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We’ve Embraced Technology; Now Let’s Make Sure We Humanize It

By Tomeka Wilcher

As faculty members continue to teach online during COVID-19 and experience the ebb and flow of the virtual classroom, the idea of humanizing technology has proved to be a critical element. At the beginning of this swift movement to online, many faculty members' focus was ensuring their classes within the learning management system were organized, their resources were present, and they were comfortable with navigating this learning space and its many tools. In that moment, the technical issues superseded other pressing concerns, until classes resumed and faculty faced more than just pedagogical obstacles. While they were processing how to transfer their best practices, active learning strategies, lectures, and hands-on activities within their online classrooms, they were also immersed in the lives of students and privy to their technological disparities and unhappy experiences.

The online classroom unleashed a barrage of barriers that threatened to adversely affect students if personal connections were not sustained online. During this transition, all were vulnerable and needed a community of support. Faculty members used Zoom, discussion boards, and email as the main tools for teaching, for disseminating information, and for staying connected to their students. However, because of some students' inactivity, lack of presence, or infrequent responses, faculty gained a deeper understanding of the importance of creating opportunities within the online learning environment to humanize the experience.

Here are some strategies and resources that are being implemented or can be implemented to humanize technology:

  • Create videos so students know who you are and can experience your personality. Videos can be used for announcements, motivational quotes, feedback, and so on.
  • Use an avatar of yourself or a vector flat art picture to insert your visual presence inside learning modules.
  • Reveal pieces of yourself to your students as you interact with them through discussion board posts, Zoom meetings, feedback sessions, or online office hours.
  • Incorporate learning communities or small groups where students can interact with one another and have a sense of community and camaraderie.
  • Periodically embed small and quick "get to know you" activities where students can reveal interests or fun facts. These work well at the beginning of semesters.
  • Have students engage in authentic learning opportunities and projects that encourage a culturally inclusive and responsive environment.
  • Make instructor connections by calling or video conferencing with students to do brief check-ins or provide feedback.
  • Create small groups in large classes and enlist graduate assistants to engage in relationship building activities; rotate to ensure the faculty member and graduate assistants meet all students. Debrief periodically to discuss students' progress as well as tidbits of information to make personal connections.
  • Use technology tools to encourage personal connections and increase interactions — Flipgrid, Padlet, Wakelet, VoiceThreads, Screencasts, Remind, and so on.

COVID-19 has redefined technology. Some may see technology as a barrier to connecting with students; however, it has proved to be the only way to connect during this pandemic. A paradigm shift must continue to take place as faculty members humanize technology while creating communities and authentic learning experiences.

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