Saturday, September 19th marked the first-ever Orange County Debate League (OCDL) digital workshop. Students, teachers, and coaches came together for a day of fun and engaging classes.
In addition to preparing students for the coming season, this yearly event helps raise funds for the OCDL program, its tournaments, and other league-related activities.
However, this year, health concerns and COVID-19 guidelines forced the league to change to an online format using the Zoom Meetings application. Teachers like me were asked to make personal Zoom accounts and send the login information, ID, and passcode, to OCDL Treasurer Ben Hughes.
The day consisted of three blocks, separated by quick breaks. Students were given the login information for all the classes they signed up for and could join during the corresponding block.
As a junior in high school, I have attended three workshops as a student and have taught at the last four, so I am considerably familiar with the usual format. Nevertheless, this time things were very different.
On the positive side, it was less nerve-racking since I was teaching from the comfort of my room and did not have to stand in front of a class full of students.
On the other hand, the changes made me quite nervous because I did not know what to expect. I was worried that I would not be engaging enough or confusing the students because, as any student or teacher will tell you, distance learning is a whole other beast. There was also the concern over students keeping their mics and cameras off the entire time, making it nearly impossible to create a dialogue with the students.
Usually, I would be able to gauge how well the students were understanding the material based on their facial expressions. This helped inform the speed at which I would deliver the information. But the limitations of online learning made this impossible.
Thankfully, I predicted that such problems would occur and prepared accordingly. For example, I made it clear to the students at the beginning of class that they would need to turn their cameras and mics on if they want to get the most out of the class. I also gave the students my email so they could ask me any questions if they were too shy to ask me during class. Such strategies made the virtual learning environment a little more genuine for both my students and me.
Ultimately, I would say that this experience taught me a lot about effectively communicating my ideas even when my audience is not physically in front of me. At least if we are still forced to be online for the next workshop, I will know how to better handle the situation.