Friday, August 28, 2009

Respect Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

"There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learn in new ways that do not come so easily." (Chickering and Gamson)

In the online classroom, there are many opportunities to allow your students' diverse approaches to learning free expression. Don't limit yourself or your class to only a single teaching or presentation style. Experiment, and pay attention to how students respond.

One of the strengths of a captured session (an archive) is that it allows students a chance to review at their own pace what you provide at the pace that suits you best. They can play and re-play the lecture or parts of it, taking notes or paying attention to specific words or actions to enrich their experience and understanding of what happened and what was communicated.

Shi and Morrow (2006) discovered that instructors felt the audio tool (which allows for voice interaction with online students) was an effective tool for reinforcing diverse learning styles. One effective way to use this tool is to explain visuals you're presenting on the whiteboard: instead of overloading working memory with visual graphics along with text, allow students to "see" the visual content you're presenting and "hear" your explanation. Similarly, allowing students who may be slow or reluctant typists to interact orally gives them options to communicate.

I've extolled the virtues of breakout rooms elsewhere. In this context, I'll posit that a breakout room provides enhanced opportunities for individual participation, since it reduces the size of the group of learners and makes online time more accessible to each student.

When you allow your students to use the chat tools, you provide them with more chances to communicate and you empower those students who may be shy about speaking up or being singled out. It's also a far less threatening way to raise questions than is speaking out and interrupting the instructor. Shi and Morrow also identified the chat tool as associated with diverse learning styles.

Remember, also, that captioning is available for students who are differently-abled. Providing a captioned session will help the hearing-impaired student participate in the live session and understand what happened in the archived session. It may also allow students who have difficulty understanding different speakers (e.g., non-native speakers) to follow conversations and discussions that happen during class.

Thank goodness for diverse students, and diverse tools they can use for learning!


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