Relational Pedagogy and Teacher Personae Online

Claire Major from the U. of Alabama recently requested a short description for her forthcoming book, Teaching Online: Understanding and Managing Instructional Changes when Teaching with the Internet (forthcoming from JHU Press). She asked about the connection between the notion of the teacher personae online and some of the research I’ve done into the teacher-student relation online; here’s my contribution:

In my studies of the lived experiences of online education, I’ve come to see teacher and student as connected in a particular kind of relation. This is one that with both personal and professional aspects, in which student and teacher gain some familiarity with each other’s character or disposition. The teacher often has the first chance to suggest a persona online –sometimes through a short introductory video, but generally through writing. As I illustrate in my recent book, The Place of the Classroom and the Space of the Screen, creating a compelling persona online depends (in good measure) on one’s skills and craft as a writer. Letting students know that you’re online while in your slippers, sitting with your I-Pad in your favorite easy-chair creates quite a different impression than, say, copying and pasting your bio into an introductory message to your class.

I’ve also looked into the way that a teacher’s persona and disposition are closely connected to what in phenomenological research (and in everyday language) is called “atmosphere:” This is a kind of relational “mood” that can be shared in a classroom, a party or a conversation. Teachers strive to cultivate a positive tone or atmosphere through their own disposition and persona, and in the classroom, this is about voice and tone, promptness and proximity, and myriad other details. Online, it’s different: Would a student joining a face-to-face class, entering a classroom via another’s webcam and mic be able to sense the atmosphere? The answer would probably be: “Well, maybe.”  One of the reasons is that this shared relational dimension becomes increasingly diffuse as it is “mediated” through camera and mic, or via avatar and written word. This makes it all the more important to be mindful of experiences in online teaching such as “meaningful silence” or “hesitant uncertainty” online, which may be very easily lost in the data stream or somewhere between the lines.

For more, see (of course): The Place of the Classroom and the Space of the Screen</a?

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