Teaching On-line: A Personal Journey from the Front Lines

The Embodied Lecturer

Identity: dancer, choreographer, dance educator, dance researcher, embodied lecturer. I move. If there was a way to calculate the amount of information I wish to convey by using my body in addition to my words, I am sure the data would reveal a pie chart divided cleanly down the middle.

Before my life in higher education, I performed professionally as a commercial dance artist. It was my job to develop a strong identity while simultaneously transforming to get the next gig. Permutability was a function of survival. I honed the abilities of my body and performance so that I could reach out and communicate through dance to sell, promote, or entertain. In my years as a dance educator, these skills translate beautifully to the dance studio and lecture hall. I will tap dance while teaching to keep the student’s attention, and I confess I have employed several embodied gimmicks in the name of education.

Tech Enthusiast vs. Reality Check

I have been described as a tech-enthusiast, and I was delighted to take my Dance in History course on-line. However, when I got down to ACTUALLY putting my course together I had a moment of paralysis. Serious mental or in my case physical block. How would I communicate across cyber space? When teaching dance, I often discuss the manipulation of energy in negative space that one uses to reach out and move the audience. I didn’t know how to do that on-line. How do I translate my kinetic human self?

Where there was once enthusiasm, there was now fear and insecurity. Who I was as an educator, communicator and human being felt obliterated. Yes, I had learned about cool on-line tools and methods to create a humanized environment, but this initially felt like it took away the very thing I had always relied on, physical-embodied-me. How would I know if the student’s eyes would glaze over and I would lose them mid-lecture? How would I know if there was disconnect? Would they get it? Would they care? Would they actually learn? The adaptable reflexes developed in a world where the show must go on rose to the surface and started to transform my teaching.

Translating Physical Space into Digital Space

I open my Dance in History course with a live performance. Before I utter a word I engage in an improvisation that usually involves rolling on the floor, twisted jumps, possibly a scream or two and altered aesthetics  of culturally normative dance. Then I ask the students to describe the event that just occurred. This is purposeful wackiness and it is an effective lesson on how different each of our perceptions are when looking at dance. How would I bring this lesson and many others to life through the internet? This is how…

I will admit the first time I hit the upload button I was terrified. It is one thing to do a silly interpretive dance to Jaws live where it will only be preserved by the imaginations of those who experienced it. It was quite another to know that it would become a part of my digital identity there for anyone to judge my teaching methods, dance ability, or sanity.

Transformative Power of On-line Pedagogy

As the class has progressed, I have learned about effective communication. Physical action in on-line forums has engaged my students aiding in their learning process. But, this is an on-line environment and I can’t always cartwheel my way through a lecture.  It has revealed gaps in my pedagogy. Teaching on-line has forced me to reevaluate how I communicate and focus on skills beyond my personal strengths of embodied and performative methods. To my educators tool-box I am adding skills in developing effective visual aids and succinct written instruction.

I encourage anyone thinking about teaching on-line to jump in. The transformative power of on-line pedagogy will reveal your greatest strengths you can share with all of us and reveal areas in need of reevaluation helping to forge pathways for pedagogical growth.

Reporting from the front-lines: Heather Castillo

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