In the past few years, the pandemic has increasingly pushed us towards "online" interactions. For many, this shift was challenging as they missed the opportunity to be extroverted, struggling to connect through the screen. They cherished face-to-face interactions and found the digital alternative unsatisfying. Conversely, others viewed this as a perfect opportunity to conceal their imperfections, presenting themselves impressively from the waist up while comfortably wearing sweatpants for school, business meetings, and conferences.
At Expeditions in Education, this shift spurred us to think creatively. We pondered ways to connect students and educators from across the country to our work with national parks. Our aim was to replicate the engagement of face-to-face interactions within the confines of a 12-17 inch screen. Initially, one of our most common phrases was, "You are muted." Repeated so frequently, it became second nature. However, we soon realized that this phrase signified more than just a technical issue on a Zoom call; it was a call to action.
As educators, we often inundate our students with information, inadvertently muting their responses due to strict deadlines and the necessity of administering tests every few weeks to gauge their knowledge. This realization led us to question: Do we genuinely allow our students time to "unmute"? We believe that authentic engagement occurs when students are given daily opportunities to solve real-world problems. These problems don't need to be life-altering, but they should be genuine. When students understand that their work is valued and considered authentic, they tend to invest more effort. They "unmute" themselves and demonstrate their capabilities.
Next time you're on a virtual call and need to remind a participant that they are muted, consider the deeper implications of this statement. If they do unmute, take the time to listen, really listen.