I tried something new yesterday. We had a snow day, on the day immediately preceding my Honors Geometry midterm exam. I knew that some of my students would be trying to use this “extra” time to brush up on things and I was brainstorming ways that I could support them. I decided to offer two Instagram Live study sessions, each for an hour. I had very low expectations, thinking that maybe 5 students (out of around 60) might join me. The school that I used to teach at did “online days” in cases of inclement weather and I had offered Google Hangout sessions (just chat), which I think only one student ever took advantage of. It felt very low risk. Worst comes to worst, I was just going to video myself working on my computer.
My first session I had scheduled for 11:00-12:00, notifying students via Google Classroom and Remind. Pretty immediately, I had 5-10 students with me. If you are new to Instagram Live, it basically just allows you to send a live video to your followers (in this case, I made a new non-personal Instagram account) and throughout the video, viewers are able to comment. For the most part, students used the comment feature to give me problem numbers that they wanted to discuss, but they were also able to add follow-up questions if I hadn’t answered their question. During my first video, I had my phone on a stand using the front camera. I’m not much of one for selfies. If I was, I might have remembered that the front camera reverses the image, which is a problem, if you are, for example, writing in a notebook. I wasn’t working out long problems, mostly just reminding students of concepts and formulas, so it didn’t feel like a huge deal, at least to me. At the end of the session, Instagram told me that my video had 19 viewers. I was pretty pleased.
I also offered a second session from 3:00-4:00. I did try to remedy the camera issue by propping my phone on top of 2 small boxes, but then I needed to hold it in position. During this session, all students could see was about a quarter of a sheet of notebook paper. More boxes would have been better. I did have fewer students during this session, but also some repeats. By the end of the session, there had been 12 viewers.
One of my reflections on these two sessions is how different it felt for me to have students seeing my face and notebook versus just my notebook. During the first session, when I could see my own face, I felt much more confident that I was engaging and explaining things in the way that made sense. During the second session, when I could only see my notebook, I didn’t feel as connected to my explanation. Obviously, if we were in person, there would be body language, etc. that I would be gauging as I worked with a group of students, but in both of these cases, the only interaction was via the comments. I’m not sure if there was some kind of “placebo” effect of viewing my own face on the screen and reading my own body language, which then affected how I perceived my students to be feeling.
While it was an interesting experience and helpful given the circumstances, in some ways it also goes against part of my teaching philosophy. I was the presenter and students were only there to ask questions. Students were able to just be passive learners and receive the information rather than truly interacting with it. Earlier this month, my district’s math coordinator sent out the article “Never Say Anything a Kid Can Say,” which I was familiar with, but is nonetheless a good reminder. Students’ work yesterday was to review for a midterm and for most students, they could have said a significant percentage of what I said, but the difficulty was in putting together the pieces. This form of interaction made me do a lot of the work that my students are already capable of doing.
I’m still thinking about the balance of the personal (my face) versus the function (my notebook) and other circumstances where this form of student/teacher interaction might be helpful and/or appropriate. Has anyone else ever used Instagram Live?