At the end of each semester I reflect on how successful or not I was in communicating with students. Making myself accessible to them is an affordance current technologies provide educators who recognize that learning and meeting course objectives become a direct result of how teachers and students dialogue with each other. And as much as I reflect on past experiences and plan going forward, the way I ultimately communicate with students is part intentional (planned out beforehand), part incidental (emergent). Although tweaks to communication channels are to be expected, I have found it useful to prepare in how I will converse with students so that from day one I am able to set the tone and technological “infrastructure” (e.g., social media) needed so that learners subsequently receive the timely feedback they need to succeed. Therefore, decisions about teacher accessibility underpin the way feedback loops (teacher/student exchanges: initiation, response, and comment) exist as precursors to assessment and instruction.
Next semester (fall of 2017) I plan to teach three writing courses to learners enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program in English language teaching: fifth semester composition course and two first semester writing I groups. The fifth semester composition course consists of learners at a B1-B2 level who will be writing academic essays, business correspondence, and creative writing work such as poems. The writing I groups involve learners at an A1-A2 level learning about paragraph unity, coherence, and cohesion. The classrooms they occupy are equipped with broadband via WiFi and a computer monitor that is also connected to the Internet so that content found online can be accessible as a whole group and individually, in and outside of the classroom. Learners also have various forms of accessing content outside of class by accessing the departmental computer lab, Internet cafés, and personal accounts with Internet service providers.
Teacher accessibility that is the infrastructure where much of the learning is to take place hinges on a teacher’s educational philosophy, type of communication, and mode of communication. The term teacher accessibility is not only meant to define teacher-to-student exchanges, but any exchanges students engage in that remain relevant to educative experiences that align with course objectives (e.g., student-to-student, expert-to-student, etc.). The reason for using teacher as an adjective of accessibility has more to do with showing a level of responsibility an educator has in facilitating how educational philosophy, types of communication, and modes of communication come together for an overall purpose.
Teacher accessibility begins with an “internal audit” of individual teaching preferences that live within a formal educational context such as in a school or institution. Thus, an educational philosophy addresses the following key questions in this regard:
- What do I teach? (content)
- Why do I teach? (rationale)
- How do I teach? (method)
- To whom do I teach? (audience)
- Where and when do I teach? (content delivery).
The fifth question, Where and when do I teach?, relates to the flipped classroom and how mobile technologies provide content delivery that leads to purposeful student engagement. Collectively, these five questions reveal ideologies, theories, and philosophies about teaching and learning that form one’s system of beliefs about one’s own teaching practice.
As a teacher employs an educational philosophy, different types of communication emerge. Types of communication are typically classified as being synchronous, asynchronous, and semi-synchronous. Synchronous communication happens in real time as often is the case when classes meet face to face (offline) or via video conferencing (online). Asynchronous communication happens over time as when students and teachers discuss homework in and outside of class, typically lasting over the course of a few days. Asynchronous communication can also occur online as when students post comments and replies through online forums, for instance. Semi-synchronous communication — sometimes referred to as microblogging — is a third type of communication that typically constitutes shorter types of (written) correspondence that is either in real time or nearly in real time. This form of communication usually remains long enough within the social media channel so that both real time and intermittent forms of exchanges can coexist.
Taking into consider an educational philosophy and the three types of communication, the various modes of communication is also a key element to making a teacher accessible to students. Current technologies continue to widen the possibilities as to where and when communications between teacher and student occur. Simply put, the mode of communication may exist within and outside the classroom and online and offline channels. In a flipped classroom scenario, a teacher may make a lecture or tutorial available to the learners via YouTube (online) and may either ask them to access the lecture before (outside of) class or in some cases, during class. Bringing together notions of educational philosophies and types and modes of communication, what follows is an example of what I plan to do for next semester in terms of making myself accessible to students.
My educational philosophy is to facilitate learners in becoming more apt to form valid, reliable, and unbiased arguments, provide innovative solutions to real-life problems, make decisions that resolve cognitive conflict by developing understandings through a difference of opinion or perspective, and create innovative ways of communicating with others. My role is to move learners from being dependent, to independent, to interdependent individuals who are not afraid to take chances, share their successes and failures with others, and are concerned for the well-being of not only themselves, but for others as well. My goal is to help others become more daring, sharing, and caring individuals.
Reflecting on how accessible I should be with students for next semester, I link my educational philosophy with the most appropriate types and modes of communication that potentially lead to greater student engagement and higher academic achievement. As all three classes I teach relate to developing the writing skill, each learner will maintain a shared Microsoft Word online document that is viewable to everyone but editable by only the learner and me. Hence, all three types of communication are possible both in and outside of class, although I anticipate that mainly asynchronous communication will result. Also, Microsoft Teams offers several different ways to communicate with learners:
Conversations (Teams — Semi-synchronous)
Files (OneDrive — Asynchronous)
Content (OneNote — Asychronous)
Outcomes (Planner — Asychronous)
Conversations, files, content, and outcomes in aggregate offer forms of communication that may be synchronous, semi-sychronous, and asynchronous as well as emerging in and outside of the classroom. The reasoning for using Microsoft Teams (Teams, OneDrive, OneNote, and Planner) is to have options in the types and modes of communication so that as the course transpires, adaptations to assessment and instruction can be made as needed.
On July 5, 2017 (11:00 CST), I will be on the Ser Lumen radio program and will discuss (in Spanish) teacher accessibility as it relates to my own teaching context.
How do you make yourself accessible as an educator, tutor, leader, etc.?
Radio UAA (radio broadcast in Spanish)