A Juggling Act with Distance Learning

As I move forward to increasing the number of courses that I teach through distance learning, I am finding that there are more considerations to take into account. The one I confronted today was time.  For instance, scheduling becomes a nightmare when you want to meet everyone one-on-one to answer their questions and give that personal touch.

When do you meet? There is no set schedule. All class members are running on different schedules and have signed up for the course knowing that it is online without set times for physical meetings. And if you, as an instructor, desire to add that personal touch or bring students into the online environment for participating through social connections in online meetings or office hours, you must decide how to best schedule the time so as to meet everyone’s needs without creating obstacles or additional stress for the students.

In addition, once you schedule times to meet, you must make sure that you do not leave anyone out or that they do not escape you (or dodge you). Plus, when you have large numbers of students, figuring out how to meet all of them individually may be a scheduling nightmare! Just how many time slots do you have in a day? It is quite interesting to lay this out and realize that time is very valuable and limited, indeed!

The juggling act that occurs with distance learning is setting time to meet with students and not duplicating those same time frames across classes. It may not always be as easy as sitting in your office and leaving your door open for students to drop by during scheduled office hours. Ugh!

Responsible Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful tool. Through stories, we are able to:

  • Identify patterns
  • Make connections
  • Become empowered
  • Learn ways to handle problems
  • Identify or eliminate suspects through who, what, and when
  • Experience satisfaction
  • Test ideas
  • Identify and understand the forces empacting us

Cognitive psychologists claim that stories are a fundamental part of intelligence and imagination.

Stories and storytelling are major tools for shaping thought. If we are going to use them as tools, we should do so responsibly. This requires consideration of our intended audience and a definition of our goal(s).

Think of how powerful video vignettes that include people’s stories are, especially if they are showcased with related memorabilia. These stories have the strength to wrestle with conflicting opinions or information. Politicians and advertisers have made great use of them. For example, what was your opinion of Tiger Wood’s lifestyle prior to the Thanksgiving weekend incident? Tiger Woods did not create that image because apparently he was living in a far different way than most people expected or imagined.

There are positive and educational ways to use storytelling. Stories are able to encourage problem solutions, best practices, and lessons learned. The best way for this to occur is through a storytelling session where someone shares one of their stories with the audience, then discussion and information sharing follows.

Educators are able to use storytelling for leaps of understanding. By sharing a story that enables listeners to grasp how something may change, storytelling adds knowledge gains. This builds credibility. Powerful emotions may be released leading to bonding among the audience. Not only this, story gives permission for the exploration of controversial or uncomfortable topics. Responsibility that recognizes the diversity of the population will tread cautiously here because point of view may be swayed and move some towards change. We would not want to be held accountable for creating conflict through the stories that are shared when it comes to the relationships of students and their parents.

On the upside, storytelling is able to create heroes. Sharing stories that provide examples of character-building behavior lifts the spirits. Again, think of your former knowledge concerning the story of Tiger Woods prior to the events that unfolded leading to the tarnishing of his image.

Case studies that are reviewed by students create opportunities for learning. Students are able to succeed by absorbing facts and theories as they review a real problem. The case study may be analyzed with the educator guiding the way. Synthesis of conflicting data may occur. Points of view may be examined. Whatever the case study places in front of the students gives time for seizing an opportunity.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that requires the educator to practice responsibility when using it. Goals should be set that recognize the diversity of students. When done appropriately, storytelling is able to offer an excellent vehicle through which learning may occur.

Using Storytelling with Students as the Tellers

The first reaction that I receive from teachers when I talk to them about storytelling is that they think of themselves as the storyteller or students retelling a story that is memorized. What if the stories told are by the students only and these stories are their stories? I am sure we can easily imagine our time with our students running rampant with stories that engage other students, but not necessarily how we desire for everyone to interact.

It would be much better is we set the stage by utilizing these ideas:

  • Stories relate to a sense of community. Since our students belong to the class community, they build relationships with each other. There is also a culture that exists in this community that reflects the students.
  • We can use stories to talk about life experience. Students have stories that come from the events of their lives. They are natural born storytellers, especially if given the opportunity to share what they know. When they retell their stories, they may discover new insights or possibilities.
  • If we want to use storytelling with students, we must set the parameters for the best possible outcomes for learning.  To begin we must be clear about what is expected of them as they explore a topic and find their relational stories. Asking a question that sets the tone and acts as a prompt is an excellent way to do this.
  • Reminding them how to listen to others as they listen to stories is important as well. They should not interrupt the storyteller. Also, they should not think about their story while listening to someone’s story. Finally, they should try to think of a title that they would like to give to the person’s story that they are listening to. Active listening is engagement and helps to maintain community and adds to the culture of the group.
  • Ask yourself, how much time do you have to devote or allow for the storytelling process to occur during your lesson. Should you break students up into large or small groups? Should students work with only a partner? Do you want students to share a few stories with all of the students when you come back together? If so, how will you determine which stories are told. Remember that adults are able to listen to about 4-5 stories in a row. For children, the number will be less.
  • Ideally, the storytelling will help students to process what they know. Schedule time for students to talk about the stories they hear. The conversations will help solidify the theme that is being examined. New learning will become more apparent through the discussion making it easier for students to identify what they are studying.
  • Selecting topics for storytelling are best chosen when they represent successes or joy. The goal here is to encourage students to think about what we want them to focus on. If sad or depressing stories are the focus, we may offer opportunities for students to not experience success.
  • Storytelling works well with topics that require the building of knowledge. When students engage in telling stories that lead to them seeing how the puzzle pieces fit together, an excitement of understanding may break out. Synergy can be created leading to better understanding of the topic.

When storytelling is combined with students who are telling about what they know and the topic that we are attempting to help students understand, the resulting stories may enrich the learning and the community to which the students belong. A larger view of the world is embraced. Relationships grow. Storytelling may be the key to success for some topics that we teach where we have not experienced that success before with students.

Look Who’s Telling Stories!

I found an interesting read concerning storytelling and the business world. The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) surveyed 345 of its members to find out how business people use storytelling in their organizations to encourage employees. Since it is common for PowerPoint, newsletters and memos to be used for communicating information such as facts and statistics, storytelling may be incorporated to reach the intended audience.

Storytelling provides a way to share information in motivating ways. Stories bring forth emotions. They are less structured (unlike a bulleted list). They help listener’s connect through their prior experiences and make associations.

The largest obstacle found to using stories is lack of time to collect stories and resources from whom the stories may be derived.

The article was very interesting. It offered additional information as to how stories connect people and story strategies for the business world.

If we are teaching future children who will participate in the business community as adults, should we not also teach them the importance of storytelling? Allowing them to share true stories that are discovered through interviewing someone would be a good experience for students’ preparation and participation in good communication practices.

Reference:

Ioffreda, A., & Gargiulo, T. (2008). Who’s telling stories? Communication World, 25(1), 37-39.