Do you like teaching on Zoom?

The only think I like about teaching on Zoom is that I don’t have to take a shower, wear nice pants, or drive to work. In terms of pedagogy, it is awful. I feel no connection with my students and have no idea if I am reaching them because I can’t see all of their faces. Some of them have no idea what the lower part of my face looks like.

So-called “hybrid” classes are even worse. I still don’t know how to have an effective discussion of a text when there are five students participating in the discussion online. I try to show sympathy and compassion to these students. Most of them do not want to be on Zoom either. I respect their decisions to take the online option to avoid getting COVID-19. But I just can’t teach them effectively.

I have thought many times about quitting, especially on those days when I lose 15-20 minutes of class because I can’t figure out the technology and have to call the IT hotline. But I also realize (I hope) that all this is temporary and I will be able to get through the last decade or so of my career in a face-to-face classroom. I also need a paycheck. The Patreon pledges are not coming-in fast enough. (Have I mentioned we are expanding and need your help!) 🙂

Viet Thanh Nguyen, a professor of English at the University of Southern California, disagrees with me. Here is a taste of his piece at The New York Times:

I am now teaching about a hundred undergraduate students in a class on the American war in Vietnam. If a lecture is only someone talking for an hour, that can indeed be stultifying on video — but that would also be true in a classroom. Back in the live era, I did my best to animate my lectures by roaming the lecture hall, memorizing the students’ names so I could call on them, encouraging questions and using PowerPoint slides replete with photos, historical quotations and clips of movies and documentaries. Teachers who haven’t done multimedia lectures might reasonably experience an extra burden of work preparing them for Zoom.

But multimedia lectures work easily and even better on Zoom. I no longer have to memorize students’ names — their names are listed underneath their faces. And on Zoom, the students get a close-up of the photos and video clips, and with the lectures automatically recorded, they can review them or, if they miss a lecture, listen to them later.

Surprisingly, the discussions in my video classes have been better than those in the live era. I don’t need to look out at a sea of a hundred stone faces or a hundred blank boxes. Instead, I ask a half-dozen students toparticipate in a student panel for each lecture; I call on them and ask them questions throughout the lecture, which means the class doesn’t have to listen to just me all the time. It turns out that the students are much less shy speaking on video than they might be before a live audience. Less human warmth, but less stage fright.

Student chatter in class is now also fun. I wouldn’t want students chatting in a live class, but I like seeing their occasional exclamations in the chat window, as when one amazed student said of Country Joe and the Fish’s 1965 song “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” that “this song kind of slaps.”

Good for him. 🙂

Read the entire piece here.