Sociality & Remote Learning

May 26, 2020

My work for Season 1 of the CPLC was to end in April with a reflection of one of the chapters from Joshua R. Eyler’s book How Humans Learn. With the shift to remote learning, this task dropped to the bottom of my list. Recently, I found time to start reading Eyler’s text and I found that I am glad to read these words during this moment. This text is pushing me to think more carefully about my work during this crisis.

Eyler shares his thoughts about the social aspects of the classroom in the second chapter of the book and discusses how these interactions support an individual’s learning. He writes,

…learning derives from our social nature and our visceral need to communicate with other people.

p. 67

This chapter sparked my interest as I think about community building in a course. When we moved to remote learning this spring, my students and I had many opportunities to learn from each other face-to-face and build relationships before working together online. I wonder what this means as I consider the many possibilities for the fall. Additionally, Eyler’s words below resonate with me because I think about how technology might influence these connections.

Certainly, we can experience some social connections through all of these technological means, but whether the technology allows us to tap into our sociality enough to maximize learning is a very different question.

p. 107

What if we start remotely? How will I build connections with my students and how will they build connections with each other when we are not in the same place?

I have thought much about how to build community and how having a safe space provides students the opportunity to take risks in learning. I wrote about some of these ideas last summer in a post, CAMT & Tackling a Wicked Problem. I am considering how I can support this continued work no matter what format my courses take in the fall.

I work with an amazing group of colleagues. Earlier this month, we had an amazing online professional development opportunity, Slipper Camp, organized by the CoLab. Many faculty and staff presented sessions to help us think about the various factors that we might encounter in the fall.

Several sessions from Slipper Camp helped me to consider these ideas more deeply (Communication & Connection in Online Classes, Framework for Contingency Planning & Modeling for the Fall, and Universal Design for Learning). I came away with new ways to think about remote learning and ways that I might create opportunities for social interactions for my students in this environment. Even with this learning, I am still unsure about the exact path to take especially considering the fact that no matter what happens in the fall, we still will be in the midst of a crisis. How will this shape students’ abilities to connect and engage?

I thought about this question very much as I worked with my students remotely this spring. I tried to considered what challenges they and I were facing in this new learning space. Everything felt like it took longer and was more challenging during this pandemic. We all needed more space to do our work in the midst of this pandemic. The following quote from Eyler articulated what I tried to keep in mind this spring.

But if your institutions of higher learning are meant to educate human beings and not just numbers, then an emphasis on belonging is simply a signal of kindness and respect to those students with whom we work.

p. 85

Of course, Eyler’s words are not just for times in crisis. It is interesting though how we look at the world differently when we are part of a shared experience. This semester was unusual in that we were all experiencing (to different degrees) this crisis and this allowed us to have empathy for our students in perhaps ways that we hadn’t in the past. I think that these words are important to consider as we move into the fall and beyond. Why should it take a pandemic for us to really see our students and the challenges that they face?