Many teachers are inspired by the idea of free and accessible education through cutting edge technology, and by the ability to bridge the gap between students who live in areas where they’re likely to receive an excellent education and students who may not have equal opportunities. The thought of sharing skills and information that can open the eyes of students throughout the world, regardless of their background, is appealing to volunteer teachers throughout the United States.
This inspiration does not, however, change the fact that teachers have a limited amount of time each week to dedicate to volunteerism. They have already worked a full day educating the emerging generations and deserve a work-life balance. Teachers who are faced with the dilemma of wanting to make a difference beyond their current classroom experience but who have a limited amount of free time are encouraged to create their own free content through Google+.
Step 1: A Good Match
The first step in the process of creating an online course is to locate a single student or charitable organization in need of free tutoring/lessons. Although this seems as if it should be the easiest part of the process, finding the right match can be harder than one would think. For example, many students in need may require help with subject areas in which the volunteer educator is not an expert, or the charitable organization may require a lengthy application and matching process. Additionally, some students may live in remote areas where Internet access is intermittent or easily disrupted. Educators are encouraged to choose their commitment wisely as it’s something they may make a long-term commitment to.
Step 2: Technology
Once the educator has selected a student or organization to work with, the technological aspects of the project begin. Although some educators will find the process very simple, others will struggle to adjust to new technology. To reduce frustration, teachers are advised to experiment with the technology prior to creating the actual course content. Once on Google+, educators will need to get their students set up with a Gmail account and join the same Circle. It’s important that each student who will be receiving access to this information is separated from other Google+ connections for clarity and privacy. From here, the educator can proceed in one of two directions. They can either work with a full class of students or an individual student can email the teacher with questions. The volunteer can then record a Google+ video (allowed in 15 minute increments) in which they answer questions and provide students with links or access to free online learning materials. Teachers who have several students in their course can pre-record videos on specific topics and send it to the entire Circle. Using pre-recorded videos optimizes the educator’s time by allowing them to record their lesson at a time of their convenience. It also allows the volunteer to teach students who live in any time zone across the globe.
Step 3: Curriculum
Once the technological aspects have been worked out, the teacher can then delve into the research and curriculum building that they know all too well. For example, if a teacher is recording a TOEFL / ESL video, they can divide the course into four primary sections: Speaking, listening, reading comprehension, and writing. Regardless of the subject matter, teachers can spend as little as 10 hours per year (about 4 of which would consist of recorded lessons) creating online content that students can view multiple times over long periods. Ten hours alone could allow potentially hundreds of students, who otherwise would not have access to supplemental education, to succeed in the subject matter they need help with the most.
Teachers are encouraged to require students attending their virtual platform to follow up on each video session. Because teachers will not interact with students in person, it may leave them wondering if the students actually viewed the video or if they understood the information contained therein. Requiring students to maintain an active role in their education is beneficial because it allows for positive reinforcement on both ends. Students should reply either to their Circle or directly to the teacher on Gmail to confirm that they viewed the video lesson and to ask follow-up questions. Another way that volunteer educators can foster student interaction and responsibility on Google+ is to encourage the students to have a study group via Google Hangouts for set periods of time each week. Students who live in the same or in a similar time zone should be able to interact regularly with relative ease. If a teacher is able to join in on these live video chats once in awhile, he or she will be able to personalize the experience and increase student accountability. In most cases, follow-up is just as important as the initial lesson.
Although teachers work to help the emerging generations Monday through Friday, many would like to participate in volunteer and outreach education but simply don’t have the time or struggle to maintain a work-life balance. Creating a personalized series of courses on Google+ allows volunteer-minded educators the opportunity to optimize their time as well as maximize the benefits their students receive. Although these teachers may never meet their students in person, the learning connection is invaluable and is one of the greatest gifts a person can give.
Robyn Scott is a private tutor with TutorNerds LLC in Irvine, CA. She has a BA from the University of California, Irvine and a MA from the University of Southampton, UK.