Teaching a hybrid public speaking class has certainly challenged my “classroom skills!” Classroom? I only meet with the class five times during the semester, while the remaining weeks are completed through Canvas. The major difficulty has been in making that personal connection with each student. I pride myself in providing a welcoming and enthusiastic atmosphere in traditional structures, but establishing a positive feeling-tone is a bit daunting from afar. Should I care? Should the students need my illustrious “connection?”
Of course, we should all care! Communication is more naturally achieved in face-to-face interactions, and even though the students and I are accustomed to text and e-mail “social skills,” it doesn’t ensure that our messages are understood or that our attitude or emotional message is conveyed. Emojis only do so much?. I need to know more than names prior to the first speech, and I must develop trust and collegiality among the students to give them the needed courage and confidence to walk up front and begin.
What to do? What to do?
1. In my perfect world, each student would have a clear photograph that appeared by their names in Canvas. (My brain’s memory bank is overloaded with data from 32 years in public high schools, preventing me from easily matching faces and names when we first meet. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!).
2. Two on-line assignments that help have been an outline for a speech introducing them to me. Once submitted, I can comment on an individual basis. I look for common ground and any unique tidbits thrown to me. The other is a discussion post, requiring each to react to a minimum of two other students. Most address each other by first name and respond to a specific idea posed.
3. The first speech had been a speech of introduction, but for the past two semesters, I have required a personal experience speech. Students really seem to respond to each other on a more intimate level when they listen to the wide variety of stories and what made the experience memorable or important. Before the first speech, students participate in an ice breaker so they have to get up and move around the room. That helps loosen them up a bit.
What I have found is that now the students feel comfortable asking me questions through Canvas e-mail. When provided with an optional workshop to prepare the longest speech, many attend. They also know that I WANT them to do well, so there is less “out of sight; out of mind” and more exchange and participation. The highest compliment I can receive is to have a student tell me that they dreaded speaking in front of the class but they actually “kinda” enjoyed it.