I’ve always been a very physical presence in the classroom. I’m always moving, miming, dancing out vocabulary or être verbs (anything to avoid the use of English!), imitating characters from Balzac… Teaching is a performance, but it is also best when it is organic—when the performance doesn’t feel like one, not even to the teacher herself. It’s not just my body that performs in the classroom though; I have found that the more students use their bodies in tandem with their minds—acting out role play situations, changing partners, learning by moving as well as by doing—the more they relax and participate.
It was with some trepidation, then, that I agreed to take on the development and teaching of two online French language courses for a local university. How would I replicate the informal, collaborative learning environment I like to create in my classroom when I’d be behind a firewall? How could I convey my enthusiasm for the ego-eccentricities of the French language, utilize my anecdotal conveyance of grammar?
Today I attended an online teaching workshop, and over the course of it I realized what an incredible opportunity this is. I’m far from finding the answer, but perhaps I’m not asking the right questions. If I truly believe in the pedagogical potential of the Digital Humanities, then it’s not necessarily about replicating what I do in the classroom, but is a matter of taking myself out of my comfort zone and out of my body, and working out what it means to teach and learn at a distance. Not being present in the classroom doesn’t mean being absent for my class.
I had already been experimenting with the likes of tumblr, twitter, and online peer review in my class; now I can see how all those other nifty apps and software I’ve had bookmarked for the past month or so, thinking I might use them in a literature class one day, might help language students learn. I have an opportunity to create a visually appealing, multimodal, authentically sourced French class. I can do away with the final exams and focus on continual feedback, on peer education, on discussion. End of semester projects could be timelines, prezis, video blogs… We could Google hangout with students in Francophone countries. I might actually have the time to review oral exams, because I’ll be able to record them. I could send students on scavenger hunts in their communities (they’ll still use their bodies!) and have them post their findings to a class website. The potential for collaboration, for creating multiple exercises based on student-produced content (videos, presentations, etc.) is huge.
And you know what? They’ll get to know one another, and they’ll get to know me. My teaching might become a little less physical, but it will be no less enthusiastic.
And I’ll be able to hold office hours in my pajamas.