As a law school educator, I am not particularly known for my use of high-tech electronic equipment. I much prefer teaching through direct storytelling and student participation. I simply like to make direct eye contact with people with whom I am talking. However last Saturday I had the wonderful experience of combining my storytellling/interactive teaching and Skype with a restorative justice class at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Marilyn Armour, a restorative justice scholar who teaches a course which is offered to both law students and social work students, asked me to talk to her weekend class.
Most people who know me will tell you that if you ask me to speak about our MULS restorative justice work, I have a hard time saying no. That being said, I still wondered how it was going to go, trying to teach a class long distance through a computer. Having traveled internationally, I have used Skype before . . . but I have never used it to teach a class. I was amazed how well it worked. Some of the law students asked really great questions about how to incorporate restorative justice into the criminal justice system and the corporate world. A social work student asked about ways she could utilize these processes in her future work. I could see the entire class. Although it was 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, I am happy to report that they all appeared to stay awake and fully engaged in the discussion. And I had the ease of teaching the class from my bedroom (I did dress up since they could see me as well.)
I am still not convinced that “long-distance learning” can replace the value of students and teacher being in the same room with each other; there is something about that personal interaction including the casual talk that occurs before and after class that leads to important learning and interactions. But this experience has convinced me that electronic communications can enhance and supplement our traditional teaching in exciting (and inexpensive) ways.