I am in a somewhat unique position. Despite being a 20-something year old undergraduate, my time at Washington State University is split between the roles of teacher and student. Technically, my colleagues and I don’t call what we do teaching. The Writing Department prefers to call us “facilitators” since we aren’t responsible for grading or for administering homework, tests or quizzes. But I usually call it teaching when talking to people unfamiliar with the program because, frankly, that’s what takes the least amount of explanation.
A few times a week, I facilitate one-credit undergraduate writing classes. These classes were created in an effort to provide students with additional writing support, help students succeed in their more writing heavy college courses, and create Cougar Alumni who have strong, marketable writing skills. They are surprisingly small classes with five or fewer students, and are centered around guided peer review and whatever mini lessons and activities my fellow facilitators and I pull together.
Since these classes are so interactive, making the shift to distance learning has been challenging to say the least. Thankfully, I’ve had the opportunity to use The Spot, the Vibe Spaces location in Bremerton, for teaching my students remotely.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that teaching from The Spot was revolutionary. Here’s why.
1. There were no distractions
There were no background noises to distract me or my students. Even though there is a road running right alongside the space, none of the road or pedestrian noise leaked through, and the hallways outside the space were equally quiet. I could make it through all my content without pausing to apologize for an interruption or having to leave to deal with the source of a loud noise.
The Spot isn’t a shared coworking space. It’s an on-demand meeting and workspace that’s singularly booked by one person or group at a time, meaning I had the whole place to myself. I booked my time at The Spot online with the click of a button, received details for my remote door access, walked in and got to work. Similar to a hotel room, dedicated cleaning teams clean and sanitize the space between each use. It was bliss.
2. My internet connection was dreamy
I had a quality broadband fiber wifi connection that could keep up with the demands of Zoom and deliver unwavering video and audio. I never had to wonder if my students could hear me, see what I was doing, or repeat myself over and over again because the sound had been breaking up. Talk about peace of mind.
3. I could teach on whiteboard walls like I would in my classroom
Let’s be honest, we all get bored during Zoom calls, especially when we are doing several a day. As a teacher, it can be challenging to make the content engaging, and some of the language concepts I teach can be hard to understand without seeing it written out. Having access to whiteboard walls, like I usually would when facilitating the courses on campus, was a game changer. I could provide verbal and written explanations of things for my students to help ensure the content was understood, while also making things more interactive and visually engaging.
4. I had the space to prepare, plan and teach more effectively
Did I mention I had lots of whiteboard walls? I sometimes teach several kinds of classes within one day and need to flip back and forth between class plans. With the huge expanse of whiteboard walls at The Spot, I could write out everything I needed to for each of my classes without having to erase anything to make space for the next class’ content. That way, I could re-use what I’d already written for the next section of a class, saving me time and hand cramps.
5. I had the tools to help my students remember what I teach
Being the super nerd that I am, I love color coding things. So nothing filled me with more happiness than seeing the array of color options for the dry erase markers that were ready and waiting for me at The Spot to go along with those full, floor-to-ceiling whiteboard walls. But writing in different colors isn’t just fun for fun; there have been a lot of scientific studies that indicate that using different colors can be an effective studying and teaching method that can help students better remember content. So not only was I able to help my students understand concepts by writing them out for them, I was also able to use color coding to help make the content “stick” in their brains better.
Teaching turned fun again
With all these resources at my fingertips, I was able to teach more effectively than I’ve been able to from home, and I was able to enjoy the process more. I wasn’t stressed over creating the optimal environment, so I could really focus on my content and being the best facilitator I could be for my students.
With the better set up, my students not only got to work with me when I was at my best, they also got a technically better delivery of the content, a more engaging lesson, and were able to better focus and understand the concepts we went over together.
At face value, having less background noise or having the right markers for color coding can seem like frivolous concerns, but all those little things add up. In this case, they add up to a better distance learning experience for teachers and students alike.
Distance learning is never going to be ideal for everyone, but by setting yourself up for success with the right tools, the experience can be vastly improved. I, for one, am sold on The Spot.