Introduce your students to the world of …you
A large part of online teaching is not just the grammar, syntax and nonsensical pronunciation of the English language, but the sharing of cultures too. When your students enter the classroom, they’re exposed not only to your bright and fresh 4am face, but to your way of life and Western ways of life in general.
Yet from the perspective of the teacher, you also know that there are grand canyon-like differences between cities, states and countries in the West. Sometimes you’ll find yourself teaching a class about buildings, and your automatic response will be to reference the usual suspects like the Chrysler Building, Big Ben or Golden Gate Bridge.
But maybe you’re totally unfamiliar with these landmarks yourself. Maybe the Chrysler Building to you is the Bank of America Plaza in Atlanta (which incidentally is 7 feet taller), Big Ben might be the Wrigley Building, and the Golden Gate Bridge might be West Virginia’s New River Gorge Bridge – the longest single arch bridge in the United States.
The point is, in the classroom you have the opportunity to share information and knowledge in uniquely personal ways. You may not have the freedom to toss the regular curriculum out the window and instead teach The Science of Harry Potter (an actual course at Frostberg State), but you do have freedom in how you share your wider cultural experiences.
Some classes may have very specific references included in the lesson, but for those that don’t, why not draw inspiration from your own city or town? If you’re talking about the grocery store, you can talk about Mr. and Mrs. Hallogan’s corner shop down the street. Your students can learn about rivers, lakes and mountains in your area as well as those that are world famous.
Props can be another fun way to experiment with broadening your students’ experiences of Western culture. You may have souvenirs and postcards from your town that can be used as props. Live in Iowa? Bring a cob of corn into class. Santa Cruz? Have your surfboard lying around one day. Students will relish in the opportunity to learn a little more about your actual life.
At the end of the day, how you share your experiences will help shape how your students perceive and develop their own understanding of Western culture. For many Chinese students, a lot of their perception comes first and foremost from what they see online or on shows. Having you, a real, living, breathing teacher recounting your experiences directly to them is something totally unique.
The idea of bridging the world and connecting cultures through online education might feel cliché on the surface. But in actual fact, the exchange that happens in the classroom has a profound impact on how each side of the screen experiences the other. Think back to your expectations of your students before you opened your very first class. In all likelihood your current experience is vastly different to what you had initially expected.
So, as you go into your next class, think about how you’re influencing your students, and take the opportunity to become an ambassador for your own little slice of Western culture.