The Game of Thrones and Online Teaching

Lately, I’ve been getting caught up on watching the Game of Thrones.  The series tells the tales of a number of families that vie for the throne in a fictional land filled with dragons, giants and icy zombies.  At first glance, the series may seem unconnected to our present day realities.  Closer inspection, however, reveals nuanced lessons that can apply to numerous areas, including online teaching.

1.  Don’t be a Greyjoy!  Each family in the Game of Thrones has a motto which defines their actions and communicates their intentions.  The Greyjoys live in an extremely harsh part of the Seven Realms and live by the motto “We do not sow!”  Since there countryland is not fitted to growing vegetation or livestock, they rely on raiding and pillaging other villages.  Effective online teaching, however, relies on sowing.  Online teachers sow interaction, foster engagement and build understanding with their students.   Unlike the Greyjoy family, the effective online teacher must actively and purposely cultivate the social, cognitive and teaching presences that are critical to an online Community of Inquiry.

2.  Winter is coming!  The Stark family is one of the main families in the Game of Thrones landscape.  They live in the northernmost part of the Seven Realms and serve as the first defense against foreign invaders (wildlings, whitewalkers, etc.).  The Stark family motto is simply “Winter is coming!”  In the Seven Realms, the coming of winter signifies a departure from safety, security and prosperity.  The Stark family motto essentially reminds the entire Seven Realms that they must be prepared.  This is a critical aspect of online teaching: preparation.  In my training on campus, I compare online teaching to planning a party.  If you do enough work ahead of time, you can be a gracious host during the party.  The same can be said about online teaching.  Thoughtfully designing assignments and lessons before a class starts allows effective online teachers to focus on communicating with students and assessing their learning.

3.  Don’t rely on the ravens!  Since the Seven Realms does not have any effective system for long-range communication, they must use ravens to transmit messages from kingdom to kingdom.  But ravens can easily fall victim to predators and foreign enemies, disrupting communication completely.  In online teaching, instructors should use a host of communication tools to provide prompt feedback to students and foster interaction between all members of class community.

4.  A Lannister always pays its debts.  The Lannisters are one of the most powerful and wealthiest families in the Seven Realms.  The Lannister family motto clearly outlines that they will keep their word (at least in financial dealings) and that they can be relied upon to compensate for the monetary debts they accrue.  While online teaching doesn’t connect directly to the Lannister’s financial dealings, the motto does apply nicely to expectations in online learning environments.  Effective online teachers outline clear expectations for their students and live up to the expectations that online students may have of them.  It’s important that students know what to expect from assignments and their instructor, especially in an online classroom.

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