Posted by: elightkeeper | March 19, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words

In distance learning, teachers frequently work with students in absence of immediate visual clues or reference points. One of the Physical Education teachers was commenting on this particular challenge the other day. He had just got off the phone from providing feedback and support to an eager Grade 8 lad:

Virtual Student: “Sir, I did 100 laps of the pool in 30 minutes  today!”
Virtual Teacher: “Well, that’s just terrific. Good for you! By the way, what size is your pool?”

As a teacher might, are you picturing the standard 25 meter pool? Or maybe an Olympic size venue came to mind. How about an apartment pool? Or one of those round items your dad ordered from the Sears catalogue that stood in the middle of your backyard when you were a kid? You see the problem here. It is all about frame of reference.  In distance education, teachers and students  have to go to great lengths (pun intended) to develop a common understanding around any given topic.

This is one of the places where technology comes to our rescue. Through the use of video, whether pre-recorded clips or live streaming, teachers and students are able to see each other in the learning process.  Much contextual and supporting information is shared through visual media that cannot be replicated in verbal or written formats. A student can create a simple video using a digital camera or cellphone.  In a short thirty second clip, a teacher would be able to see how well the student swims while observing that the pool being used is a large community facility. But in absence of visual cues, conversations like the one above might be necessary in order to create understanding.

Consider the following YouTube video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_M7P_jmgBE&feature=related

In only 14 seconds, one can see that the swimmer in this average quality video is highly proficient in freestyle. It is also apparent that he is swimming in a very large pool laned for competition.  As noted on the video, the swimmer is Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps. 

Video clips such as this are widely available on the internet. If a student has access to this wealth of information, why would we not encourage them to seek out experts in the field who can enhance their learning? Further, if a student can create and demonstrate his or her own learning using media in simple ways such as this, why would we not encourage them to show us what they can do with the tools?

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