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Something very interesting happened today. I went out the front to get the newspaper and this is what I saw.
Somewhere under all that water is a road. It was too deep to drive my car down the drive and into the water(road). So I rang up and told work that I wouldn't be in until later in the day, and of course I then had to write down what work my classes could do in my absence. My first class, starting at around 9:05 was supposed to be doing some building in Minecraft, they were going to build a model of a Bunsen burner, labeling the parts.
My first thought was, oh well, guess they wont be doing that, they will have to keep working on the famous Australian scientist assignment that we started yesterday. Then I thought, well I can at least give the substitute teacher the option of choosing between the two. So I wrote step by step instructions that would allow the students to log into the same server that I could access externally, emailed them off and then set up the server through remote desktop. I then connected and waited to see if I could be a virtual teacher or whether the substitute would choose the assignment option.
The kids started logging in, much to my surprise. It took a bit longer than normal to get them all in, but they were really good at helping one another to get into the world. So once all of them were in, I had to teach my class by typing text in-game and explaining what the task for the lesson was. For my first time being a virtual teacher I think it went very well. I now realise the power of speech at getting your point across, the tones of excitement do not translate into text. On reflection I am amazed at how much impact my tone must have on engaging students in their learning, and how much I rely on the tones in their voices to gauge how involved they are in the task. Don't get me wrong the students were involved in the activity, but I have no idea what the general feeling in the room was like, did they like the activity. This experience has shown that for me it is really hard to reflect on a lesson without that auditory feedback that I normally take for granted.
Did the students achieve as much as if they would have if I was a physical presence in the classroom, no I don't think that they did in terms of the actual task I had set, typing into text takes a bit longer than talking to them. However as the lesson progressed I realised that while they may not have completed as much of the task as I would have hoped there was a different learning happening in the room, the main reason it was different was because I was not there.
My goal or learning intention at the start of this lesson was "Students will demonstrate their knowledge of the parts of a Bunsen burner." The work that students put into helping one another as they were having issues, and teaching others how to do things in the game that they were having trouble with was just astounding. The ability to be able to support each other and work as part of a team effectively are skills that while not being taught explicitly, were still being learned by students.
I feel that if I was there in the classroom that a lot of these problem solving and teamwork skills would not have been developed as much. It would have been me helping students with their issues, and me teaching them how to do some of the different things in game.
There is only one thing I would change if this situation occurred again, I would like to have live audio from the classroom. I would not use audio to talk to the students, but being able to hear what the kids were saying, how they were explaining things to one another, what support were they giving each other and who was providing it would allow me to reflect on this lesson better.
One concern I have with having the audio during the lesson is that it may impact on the lesson progression, so instead of responding to what was happening in the world, I might end up responding to things that were happening in that room. If this started happening it would in my opinion take something away from this lesson. What it would take away?
There was something happening in todays lesson that I have never experienced before. I think it was that I was not responsible for their behaviour in the class room, I was however responsible for their behaviour in the virtual world, having the link between these two areas of behaviour management 'missing' is what made this lesson special and so different for me, and I think that is what having the live audio feed would take away, that 'missing' link between the virtual and real worlds.
On an ending note, I did make it to work, the water went down enough for me to get the car out not long after the lesson finished, one of the first things I did when I got into school was go and find the class that I 'taught' and thank them for the great effort and support they gave each other and me. Of course there was also a very big thanks to the substitute teacher for taking such a big risk on an untried or untested way of teaching (at least at our school). I did record the in-game footage from my perspective and will publish that to youtube soon. [EDIT: Here is the link to the footage.]
As always thanks for taking the time to read and feel free to comment.
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