To teach through the screens go back to the greeks

Real hacks for online education from the ancient greek masters.

Online education is hard. Specially if you’ve been thrown into it after years of teaching on-site in an educational system designed to work as such. Nevertheless, online education is our new reality. Better embrace it ’cause we have to keep on leading the way for the future generations through any medium available.

Of course there are pain points. This is more than stepping out of our comfort zone, this is a whole new league. Fortunately, there are some educators that have paved the road for us: The ancient greeks. Socrates, Plato and the sophists.

Here are some of their most recent tips:

The problem: We live in an attention economy. Your lecture, the latest notification and any random house noise are all competing for the attention of your student on equal ground.

The greeks say: You are part of the problem. Is your material designed to entertain, impress and persuade your students? Plato and the sophists understood that to be an educator also meant you have to become an entertainer. We should all have at least some stand up comedy abilities. Being able to read your audience, draw from the present and react in a fast paced environment are all crucial teaching skills.

What you can do: You don’t have to make a fool of yourself, but if you like so much that knwoledge unit, you should be able to present it as an engaging narrative. A journey to be fully experienced.

The problem: You feel trapped in autopilot just repeating the same session over and over again. Sometimes for asyncronous students, others during live sessions. The lecture is always you, telling through super compelling storytelling your knowledge unit.

The greeks say: You are not a lecturer, you’re a facilitator. Learn to distinguish the objective of each interaction and make the most out of it. Aristotle’s teaching was based on 3 principles:

  1. Wonder as the beginning of knowledge. It was more important to spark knowledge as a way of life than pouring content over their students heads.
  2. Integrity of knowledge. You were expected to be as well versed in gumnastika (physical activities) as in mousike (intellectual endeavors).
  3. Oral communication to create knowledge. The Socratic method, questioning deeper, was considered the most reliable path towards truth.

What you can do: Design your material in 3 differentiated moments.

Start with wonder. This can be done either in a syncronous or asyncronous setting. Provoke your students. Maybe through a personal challenge, an idea or even a competition, the idea is to spark a revolution.

Let them roam in a less structured way. Allow the possibility to find interdisciplinary connections. Let them dig and wander where they want. Integrity of knowledge.

End things by sharing and discussing. Socratic method. If you can’t do it live, you can use some forum or chat tools.

The problem: Lack of time has turned your mentoring time with students into a recipe sharing space where students receive instructions on how to solve their weak points. If this doesn’t seem to be an issue, you have a much deeper problem.

The greeks say: Ask why. If you want to understand the reasoning, the importance behind something just ask why. Socrates spent his entire life walking around asking why, and why, and why. He asked everyone and he didn’t stop even when he knew he may be making the other person uncomfortable. So he was killed for it.

What you can do: Start with the socratic method + empathy — the sarcastic, ironic tone so you don’t get killed. Seriously, you need to add empathy to Socrates equation to get the most out of your students.

If you detect a weak point, instead of signaling it as such, ask why it was solved like that. “Why did you choose to do this” By hearing their reasoning it will become evident, both for them and for you, if the solution was the best or if there is something else that can be done. Cover them with questions instead of “right answers”.

Disclaimer: Of course there is something we must never recover from Ancient Greece scholars: Education being exclusively for boys. Education is a human right and it is our responsibility to make it a reality. There is still a long way to go. Learn more here.

+7 years experience on education industry. Marketing, academia, customer success, instructional design and e-learning development and management.