After I’d plunked down tuition on my first training class at NYU but before I had actually begun said class, I had the opportunity to spend a day shadowing a trainer who was doing exactly what I wanted to do – teaching writing in a corporate setting. The writing session was a one-day component in a weeklong training for up-and-coming businesspeople who had just been promoted at their company.
You’d think they’d be eager to hone their skills so they would be able to perform at the higher level required by their newly elevated status. You’d be wrong.
These 30-something professionals were as sullen and uncommunicative as a roomful of high-schoolers. Sitting in the back, I could see them web-surfing and working on spreadsheets. They stirred to life a bit when the trainer broke them into small groups, but snapped right back into inattention at the end of each exercise.
It didn’t take long for me to wonder just what I was getting myself into. By the time lunch rolled around, I was the proverbial deer in the headlights. And all I had to do was sit in the back and listen to the class. Why in the world, I wondered, had I ever thought about leading one of these things?
Which is to say that classroom management skills were high on the list of things I wanted to learn when I began my training program. Several classes in, I no longer felt like a deer in the headlights. And then I encountered this strange beast called the online class.
Given the experiences I’ve had in this, my first taste of synchronous online learning, I would say that the greatest challenge in classroom management is that there is no classroom, there’s only technology. And if the technology fails, as it has done to some extent in every one of the four sessions we’ve had so far, it compromises the classroom experience.
Where an instructor in a live classroom has a number of ways in which to corral students whose attention begins to wander, an instructor who is booted out of an online classroom due to technical difficulties loses the students entirely. For how long depends on the duration of the tech blackout and the patience level of the students.
If I had not already amassed a reservoir of goodwill for my current teacher – based on two experiences with her in live classroom settings – I might have left the class long ago. But not every student in an online class will have that background to draw on. So “technology failure” has officially replaced “student apathy” as my biggest teaching-related fear.