I am working on my online courses today. I am rewriting my course schedule after consolidating some readings and dropping others. I am creating videos and trying to get up to speed with the discussion board feature on Messiah College’s course delivery system (Canvas). I am trying to figure out how to teach writing online.
My personality and face-to-face engagement has always driven my pedagogical style. This will be different.
Last night, in a moment exasperation, I posted this pic to Instagram and Facebook under the caption, “What are these things called online courses?”:
My friend Amy Bass, a professor of Sport Studies at Manhattanville College, provided some inspiration:
1. Don’t try to do too much.
I think this goes without saying. We’re all improvising here, and not just as teachers.
2. Recalibrate expectations for students
They’re improvising, too, as they adjust to their different professors figuring out different solutions to these problems. They’ve lost most of the routine and structure that makes academic work doable day to day, week to week. Many of them have lost the jobs that help them pay for college, and some are working parents facing the same challenges I do. I still expect my students to do the best they can, but I’m not sure that “rigor” is anything we ought to expect under these circumstances.
3. Avoid synchronous activities
This is not the time to prove to anyone that you can do lecture, discussion, etc. live online. Internet access is too unreliable, ed tech companies are being stretched to their limits, and students’ schedules are thrown out of whack. I generally plan to allot at least a day or more, for students to complete even small activities. I’m trying to think more in terms of weekly than daily objectives, a sequence more than a schedule. And I’m glad that, in two courses, I’d already had students doing a lot of project-based learning, since we’ll lean into that approach even more while online.
4. Let necessity be the mother of invention
I don’t expect too much of this half-semester. But by the same token, I do want to leave myself open to the possibility that I’ll figure out new ways of teaching. That was one of our lessons from teaching online in the summer: we treated it as a kind of pedagogical laboratory or playground, one that has indeed generated a few ideas that we’ve since integrated into other modes of teaching.
5. Talk about COVID
It’s what we’re all thinking about anyway; let’s teach to it. I’m not a specialist in epidemiology, public health, public policy, or economics, but as a historian, there are things I can do to help students think about topics connected to the crisis, if not the disease itself.
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