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A day in the life of Mr. S — How one middle school teacher is using vlogs, emojis, and live streams to bolster virtual learning engagement

The first known use of the word vlog was in 2002. Today, it’s a part of everyday conversation for many students. Korick Sisomphone, referred to as Mr. S by his students, saw vlogging and live streaming as an opportunity to transform his virtual classroom. With nearly half of his students wanting to be YouTubers, Mr. S decided to go the extra mile to meet his students where they are online. What is that extra mile? Vlogging and “Twitchifying” his classroom.

Sisomphone is a social studies teacher at Phillips Middle School in Edgecombe County. He’s a second year teacher, and like many of his colleagues, he’s adapting to the new normal the pandemic has brought upon our schools. Within the first few days of virtual teaching, he knew there had to be a way to create better engagement in the classroom. 

As an active social media user himself, Sisomphone thought about the places he goes online that make him feel the most connected. His brainstorming led him to Twitch, the live streaming platform that has seen 26.2% growth this year. Sisomphone was curious about the culture and connection that Twitch creates and wondered if he could replicate that in his classroom. He kept coming back to the question of engagement. 

“The more I asked that, the more I was like, why can’t I do that with my students? What is the barrier between teaching like this? Why can’t I deliver content this way? Why can’t I interact with my students this way,” Sisomphone said. “I started to think what methods can I apply to make this feel like something familiar? Because I know so many of them watch live streams. I know so many of them watch YouTube.”

“Remote learning is not familiar,” Sisomphone continued. “Nobody’s ever done this before to this scale to this degree. … So how can I make it something familiar, something that they’re used to, something that they’ll feel safe and comfortable with?”

The birth of the Bullvlog

It didn’t take Sisomphone long to decide to try something new. Within the first two weeks of class he noticed that students were struggling to engage with virtual learning. 

“I have to get them to interact,” he said. “I can’t just monologue for an hour, four days a week … I’ve got to get some interaction.”

Korick Sisomphone plays the ukulele for his students, reminding them to find moments of joy throughout their day. Screenshot of YouTube

In September, Sisomphone created the Bullvlog as a tool to connect deeper with students and create a better culture for engagement in the classroom. The vlogs feature Sisomphone showing a day in his life to give students a look at his days both inside and outside the classroom. In the video above, he records different parts of his work day, from having his first cup of coffee and saying hello to colleagues in the morning to his after school workout and dinner. Now, students get to connect with him virtually through the vlogs outside of live instruction. Sisomphone has two vlogs up so far, and he says they’ve already made a difference in terms of student engagement during class time. 

“[Before] I would ask a question and just sit there in dead silence for five minutes,” Sisomphone said. “Now it’s a minute. It takes them a little time. I have to give them time to type. But I am getting more responses, more feedback.”

Students are engaging with the content and they are commenting on the vlogs. One student asked for the recipe Sisomphone made for dinner in his vlog so he could try it at home with his family. The vlog is also a way for Sisomphone’s students to see his humanity, which is important to him, and something he hopes translates into a lesson from the classroom. He explains here —

Korick Sisomphone explains how vlogging is helping him connect to his students. Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC

From Twitch to the classroom

Sisomphone is an active Twitch user. He understands the language and culture of the platform and reflected on how it all works so well on those live streams. In doing so, he figured out a formula for his own classroom. It started with a question and was followed by an observation.

“What do they do on Twitch streams that makes their chat move so much? People are just going crazy on Twitch streams,” Sisomphone said. “One thing I noticed is that some people just really like to spam a bunch of stuff in the chat. I’ll be watching some Twitch streams and you just see like a paragraph long of just emojis. They mean nothing. It’s the same emoji 50 times and I was like, okay, that’s weird, but it’s hype.”

Now Mr. S starts his live stream instruction for his students the same way — with a short intro and chat starter. His new spiel goes:

“Welcome to Mr. S’s room. It’s the hottest remote learning environment in the world. Nobody’s doing it like we do it in here. What I need y’all to do is drop a bunch of S’s in the chat.”

After Sisomphone’s intro, the chat goes wild. Not just on the first day, but every day. The students are dropping their S’s in the chat day in and day out. Some are even getting creative and dropping dollar signs or the first letters of their own names. After the chat question, Sisomphone immediately asks a content related question and is getting far more answers from students than before. 

“We’re building this culture around spamming, around memeing, but it’s something unique. They know when they come to my classroom now, they’re going to think. They’re going to explore. They’re going to ask questions or at least be prompted to ask questions, or at least listen to other people ask questions, if nothing else. And they know they’re going to have a little fun.”

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is a multimedia reporter for EducationNC.