Irregular Vowel Movements

A distance education teacher making her way in the microcosm of Barrhead.

Teacher Centered Images or Video – the Debate

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In the last few years working in Distance Learning, there has been a push for DL to try and be more engaging of learners we have at a distance, especially in the online realm. Coupled with this, there are mountains of digital and content -embedded opportunities available for teachers to avail themselves and who they are as people to students in a professional manner.

At my work, a lot of people jumped right into making their teacher web presence known as soon as they could, or got the ol’ ATA “go-ahead”. Pictures of teachers doing fun things or pursuing their non-academic interests or hobbies popped up on course home pages, and even short introductory videos have surfaced on the front end of courses or department web pages. This is a tremendously pro-active way to bring students on board with DL, telling them they are not isolated in this  challenging kind of learning. In all of this, there has never been an issue of a teacher posting an inappropriate image, students being inappropriate, or any other kind of ethical concerns past my own bloopers in PD{1}.  This “thesis” has no transition, but arguably, one cannot (or should not) teach online in the year 2012 if they are unable or unwilling to foster human connections in some form or another that is indelibly online (scary, I know).

Despite the evident success of teachers posting pictures of themselves or introductory videos, or even learning videos of themselves instructing a concept, there is this tiny minority of teachers  that exist on a plane where they will never put any pictures or video of themselves online. It would be awful if this were to happen, and probably they would be instantly preyed on by evil students or worse.

Though this is a small fraction, I find myself confronted by it time and time again in various endeavors, and not to sound like a jerk, but it blocks things up. We cannot record PD sessions, or other PLN endeavors because of the “dangerous” element that being online somehow represents, which means if other busy teachers miss a session, well that’s just too bad. Better luck next time, whenever the heck that will be. We have blanks on department pages where teachers will not comply, where others (the majority) will.

Here’s the fun part. Teachers that put pictures of themselves online are not doing it because they think they look fabulous and therefore it’s not a big deal, they don’t think about every single bad thing that could happen, and they certainly don’t think, “what if my students don’t like how I look?” They think about one thing: What will benefit our students?

I have a feeling that there are more deep-seeded issues with teachers who do not make these choices and I am not wanting to be insensitive about that, but it bothers me. Maybe they have little self-confidence, maybe they have been burned by students before, maybe they’re fearful of what they don’t know or understand fully, or maybe something has happened to them personally that dictates they must be cautious about their identity.

The flip of all of this however, is that having one’s name somewhere online holds the same weight as an image– there should be no difference, as each is a flag for identity. Every online teacher has their name in a publicly online place– to me, this implies that any “damage” a teacher is wanting to avoid by not posting a picture or video, is done– you’ve already walked down the path, and you don’t even know it. I think a lot of people realize the control they have with their identity now, and it is not a difficult thing to moderate, though it is interesting because before the interwebs, we never really had to “moderate” or conceptualize our identity in a very concrete way past our physical behaviors or interactions.

One thing I’ve learned in the past, having been fraught with being fairly self-conscious for most of my life up until about 5 years ago{2}, is that when I am feeling self conscious, I magnify myself substantially. I do that to me though– no one else does, and the people that DO magnify others are usually not good people paying attention to good things. Magnifying myself basically means that I feel my faults are glaring, and that with a simple glimpse they must be painfully and awkwardly apparent to everyone else. Not true. No one worth their salt cares truly what anyone else looks like if they are really the people you wish to affiliate with. And if they do, that’s more a fault of theirs than it is of yourself.

I have a lot of things going on with me that one might think would put me front and center with the “no mas online teacher media” crowd, but they don’t matter to me. They define who I am and what I’ve weathered. I have a prosthetic ear. I have a birth defect. I have scoliosis. All of these things are very noticeable, and my students do ask me about them. But I can tell them about it, and they walk away learning something new– whether it is about the science of those things, or how physical appearance or disability doesn’t inhibit  someone from doing what they love, etc.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that it is license to be a slob, but the things we do in our own appearances should always be dictated by what is good for us as individuals- what works for us and others (in compliance with societal rules of course. I may not like pants, but I should still wear these, as wearing pants when leaving the house means that one is truly going to be successful in whatever they do- or that it’s a darn good start).

Anyways, I’m so annoyed by this, and I’m opening this up for debate, because I fully acknowledge there is probably more actual theory to the standpoint that teachers shouldn’t have to have an online presence if they’re in DL.

{1} I, being the pragmatic sort, thought it would be great to make video of PD sessions held on-site so that teachers not able to go to the session could later view the sessions at their leisure, and we would also have archival PD. It turns out that you need to have teachers sign release forms for their images to be on video…This is an admitted gaff, but also a pain in the butt because if one teacher says no and sits in the middle of production, that footage and the $650+ flight that got the tech here from Lethbridge is pretty much worthless. Learn from my mistakes, lol. Please.
{2}It seems funny to put a definitive date to this, but truthfully, I’ve been working on my own self-perspective and working on gaining perspective for a long time, and will probably endeavor to do so forever.

Author: Kyla Coulman

English teacher at ADLC.

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