What’s so good about Face to Face?

I’ve been grabbling with this question for quite some time now. Influenced by this book as well as my own journey into a hybrid teaching situation, I’m more and more convinced answering the question, "what is face to face good for?" is one of the most important in education today.

With the advent of technology and distance learning, I’ve stood in front of teachers and administrators many times and asked them to consider why their students would choose to come to school. While the quality of distance learning is far from perfect, it offers the opportunity for students to learn with and from anyone at anytime. With more and more choice students will start asking if they really need to come to class. At the same time, it’s hard to deny what it means to learn in the same physical space. Notice I was careful to say "learn". Many people take for grant it that students will come to school simply to socialize and enjoy extra-curricular activities with others. I say that’s not good enough. Learning has to be social, otherwise why come to school?

This article and the accompany video might at first glance be a anti-technology message but in fact its arguing for better face to face encounters. Some might view the article as anti-technology or anti-powerpoint, I simply see this as trying to determine what the best use of face time might look like.

 

The undergrad course I teach is usually 3 online for every face to face experiences. I’ve learned a great deal in teaching online for the past 3 years. I’ve worked hard to make it interactive and participatory. I’ve had my share of successes and failures and will endeavour to make the best experience possible. That said, the face to face classes prove invaluable. In many ways, the content and delivery of these classes is no better than the online sessions but somehow students say it offers something the online sessions can’t do. Simply seeing faces and understanding each other in a different way fosters community in ways online interaction cannot. Maybe it’s just a return to the comfortable setting they are used to. I believe its more than that. Yet, without the asynchronous and synchronous online components, my courses would not have near the impact. We need both. I no longer take face to face time for grant it. I think many teachers have become lazy and aren’t considering the current and upcoming options that are available to students.

Rob Jacobs viewed the above video and article and considered Professional Development. I also think about meetings and conferences. In the district I work, we have many teachers and administrators travelling 3 hours to go to a meeting.  It is deplorable that they might attend a meeting and leave thinking, "I should have stayed home". Consider the time and money spent. I don’t want to be responsible for wasting their time. It shouldn’t really matter how far you have to drive, being together should be time well spent. We owe to teachers and students to make the face to face time we have valuable and important. 

While interactivy and particpation are two huge elements that ought to be present, what else is good about face to face? How do you insure that your students/teachers/co-workers/clients find the time they spend with you valuable?

 

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  • I, too, was impressed with watching the video of Dean Bowen.
    I think that there has to be a combination of f2f and online learning. There is real value in both aspects of learning.
    I have to admit, I have taken several online only classes and learned the content necessary and had opportunities through group sharing to make connections with other online students. (I must admit I do not have any connections with those students now, but I owe that to the semi-annonymous figures required by the University in those online discussions.) I have ALSO loved any PD experiences that I have had f2f and over the years have kept up some of those relationships. NOW, I also have some professisonal relationionships with people that I have never met f2f that I think are quite special, intriguing, and that PUSH me to be more than I would be alone.
    So once again, the answer is there needs to be a combinatin of different types of learning,especially f2f and online.
    BTW, I think most people who “read JUST a little bit” about Dean Bowen’s “throwingout the computers” get the wrong impression. Check out the fact tahtthe computers were are old and needed to be replaced. Remember the fact that each faculty member got a laptop that could be used if the teachers wanted to continue with techology in the classroom.
    Dean Bowen was making a point about the higher order thinking that needs to be done. My area is elementary schooling and his was college, but it amazed me that there are 21st Century colelge students who are “just after the grade”. just after the test, just regurgitating the information, NOT TRULY LEARNING IT!
    .-= fivbert´s last blog ..Pre-writing in WINDOWS LIVE =-.

  • very interesting post… a couple of semesters back i created a presentation which attempted to point out to my economics profesor why i didn´t find going to class worth my time… as Bowen comments in the video, class time shouldn´t be taken up with only transmiting content, rather with answering questions, which was one of the main problems i had with the teaching strategy employed by my profesor back then… she didn´t get the point of my presentation, and admittedly, i didn´t go about it in the right way, and as a result i ended up having to take the course over again last semester.

    face to face time is extremely precious. when teachers/professors don´t leave enough time for asking/answering questions, it takes learning out of the classroom.. and trains students to tune out during lectures, knowing that in the end they are left to fend for themselves to find the answers to the questions they have… i firmly beleive that its the quality of questions we have that inspires us to become more active participants in our own learning…

    i did a brief survey once, only about 20 people responded, but out of those 20 students, half considered that more learning occured outside the classroom than during the f2f time spent in class… although its not concrete evidence, it does serve as a sort of indicator… a problem exists and as a result students are being taught that the classroom isn´t necesarily the best place for learning.
    .-= jean-baptiste vervaeck´s last blog ..first dot experiment =-.

