the same. As heroic as efforts have been this spring, a month of online teaching is not equivalent to what you’ll experience over 13 weeks…

Also relevant and potentially useful with respect to teaching in the upcoming semester, here are three more articles from Inside Higher Ed on creative responses within and beyond the classroomcheating in online courses, and the presence of devices and social media in our students’ lives, including in the classroom. Finally, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education offers this sage advice for preparing hybrid courses: “Design a fully online class and think of the in-person part of it as an enhancement to the core of your coursework.”

See also Brian LePort’s blog post and the larger series that he contributed to:

Contribution to AAR’s ‘A Proven Practice’ series

If you’re a student or an educator, what are your biggest concerns, challenges, and hopes for the upcoming semester?

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