Apropos of yesterday’s post about YouTube college classes, I came upon this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about Elaine Smokewood, an English professor at Oklahoma City University. Because of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, she can no longer speak, or make the trip from her home to her classroom. But she is still teaching.
The author of the piece, Jeffrey Young, writes that “she appears in the classroom on a large monitor that transmits an image from a Webcam in her home, and she communicates with students through typed text or a speech synthesizer. That pushes her off to the side, making her more of a guiding observer than the prime mover.”
He attended one of her classes and noted:
eight students sat in a small classroom on campus, their chairs arranged in a circle around a large monitor with a camera perched on top. From her home office, Ms. Smokewood watched live video of them on her laptop, and when she typed on her screen, that text materialized on the monitor in the classroom. (She finds the silent text more effective than the voice synthesizer, which can be hard to understand at times.)
Students took turns presenting their final term papers…. Ms. Smokewood asked at least one question of each student. But before that, she prompted the other students to quiz the presenter. And they did. It sounded more like a graduate seminar than an undergraduate class.
Here’s some video of Prof. Smokewood:
In an article for her university’s alumni newsletter, Prof. Smokewood wrote that after the disease started taking its toll:
I became a different kind of teacher than I had ever been—I became a teacher who actively listened. I had in the past often confused listening with waiting for my students to stop talking so that I might resume the very important business of performing. I learned that if I listened carefully, thoughtfully, generously, and nonjudgmentally, my students would delight me with the complexity of their thinking, the depth of their insight, the delicious wickedness of their humor, and with their compassion, their wisdom, and their honesty.
Well said, professor. I am going to try to incorporate some of those insights when I start teaching again … in less than three weeks!