  • Based on my experiences teaching fully online courses since 2002, I would disagree with the conclusion that “we need both” – when I was teaching both in the classroom combined with online activities, I did not feel like the blend worked very well at all, but when I switched to fully online courses, I was able to break – really break – with all the habits of the classroom (both my habits, and my students’ habits) in order to develop a much more effective learning experience. This is not to say that some students did not love the classroom and miss it, at first. But unfortunately what they loved was my performance; I’m a good performer in the front of the classroom, entertaining, spontaneous, attention-getting… so, yes, the students loved my classes like they love a good TV show. Entertainment, and not really anything more because really, what were they doing but just sitting in their seats and “absorbing” (and, like sponges, not retaining much at all, but just squeezing themselves out on the tests and being done with it). Of course, they were good at this routine, and enjoyed it – in my online courses, it is typically the “better” students (i.e. students with good grades) who are hesitant at first – hesitant about a class with no exams that is project-oriented, hesitant about a class where they will have to learn how to create and publish a website (something that still, in 2009, is new to the vast majority of my students), where they will do substantial amounts of writing (appx. 2000 words) every single week, revising their writing constantly (a new experience to almost all of them, who often have not revised since long ago in their Freshman Comp. course), reading and responding to other students in the class… and where their OWN work is the focus of the class, rather than the teacher’s performance at the front of the room. They are nervous, because their desire to impress their peers is actually VERY high – but scared, because in most classes their own work is rarely the subject of public attention. So, my online courses are challenging to the whole range of students in my classes, and a far better learning experience than anything I ever pulled off in a classroom environment. My 40 hours per week spent teaching my 100 students per semester is a fantastic experience which I enjoy tremendously; you couldn’t pay me to go back into the classroom. 🙂

  • Laura,

    Interesting perspective. Obviously with 7 years experience you would be well equipped to address this question. I guess my only response would be do you think face to face has any value. Should we abandon bricks and mortar or are you simply suggesting that a well designed online course can be every bit as good as a face to face class?

    My experience leads me to believe that there is something special about being together in building community. Perhaps building community need not be the goal of a given course. It seems to me that the ability for students to open in and share freely occurs as trust is developed over time and over quality interactions, which often takes place in person.

    I certainly appreciate your viewpoints and respect your time as an online instructor. I’m just struggling with the dismissal of a face to face classroom.

  • I really feel tha face to face time is vital to forming human connections with your students. I come from a high school background with a variety of experiences (urban Chicago to suburban to independant boarding school) yet a common thread is the need to connectedness. I don’t dispute that online experiences are efficient and provide a digital pathway for collaboration, as well as for a new immersive learning pathway for students to engage in. The human connection is absent, or at least extremely muted. Students, from my 10 yrs of experience, long for connections to their teachers. Content is only one aspect of a classroom, there is also a feeling of family that can form as well. As far as the idea of putting on a show is concerned, the classroom, like any other avenue of instruction, is what you make it. You can be a great performer/entertainer in the classroom and yield students who are just there for the experience. You can also create learning experiences within the classroom which require students to engage beyond simply sitting there and “soaking” up the experience. They really want a challenge, they want to be pushed. I have seen this across the gamut of my experiences. I cannot imagine removing the face to face component of the courses I teach.
    .-= Phil Cook´s last blog ..home =-.

  • Kathy Sierra

    You hit the core question that’s facing so many of us. As a teacher/trainer, I’ve been pushing for NON f2f since for nearly 20 years (interactive via some form of software, pre-‘net). But now as a parent of college students, I’ve seen that they simply aren’t motivated without the face-to-face. While I’m much more comfortable crafting an online-only solution — and it often has felt that asking students to be physically present is horribly inefficient in every way — I’m now re-evaluating the effect of simply showing up at a physical location.

    There is also the mysteriously alluring aspect of physical presence that scientists still haven’t figured out — that “thing” that digital presence technologies (regardless of resolution) haven’t been able to replicate, at least not yet. Some believe it might even be smell ; )

    That said, there are a lot of options for blended solutions including one that enables students from a variety of different online-only institutions/programs to come together in a physical environment. Kind of like the satellite offices that remote employees of various companies can all work in and enjoy shared benefits of a physical space, while still not having to move or commute for a job.

    Big challenges, interesting problems… asking for f2f only is terribly non-scalable, but we can’t completely eliminate it without sacrificing something we don’t yet fully understand.

    Thanks for this post!

  • Guy Kawasaki suggests the 10-20-30 Rule with respect to PowerPoint and face to face collaborations. Use no more than 10 PowerPoint slides, keep the pitch to 20 minutes, and employ a 30-point font size in the presentation to keep it simple as well as readable. For his nine other entrepreneurial ten commandments to make the sale and to be convincing see http://quoteflections.blogspot.com/2009/07/entrepreneurial-ten-commandments.html

    I too often wonder about face to face versus Web 2.0. Why do many people prefer the face to face pitch to convincing collaboration online?
    .-= Paul C´s last blog ..28 Top Websites: GPS Gold Rush =-.

