Webinar vs. debate: Supervising in an age of COVID

“At least,” I figured, “this webinar will surely be better than Tuesday’s debate.”

Low bar, I know. (I had watched half of the debate before I couldn’t stand it any longer.)

What I am referring to definitely surpassed that low bar… by a wide margin. It was a webinar that was held Wednesday afternoon — my first time with this experience. I was part of a small, intimate group of 200 teacher supervisors, so it was nothing like an actual seminar (which is obviously the source of the word “webinar”), but it was surprisingly useful.

Although I call it “Supervising in an Age of COVID,” the actual title was “Magnifying Reflective Practice for Teacher Candidates.” One of my activities during my semi-retirement is supervising a teacher candidatei.e. a grad student who is simultaneously student-teaching high-school math and earning her MAT degree. (Actually, the teaching is more than student-teaching, but that’s a complicated story.) So, when I wear that hat, I am part of the appropriate audience for the webinar.

Now that I am reasonably comfortable with Zoom, I expected this webinar to be using Zoom — but no, it used a different technology, called CrowdCast. Yikes, another technology to learn and no time to learn it! Fortunately it was straightforward enough, and I signed in five minutes early, which gave me enough time to learn the ropes. The big difference is that the 200 of us weren’t on camera, either for audio or for video. We could watch and listen to the two presenters, we could type questions, and we could participate in a chat room, but we couldn’t speak or be seen. This simplified the whole process, even if it made it feel a lot less interactive.

Anyhow, the presenters had a style that really helped with their presentation and that gave me a lot of ideas for my “regular” teaching next summer, even though that wasn’t the point of the webinar at all. As often happens with podcasts or television shows with multiple hosts, or with a host and a guest, conversation between presenters keeps things lively and allows for a natural flow of questions and answers or even a civil debate. (Can’t keep the Tuesday debate out of my mind as I think of what a civil debate might be.) Over the years I’ve done quite a lot of team-teaching, some of which has had this format, and it can be surprisingly effective, especially when the presenters have slightly different but still compatible points of view. In this case, the hosts were Dr. Debra Lively of Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, and Hillary Gamblin, from GoReact, a company that sponsored the webinar. GoReact bills itself as “the #1 tool for teaching performance-based skills online. It is an interactive cloud-based platform for feedback, grading, and critiquing of student video assignments.” I have no experience with it other than what I saw in this webinar, but what I saw looked good. Sometimes the webinar felt too much like an advertisement for GoReact, but I suppose that’s an inevitable danger when a single product is the focus for any presentation — especially when the developer of that product is the sponsor.

The major focus of the presentation was on helpful but non-threatening ways for a supervisor to interact with a beginning teacher. (It’s important to be non-threatening because so many teachers have a bad initial experience and quit during or after their first year.) Although the official context was the student-teacher role, I am sure that the advice would be equally useful in contexts that are just prior to or just following student-teaching: college undergraduates who are teaching assistants, such as the ones who work with me every summer; and regular first-year teachers who are now more-or-less on their own.

This will all spark further conversation and thinking, just as we had hoped.

Categories: Teaching & Learning, Technology