Teaching as Acting

Teaching in the classroom requires a fairly broad set of skills. As an absolute minimum, it requires two: the ability to relate to your students, and knowledge of the subject material you’re teaching. We can break these down in all sorts of ways (classroom management and lecture delivery are both part of relating to your students), and add many other skills (lesson planning and knowledge of misconceptions, for example), but relatability and subject knowledge will do as a minimum.

When you’re in an online environment, putting together a course on your own brings in other skills. Not many people have all of them, so online courses are typically designed by a team. You need one person to handle technical matters, one to write, one to supply subject knowledge, one to interact with the students, and (assuming you’re using video) someone to edit the videos and someone to appear in them.

It’s not unreasonable to replace that last person with someone who has no content knowledge. After all, in a molecular biology course, your techie doesn’t need to know how to… uh… yeah, I know nothing about molecular biology, so I can’t even come up with a reasonable example. Your video editor doesn’t even need to know what protein biosynthesis¬†is, let alone how it works. (Thanks for the example, Wikipedia!) So why should the person delivering the speech need to know anything? They just need to stand and deliver, and do so in an entertaining and captivating manner. Your writer and subject knowledge expert can handle the scripting.

If this seems strange, it’s because we expect a lot from classroom teachers, and we consider the production of an online course to be something quite like teaching. In fact, it’s something quite different. So if Matt Damon wants to do a guest lecture for PoetryX, or Tilda Swanson wants to put a few hours on film for Fundamentals of Neuroscience, why would we say no?

I understand that there’s a concern about this appearing… less than genuine, I suppose. If the content is accurate and the delivery more stirring, I say go for it anyway.

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About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on November 25, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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