Being a lifelong lover of literature, and Shakespeare in particular, I am envious of anyone who tells me they are going to or have been to London. Twenty British pounds for breakfast and a few hours of pacing in Heathrow waiting for connecting flights are all that I have spent in London. Someday I will spend some quality time there, but for now I have to settle for other people’s travel stories from England.
At the beginning of last semester, I learned that one of my students was living in London. Richie’s (not his real name) mother had sent him to spend a few months with his father in England and signed him up for online courses through our school so that he could keep up with his studies at the same time.
A few weeks into the course, and after I got to know him a bit better, I asked Richie if he had had a chance to visit the Globe Theatre. He replied that he had been too busy with his studies and getting to know his way around the city to do any real sightseeing yet. I unleashed my jealousy on him and joked that if nothing else, he should take a trip to the Globe and then e‑mail me some pictures just to make me even more envious of him than I already was!
In the middle of the course, Richie’s father and I exchanged a few e‑mails about the midterm exam. His last message ended with, “Now if I can only get Richie interested in going to the Globe Theatre. It’s only 100 metres from my office.” Aha! Apparently this father and I shared the desire to stuff Richie’s head with the same awe and intrigue for the famed London landmark that I have always possessed. I began to wonder how I could incorporate a visit to the Globe into Richie’s coursework. The wheels started turning.
After a few days, I came up with what could only be called, in true Seuss form, my “wonderful, awful idea” for Richie. He was at the point where he would soon be starting his research project, so I presented my idea to him. Instead of doing the regular research assignment in the course, would he like to tour the Globe, take pictures, and narrate a video presentation on the history of and current use of the theatre? There were two catches: he had to take his own photos, and I wanted him and his father to give our school permission to keep and use his video in our other online English courses. The e‑mail I got in response stated simply, “My dad says we will try.”
And so I waited. The other students had been required to send me an outline so that I could approve their content before they put their presentations together, but Richie’s outline had little detail because he “wanted to surprise my teacher.” OK. I could accept that. More waiting.
The day before the due date arrived. Oh-oh. I got an e‑mail from Richie. “I’m really sorry, but I have been so busy with my math course. Could I have a two-day extension on my assignment?” At this point, I was nervous about the potential disaster I had opened up by asking him to pursue this project without getting much feedback from me on his nearly nonexistent outline, but I thought, “No, I’m going to give him a shot at this; he knows my expectations,” and so he got his extension.
Two days came and went. Richie sent me his video. “I hope you like it!”
Did I like it?
Everyone who knows me has seen his video. Three times. “Look! Look what one of my students created! Isn’t it amazing?!” Lawyers, farmers, the neighbour’s dog, and, of course, other teachers. “Yes, Lorna, this is great. You must be very proud of him.” “I am! Do you want to see it again?!” “Umm, no, that’s OK. I got the gist of it the first three times.”
Teaching online has one main drawback: I rarely get to meet my students in person. Having been able to send Richie off to experiences and places that he would never have the chance to see within classroom walls, however, outweighs the fact that I have no idea what he looks like. I do know what he sounds like. Through the use of technology, and because of our ability to communicate and personalize his learning experience, he took me on a private tour of the Globe Theatre without my having to leave my chair. The world is now a little bigger for both of us.
Lorna Stuber teaches Grades 10–12 English courses online and builds online PD courses for Innovative Learning Services, a service department within the Calgary Board of Education.