Faculty Spotlight: David Pook, Ph.D.

David Pook has been teaching for close to 20 years now at both the high school and college level.  He is a faculty member at The Derryfield School in Manchester, teaching in both their History and English Departments, but his educational background spans the humanities.  David has been teaching online courses at Granite State College since the summer of 2008, including Art History, World Architecture, Philosophy, Ethics and even a course on Creativity.

In his courses his students call him ‘Pook’ (rhymes with book.) He explained, “That’s what I ask my students to call me – I think the Dr. is a little intimidating and I prefer to create a level playing field where we all are learning together.”

Pook was initially attracted to teaching online because he thought he could do justice to the content of the Art History courses he was teaching. He anticipated that the classroom experience would be very much like the online experience – looking at art on a PowerPoint and talking about it together – just without his voice, which he thought might be considered a plus.

Over the years, Pook has gotten a much better sense of how to generate fruitful and meaningful discussions on the discussion forums. As much as technology is a boon to non-traditional students and those who find it congenial to their schedules, he strives to keep the experience of the classroom setting in mind and strive to recreate those meaningful conversations that feed a student’s soul. And he prides himself on being able to provide this for his students. He admits that he is not always successful, but the students definitely know that he is on the discussion board every day helping to push the conversation forward without dominating the proceedings.

One of his techniques to nurture these discussions is to establish “discussion norms” in those first few weeks so that students know what is expected not just in terms of formal expectations but also in terms of responding to the person who posted before you. Pook reaches out through all class messages, individual communications, and modeling what he wants to see in the discussion forums himself.

When asked about a strategy for creating an online presence, Pook said that it actually needs to be “de-strategized”:

If you are logged on and communicating with your students, you are present. It’s not a strategy so much as a commitment to their education and making sure that they know you are invested in their learning – by truly “being” present. It’s time consuming and inefficient. A truly valuable education – a one-to-one connection between the instructor and the student – is at its core fundamentally inefficient.

There are a lot of challenges in moving your teaching from a face-to-face environment to an asynchronous online environment. In particular, Pook has felt challenged by the asymmetries:

I think I’ve grown comfortable with a ‘slow burn’ instead of flashes of insight” 

It’s hard to generate that “in the moment” revelation that you experience in face to face exchanges. I think I’ve grown comfortable with a “slow burn” instead of flashes of insight, which is just another kind of proof of the old adage that educators plant trees under whose shade we should not expect to sit.

Another challenge that Pook has encountered was how to deliver feedback in a text format. In a face-to-face situation he can hand back a paper in person and create a different dynamic about the kind of pointed feedback that is shared. That commentary is easier to bear because he can gauge the reaction and immediately respond. He is much more careful in his tone with feedback delivered asynchronously than he was earlier because he didn’t have his “antennae” attuned to the online dynamic nearly as much as he does now.

Looking forward, Pook is exploring a number of technologies that will move away from a strictly text-based mode of communication. In particular he’d like to get his students away from just Powerpoint and into different presentation modes such as Prezi, Xtranormal, Voicethread and even making 3-minute videos. He know that there is a big learning curve here to conquer and that as an instructor he only has X number of weeks to cover the material, so he’d like to see GSC require students to take a technology course where they learn different presentation techniques and other technology apps prior to taking online courses so instructors can be assured of a shared background knowledge for their students.