Embodiment in Online Learning

This semester I spent a lot of time thinking about the notion of embodiment and how that fits within the context of learning online. After I left our class on contemplative pedagogy I wondered, what is missing in the online environment and how can contemplative practices work within this pedagogical framework?

After reading a few articles about contemplative practices in online education, it seems they can be effectively implemented. They may be particularly effective at helping students and teachers stay present, engaged, and without a feeling of disembodiment (as though they are lost in virtual space, devoid of humans),

Online teaching (and learning) is not an entirely disembodied situation. We are still in our bodies after all, our fingers are responding the feeling of the keyboard and well as a host of other naturally occurring embodied feelings of hope, fear, excitement and frustration.  We know the feeling that wells up inside when desperately needing a wifi connection or when we have forgotten our password again.

Faculty can help students feel a positive sense of embodiment and connection to others in an online course using the following strategies:

  • Give students the opportunity to embody themselves as they envision how they would like to be through avatars. We held a student focus group at BMCC who loved using our in-house developed game-based LMS because she liked to envision herself, through her avatar, as a doctor.
  • Hold optional attendance virtual office hours and a minimum # of attendance at optional synchronous group chat sessions. Students can communicate live with audio and live video through Blackboard Collaborate.
  • Posts regular or weekly short audio or video message to students through a tool like Voicethread.
  • Use audio/video threads, or responsive blog posts, or collaborative wikis, rather than plain text discussion board posts.
  • Respond regularly and within a specified timeframe to student e-mails and questions addressed to the professor, in particular.
  • Don’t stifle building a sense of community among students by answering every email before giving peer students a chance to respond.
  • Remember, learning can happen anywhere in CUNY (where there is Wifi), from the most beautiful and inspired place to the most solemn. I can’t wait to see all of the places where I might study in CUNY. Did anyone post an actual classroom as there favorite place in CUNY? No.

One last note I find fascinating related to “blended” or “hybrid” learning, which is the terminology you are more likely to hear at CUNY. I had the opportunity to listen to a faculty panel from Gutman at a pedagogy and technology conference last Friday. Most CUNY colleges describe hybrid courses as those that partially replace seat time with online content. Gutman describes their blend as one that combines face-to-face learning with “the world.” “The World” includes a lot of technology, collaboration, combined with real world experience. The World is basically a simulation of what we might expect to find in the real world. “Face-to-face” includes student-centered pedagogy, activity, technology, in-class meditation, formative assessment, discussion, and clarification–all things that happen inside the physical classroom–teaching techniques which can gradually be transferred to the online format. To incorporate a significant amount of “The World” into a class would necessitate some replacement of traditional undergraduate seat time. This might be in the form of structured online coursework such as required online activities, co-curricular activities, service learning projects, or internships.

NOTE: This message is a repost from a private post in the Mapping Futures Grad Center Class from May 5, 2015.

336 thoughts on “Embodiment in Online Learning”

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