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Dr Matt Coler on distance learning

17 March 2020

While working from home - with his toddler playing at his feet - dr. Matt Coler, Assistant Professor and Research Program Manager in Culture, Language and Technology, talks about how he set up online teaching for his Language and Culture Skills Lab sessions. It was up and running last Friday, and the experience could have a lasting impact on the way he teaches, even after this crisis.

As the course is a bit unique and non-conventional, Matt had to find an equally engaging way for his students to engage with the course content. ‘A Skills Lab is not a lecture, so I did not want to make my students listen to me talk on a screen.’ Usually the class consists of an active group discussion, so after warnings about universities possibly closing down, Matt made plans to transition to distance learning. That’s why on Friday already, day one of the physical closing of the University, Matt put a GoogleDocs online via Google Drive for students to watch and discuss videos, do their own “hands-on learning”, upload their own material, and engage with him and one another through what could be described as a course Wiki.

‘This crisis made me think outside the classroom. It requires people to think in a radically different way, which also made me reconsider what it actually means to teach and learn. The impact of it all could impact my own teaching in a positive way. Suddenly the content of the course is not confined to the classroom, but seeps into the students’ lives outside the university. This is a tremendous opportunity for both students and teachers to reconsider what it means to teach and learn!’ For instance, Matt feels this way of remote teaching liberates students who struggle with active engagement in class. For the first-years or shy students especially, it feels more safe to put in their two cents and engage in a group discussion digitally than by speaking up in class. It also encourages students to reflect on aspects of language and culture, not just as theoretical objects of study, but as very real phenomena, omnipresent in their daily lives and newly reshaped by the reality of the pandemic. Matt therefore thinks he will adopt this form of online teaching even after the crisis has passed. He has given his students the opportunity to reflect on their online classroom experiences and so far it really seems to work well. ‘It might be a bit early to say, but so far so good!’

Matt Coler working from home
Matt Coler working from home
Last modified:18 March 2020 12.30 p.m.
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