Teachers Topic is a periodical feature about a subject of interest to the teaching community written by a prominent expert in the field. This month, Shannon C’de Baca answers questions about online teaching. You can learn more about Shannon C’de Baca at the end of the interview.
Q: When did you decide to go into online teaching and why?
A: I was offered the opportunity from someone I trust. She and I both believed that this was going to be a part of the future and that current online courses were not up to par in terms of science. So, when she offered me a chance to design one from the ground up and include some face to face labs I took the offer.
Q: What are the biggest challenges when it comes to teaching online?
A: The start up is tough. There is a gulf between what we think kid know about technology and what they do. Helping them find their way in an environment where the information comes in so many formats is quite a task and it is different for every different study style or learning style.
Q: Do you ever feel too accessible/too connected to your students using this method of teaching?
A: I was the first two years and now I am carving out some “off” time. That is critical to preserve your sanity. But, I still get some cell calls when a kid has a meltdown and something is not working.
Q: How do the hours compare to teaching in a regular classroom?
A: I actually work longer for fewer kids in this environment. But the work is different because the connection is so personal. Each student has time with me one on one if they need it and that is both exhausting and rewarding. Of course the start up time is so much longer than in a face to face classroom. As the year goes along it gets better.
Q: How successful do you think the model of online teaching will be twenty years down the road?
A: I think the kids will drive the technology. Here in Iowa we cannot graduate enough chemistry or physics teachers. So, this is a short time fix. I think online will never replace a good face to face teacher. However, having a good teacher who may not feel comfortable with the pedagogy of chemistry work along with a class in this online environment and learn along with them (and pick up some methods along the way) does have great promise. I like the idea of helping new face to face teachers get a good start using courses like this for mentoring.
Q: What elements of your virtual classroom do you think will enter mainstream schools in the near future?
A: I think the chat rooms, discussions and the e-mail communication will be part of the mainstream. I also think that we will use lecture bursts or podcasts and more online media (fewer static textbooks). Online labs have some good promise for dangerous chemicals and the kids can do them over and over to compare lots of data without waste. I like them for data analysis.
You were recognized as an accomplished teacher before you moved from a physical to a virtual classroom. What were some of the most important skillsand understandings that carried over from one environment to the other?
You have to be able to connect with kids and talk to them in ways that foster understanding. You also have to know your subject matter very well. So, communication skills are important as are skills that enable you to approach a concept from several different entry points. However, managing kids in the face to face classroom or in a virtual environment are still the same. I multitask and differentiate like I did in regular classes.
Q: For other teachers who might be considering becoming a virtual teacher, what advice do you have?
A: I would encourage them to take a good online course and examine the course structure and communication thoroughly. Count on more time than you use now for lots of little tech tasks that you are not used to doing. Then, select the course you want to teach and make certain it has the things we know work with kids (lots of activity, labs … labs … labs, good interactive media, great organization and strong visual content). And make sure you have the skills and support to change things in the course to meet your needs as an educational artist.
About Shannon C’de Baca
Shannon C’de Baca has been a high school science teacher for the past 26 years and is the host of the Annenberg Public Broadcasting System television series, “The Missing Link in Mathematics.” She has also worked for the PBS science series “NOVA” and has served as a consultant for the National Education and the Economy, PBS, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Education Association, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the U.S. Department of State. Shannon was one of two Citizen Ambassadors to Bahrain. Shannon is known for using her classroom as a living laboratory to implement the innovations and research-based strategies she shares on a national level. Shannon has received awards from the Milken Family Foundation, Sertoma International, the Iowa Department of Education, and NSTA for her work in the classroom.