Thursday, 9 February 2012

Learning about community from interrupted learning

Something happened during the ECC lesson today that made me think, made me stop. As it centers on the notion of community, I think it's the perfect way for me to enter into this space. So, get comfy, settle in. Here's my story...

Being Thursday, it was my turn to lead the ECC lesson. I started the lesson on image editing. I was fully 'on' as an ECC teacher. My students were fully in connected mode as well, meaning, for today's lesson anyway, students were sitting at their own desks, netbooks out but not open, listening and showing the respectful quiet needed to allow the audio to go out clearly from my microphone. From the views onscreen, I could see that I had the interest of Lytton and Ashcroft students too. The lesson seemed to be going well.

Twenty minutes into the lesson, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man walk into my classroom. The TA walked with him through to the back of the room preventing an interruption so I continued with the lesson. I didn't know the man, but I didn't stop teaching. I think I paused a little, or maybe tripped over my sentence slightly. It wasn't, however, the man's entrance that tripped me up. It was that I noticed something as I continued to teach, something that made me stop, if only for moment, and pay attention.

What struck me was the students' reaction to the man's arrival. To those students in my room, it seemed an intrusion. His entrance, albeit very respectful, interrupted them. When I noticed their reactions, which were, thankfully, fleeting and respectful, I was reminded of something.

During my graduate coursework last year, an unknown person had walked through the room that my cohort was studying in. Even though no one had said anything to the person, it was obvious from the body language that the person was intruding into our space. Afterwards, my prof had talked about how she was pleased with our reaction. She said that the person seemed an intruder to us, and that our reaction showed her that we had come together as a close community of learners. It wasn't that we were rude or uninviting (we weren't), it was more that we had, by that time, become a solid group and that the unexpected appearance of a stranger in our midst was obvious to us and to anyone watching us. Had we not been such a cohesive group, a stranger walking through would have been just another unknown person, like others in the room.

Let me at this point explain our unannounced guest from today. The man's entrance was not rude, or intentionally interruptive. He was respectful, unobtrusive, and supposed to be there. He was, in actuality, the TOC coming in to cover me so I could have release time to write this blog post. As it was his first time as a TOC in my classroom, he had arrived a bit early which showed, in my opinion, good professional judgement.

Why was this of value to the ECC and our collective learning in this space? What did I learn from this? From the little pause that tugged at my attention at the time?

The TOC's appearance and the students' reactions showed me that we are at this point, indeed, a community of learners in the ECC. When we are fully 'on' in ECC mode, we are a shared community. Unannounced visitors can cause subtle, but noticeable intrusions to our learning environment. The students identify with their peers and other teachers on the screen, people they rarely see face to face and who are so geographically far away, more than an unknown person physically walking into the room.

Furthermore, while students in Lytton and Ashcroft may not have even noticed the TOC arrive today, it was only the quick actions of the TA that saved the disruption from spreading to all sites because you can be sure that if I'd had to speak with him myself, learning in all three classrooms would have been interrupted. Not that we don't experience interruptions in lessons, we do, but they are internal interruptions, created by those of us in the ECC. They are a normal part of our shared community different from an outside interruption into our learning environment.

Even after teaching in the ECC for almost two years, I often wonder about teaching in such an innovative way, about how to create a community of learners in three separate places at once, about how to reach students through a video camera to create a learning relationship that exists only through technology.

Today, for a split second, thanks to an unannounced stranger, it all crystallized into a simple, valuable understanding that makes all the effort, questions, strategies, time and pedagogical stretching worth it.


  1. It does feel like a community, and it feels like the three classrooms are almost as much of a community together than we are in our own rooms at our own sites. My students are always watching, too, and it's funny you posted this, as yesterday they asked me who the "dude at the back of the room" was. They notice things that sometimes I don't even notice, and pick up on these things quickly. Another student's response was "some random", and just like that,we moved on.
    A few days back, a couple of my students mentioned that one of your students had waved to them, and they told me his name. When I asked who, they told me where your student was sitting and what they were wearing. I was sort of surprised that they could pinpoint a name and a face AND a location, and when I questioned them about this, they said, "Duh. We talk on moodle."
    Kids are too funny! I certainly couldn't put a face and a name to a location of a student in your class, but I think it reflects on the community that my students can!

    1. Your reply made my day! That is so cool that they noticed the TOC from the screen. That was one thing that I wondered when I was thinking about the 'interruption' - did it effect our learning community elsewhere or was the student reaction to the intrusion isolated to Cayoosh?

      Another example of how rich the ECC learning environment is. Tell your students that I think they are amazing and it makes me happy to know they are watching so carefully! Or, perhaps, I'll tell them myself at the upcoming gathering!