  • AngelaC

    I agree about the possibility of completely online learning – it works very well, and can remove the impact of a lot of secondary behaviour issues that derail learning in a face to face class. Everyone is allowed to be smart/clever/intelligent/conscientious online.

    In relation to Kathy’s point “There is also the mysteriously alluring aspect of physical presence that scientists still haven’t figured out — that “thing” that digital presence technologies (regardless of resolution) haven’t been able to replicate, at least not yet. Some believe it might even be smell ; ) ” I put forward the idea that using avatars so participants have a more “physical” presence online may replace that possible need.

  • Angela, how does an avatar trump even live video? I get how a video image might begin to replace face to face but an avatar seems to be less personal.

  • You hit the core question that's facing so many of us. As a teacher/trainer, I've been pushing for NON f2f since for nearly 20 years (interactive via some form of software, pre-'net). But now as a parent of college students, I've seen that they simply aren't motivated without the face-to-face. While I'm much more comfortable crafting an online-only solution — and it often has felt that asking students to be physically present is horribly inefficient in every way — I'm now re-evaluating the effect of simply showing up at a physical location.

    There is also the mysteriously alluring aspect of physical presence that scientists still haven't figured out — that "thing" that digital presence technologies (regardless of resolution) haven't been able to replicate, at least not yet. Some believe it might even be smell ; )

    That said, there are a lot of options for blended solutions including one that enables students from a variety of different online-only institutions/programs to come together in a physical environment. Kind of like the satellite offices that remote employees of various companies can all work in and enjoy shared benefits of a physical space, while still not having to move or commute for a job.

    Big challenges, interesting problems… asking for f2f only is terribly non-scalable, but we can't completely eliminate it without sacrificing something we don't yet fully understand.

    Thanks for this post!; You hit the core question that's facing so many of us. As a teacher/trainer, I've been pushing for NON f2f since for nearly 20 years (interactive via some form of software, pre-'net). But now as a parent of college students, I've seen that they simply aren't motivated without the face-to-face. While I'm much more comfortable crafting an online-only solution — and it often has felt that asking students to be physically present is horribly inefficient in every way — I'm now re-evaluating the effect of simply showing up at a physical location.

    There is also the mysteriously alluring aspect of physical presence that scientists still haven't figured out — that "thing" that digital presence technologies (regardless of resolution) haven't been able to replicate, at least not yet. Some believe it might even be smell ; )

    That said, there are a lot of options for blended solutions including one that enables students from a variety of different online-only institutions/programs to come together in a physical environment. Kind of like the satellite offices that remote employees of various companies can all work in and enjoy shared benefits of a physical space, while still not having to move or commute for a job.

    Big challenges, interesting problems… asking for f2f only is terribly non-scalable, but we can't completely eliminate it without sacrificing something we don't yet fully understand.

    Thanks for this post!;;

  • The biggest proof of whether online training helps is that many universities are now adopting to it in a big way., for e.g., Virginia tech and Ohio state are one of the early adaptors and have been highly innovative. The evolution so far on an effective learning approach has led to ‘hybrid approach’ which is a combination of in class (traditional) and online learning. This has already shown many benefits, think about it, with online training you can create material in collaborative way, have visual information like videos, audio and pics! And more over it also allows for a learner centric and a teacher led kind of learning. For e.g., I’ve been using a collaborative flashcard study groups for teaching my students in addition to traditional school, it is worth all the time I am spending on it.

  • Face to face brings a connection that just doesn’t transfer in the virtual world.

  • I think that what a student gets out of a face to face encounter compared to a purely online class is totally dependent on the student. Some of my classmates need class simply to force them to go and absorb the material for that hour. For a large portion of people, learning takes place outside of the class. People learn by doing and teaching themselves; for these people, face to face time is not really important. What I am trying to say is that the importance of face to face time is truly dependent upon the type of learner a person is. I do question, however, how meaningful a discussion can be online. Perhaps it’s just me but having a discussion in class always seems to be more powerful than an online one. However, how many college professors really utilize discussions or allow their students to ask questions? I think face to face time will become more relevant as the interactivity increases, but as distance learning continues to better use technology, perhaps face to face will become obsolete.
    – Natalie Raven
    http://www.onlinedegreenavigator.org/

  • Hm my original comment didn’t seem to go through. I think the value of face time is truly dependent upon the type of learner a student is. There is no doubt that it is really valuable to be able to ask questions during a lecture or participate in a discussion. But, as mentioned in the comments above, how many professors really allow their students to ask questions during class? At least in my experience, not many. While I think face to face discussions right now trump online discussions, I feel that once technology is better utilized by distance learning programs online discussions will be just as valuable.
    – Natalie Raven
    http://www.onlinedegreenavigator.org/

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