Enlightenment Through Entertainment: How I Teach My Online Classes

It’s funny to think that little more than a year ago, none of us knew the phrase “social distancing”, and yet now, it’s become a part of everyday life! In order to keep ourselves safe, we’ve had to adapt to a whole new way of life. It’s been tricky enough not seeing friends and family, but students? That’s a whole separate set of problems!

Fortunately, it doesn’t all have to be gloom and doom. I believe that we can use this new era as an opportunity, a way to connect with one another better than ever before! What’s more, this is an opportunity to form stronger bonds with our students, as we have the unique opportunity to be a bright and engaging spot in a world that may seem a little grey to them right now.

Teachers can be a light! While computer-based courses make it harder for us to know who we’re teaching, and we no longer have the in-person interaction that allows us to read social cues or develop a daily working relationship, this new era of teaching using online tools can provide us with a unique opportunity to make a home for our students. We may not be able to protect them from a world where they face financial distress, discrimination, and the other stressors of the recent past, but we can ensure that when they come into our classrooms, they are coming home.

With the right approach, learning can be the best part of your student’s day. For years, I have used what I call the EEEE method to reach my students, and as a result, my classroom is a never-ending source of inspiration to me. I get to see my students thriving as their entire selves. When a student can bring all of themselves to the classroom, not just the studious persona they put on when they come to class, they are more likely to have a successful learning experience.

The Four Es

So let’s talk a little bit about the 4 Es. The first E is a simple one, but one that many teachers don’t always think to put it first: Entertain! Sure, you’re an educator first and foremost, but your student will spend a lot of time in your classroom, and entertainment is one of the easiest ways to connect with them. It isn’t just for the fine arts, either – I’m a scientist first and foremost, but there’s nothing that says your class can’t be fun.
Find out what your students love, and try to incorporate it. Whether it’s a song, a TikTok trend, or a reference to a popular movie, there are ways you can make things so fun that your students will be clamoring to come to class. Once you have their attention, engage them! No matter your subject, get them talking. Ask stimulating questions about how your subject relates to their world. It’s important for them to understand the joy of learning in their own lives. Learning for the sake of learning and not just for the sake of a grade can help a student go far. Engagement forms emotional bonds to the subject matter. If your students are having fun as they learn, they’ll encode your lessons in their memory just like they did with songs about colors and numbers when they were in grade school. Students never outgrow learning with fun, only the curriculum does. Creating a network of these memories provides your student with a stronger foundation than the normal semester of lectures and tests. Eventually, the end product will be Enlightened students, who carry your lessons with them for a lifetime! The Four Es are even more vital now during this season of change, and embracing them can help your student escape the never-ending series of stressful and dull Zoom classes. Bring a little color into their lives for a moment and they’ll thank you for a lifetime!

How I Teach Online – And How You Can Too

So now that we’ve covered the teaching method, how do we go about implementing it in a world of online classes?
In this section, we’ll go over a list of the software I use to conduct my classes, and how you can do the same. I’ll be linking to easy youtube videos that show you how to set up the software, and linking to the equipment you’ll need when necessary.

The first, most important part of the setup is OBS, or Open Broadcaster Software. Fortunately, OBS is both extraordinarily useful and completely free, and you can download it here for both PC, Mac, and Linux. Once you have this software, you’ll need a greenscreen background, because you’ll need it to operate custom backgrounds inside OBS with ChromaKey. Here is an easy-to-understand tutorial on using OBS and Chromakey.
I then use Explain Everything, a digital whiteboard application, as my background in OBS. I use an iPad+Apple Pencil, but you can also use it on an Android tablet with a stylus, or even just in your web browser with your mouse. Fortunately, Explain Everything has its own YouTube channel full of helpful tutorials for everything from iPads to Wacom tablets.

All of my lessons are modular, meaning I create them in chunks that I switch out during each lesson. They’re filmed in iMovie, which comes with every Mac computer, but you could also use a program like Filmora or Adobe Premiere Rush to get the same job done on a PC. Each lecture is interspersed with music, jokes, artwork, short videos, and even simulations! They aren’t perfect, but they are authentic, and they are designed to get my students’ attention and help them emotionally engage with the science.

PlayPosit is another tool I use to drive my students’ engagement with the material. It allows them to actively engage with the video, instead of just passively watching it. You can find out how to use Playposit here. I also reshape Canvas Learning Managements platform shell using Genially, to make things more fun and interactive. You can check out their excellent youtube channel here, and if you’re trying to figure out where to start, I suggest starting with this video, where they explain how to use Genially in conjunction with Explain Everything.

Keeping the background entertaining, and most importantly, interactive, is important. I teach physics (with and without calculus) and introductory astronomy, and I use all these tools to create unique. dynamic. and colorful backgrounds in Keynote to engage my students!

I also use PowerPoint to incorporate the learning objectives, key formulas, photos, videos, animations, and music, and bring them alive by writing on it and commenting live via my iPad and pencil.
I also solve step by step everyday life problems so students can see and learn how to actively use the scientific methodology. These backgrounds are compact with information and key mandatory concepts that make the “story telling” more fluid and captivating. Like a weather person on TV standing in front of the green screen, you can bring them to life with your hands and add on other key playful information.

There are great free PDF textbooks from Openstax with excellent material. I also use Mastering Physics and Astronomy by Pearson to assess students’ learning and incorporate activities that promote active learning!

If you’d like to check out some examples of my lectures, you can watch one yourself! Here’s another one – and be sure to let me know what you think!

I hope you’ve found this useful! My interest is in creating programs that don’t just address the needs of students who are already well on their way to becoming scientists, but to effectively engage a broader population of students who would have not traditionally considered a path in the sciences. My passion is to combine elements of performance art, music, and creative design, with the traditional approaches to science education.

This has saved hours of time for both students and professors, as the background with information you stand in front of is key to engagement. I spend weeks preparing this background before I film in OBS; I combine material from the textbook, images, music – even the latest information from NASA!

I believe we can use entertainment and contemporary media to capture students’; attention in an era of increasingly short attention spans. This provides a pathway for deep engagement, and ultimately to enlightenment. In my opinion, the combined effects of an increasingly sound-bite culture, texts, tweets, youtube, has made it nearly impossible to sustain a meaningful public dialog on often-complex topics – such as the sciences.
It is for that reason that I have moved my focus from teaching traditional science the way it was taught to us, and have been embracing new modalities of communications to get their attention, and then to educate and inspire! Modalities designed to “get through” to our young minds, and both help to educate them, and inspire them to higher education, and to make a contribution to society!

by Dr. Fiorella Terenzi Combining creativity w/science https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiorella_Terenzi, Florida International University

Thank you to Wendy Sanchez, Trina Sanders, Aisha Hamid, Kieron Williams, Piotr Sliwinski, Emily Pritchard.

 

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