Self-deprecating subtitles — humor and performance in online teaching

Written by: Spencer Greenhalgh

Primary Source: Spencer Greenhalgh

I’ve always been interested in the performative element of teaching. Maybe it’s the time that I spent in speech and debate in high school, but getting up in front of a classroom of students to teach a lesson has always seemed to me a little like getting on stage to act.

Now that I’ve been teaching online (asynchronously) for a couple of years, though, that metaphor is changing. Since we don’t see our students face-to-face, we perform through the written word and through video. Just as cinema differs from theater, performance in an online course is different than performance in a face-to-face course. Some of those differences are even the same: If you flub a line on stage (or in the classroom), you can’t do much else besides power on through. Tomorrow’s a new performance, and you’ll have a chance to redeem yourself then. If you flub a line filming for a new lesson (or a summer blockbuster), though, you should probably redo it. After all, unless you’re George Lucas, the way you make it now is probably the way it’s going to be forever.

I don’t have Hollywood’s time and money, though, so what am I supposed to do when an otherwise perfect seventh take (ugh) of an introduction to an online lesson is being punctuated by a persistent train whistle? Or when I notice afterwards that I used variations of the word “exciting” way too many times?

I could redo it. Or I could at least be in on the joke:

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Hi there! My name is Spencer Greenhalgh, and I am a student in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology doctoral program at Michigan State University. I came to Michigan State University with a strong belief in the importance of an education grounded in the humanities. As an undergraduate, I studied French and political science and worked as a teaching assistant in both fields. After graduation, I taught French, debate, and keyboarding in a Utah private school before coming to MSU, where I plan to study how technology can be used to help students connect the humanities with their lives. I have a particular interest in the use of games and simulations to promote ethical reasoning and explore moral dilemmas, but am eager to study any technology that can help students see the relevance of studying language, culture, history, and government.

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