Who is most present in your online class? And by present, I mean socially and cognitively (Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, 2000). Or in plain language who influences your class the most, who do you see and hear the most? Who controls the flow of the discussion?

A finding from the recent research report (Affordances and Barriers of the VLN Classes User Experience and Perception, Lai and Pratt, 2020) highlighted that online classes tend to “that the eTeacher was often at the centre of the class, providing content, giving out instructions on assignments, or answering individual questions, but there was little interaction between the teacher and the class, and between students”.

Though we need to keep in mind that this drew upon online classes from across New Zealand, it is fitting for NetNZ teachers to look at our own practice in our online classes and ask ‘Who is in the centre’. We value community, connectedness and student agency. This is clear when we talk at our annual Hui. However, in the report, almost half of the students responding to the survey (n=21) raised the issue of lack of discussions in their online classes.

Students are interested in connecting on a social and cognitive level, this is exemplified by a comment made by a student when interviewed for the report ‘I think it would have been good to have more class discussion … you talk with your friends and your teacher of what you are working in, it gives you more ideas … ‘

If you were to playback a recent class what percentage of the Zoom call do you spend talking? How many opportunities do students have to share their thoughts, practice skills or collaborate?

This is something I have been reflecting on personally. I navigate a tension within my Art History course. That is, on one hand, there is the pressure to cover the very dense course content of Art History. On the other hand, I aspire to work within a Knowledge Building Communities framework. Knowledge Building in crude and simple terms is students working as a community to build/develop knowledge around issues and questions that matter to them. It’s honestly a fine balance between these two. 

Some days the teacher does sit directly in the middle. I will give a short lecture about a key concept. However, I’m not too fond of hearing my own voice at length, so I try to leverage student participation or reflection out of this. For example, we’ll pull apart the language around an idea and I will put it to students ‘So what is your understanding of this?’

Other days the students absolutely sit in the centre. They may have been researching a topic in Art History. Each student will have been responsible for researching an aspect. The Zoom meeting becomes a seminar session, where students teach other students about where they’ve got to with their research. Students will reflect on what next, what do we need to find out, what are we curious about, etc.

I keep persisting with this fine balance because experience tells me it is worth it. It is useful and engaging for students. Students have reported when reflecting on their year in Art History they felt connected to a class despite being the only student studying it at their school. Also, I hear every year from students that collaborating with others and considering different viewpoints helps to clarify and expand their own thinking.

My question to you is which way is the seesaw tilted most of the time? If it is weighted towards teacher presence how could you tilt it towards students more often? How can you optimise the 60 minutes you have in the class Zoom for students to participate as fully and as actively as possible? If your class is student centred I encourage you to share your practice with other NetNZ teachers. This could be a snapshot posted into the staff room, a task that was great for collaboration, or even a Hail article. Go on, you know you want to.

Garrison, D., Anderson, T., & Archer, W.R. (1999). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. Internet and Higher Education, 2, 87-105.

Lai, K. W., & Pratt, K. (2020). Affordances and Barriers of the VLN Classes User Experience and Perception. https://drive.google.com/file/d/17euqZrqnPs4RK0ILC0-bjqpLkAPob3ow/view?usp=sharing

By Philippa Mallinson