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Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Cases and Quarantines – 09/20/2020

Continuing my reflections on what it has been like here in the first quarter of the semester, I wanted to reflect some today on the cases and quarantines.

We have a real issue with the number of cases and quarantines, and that has mostly to do with HIPAA. We are not allowed to ask about private medical information, and the college is not allowed to publish names of those who have tested positive. We have a general requirement on campus that is as follows:

Employees are expected to immediately notify their supervisor and the Department of Human Resources. Supervisors are expected to report on behalf of employees if the employee is not able to self-report. Employees should contact the Department of Human Resources once physically able to do so. Employees may be eligible to use COVID-19 leave if they meet certain federal requirements. Employees who have tested positive may return to work as recommended by their health care provider, normally after a 14-day isolation period. Supervisors will be responsible for assistance with contact tracing. This is critical to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Supervisors will be expected to retrieve the employee’s daily log of appointments with the help of Technology Services and report the information to the Department of Human Resources.

Students are expected to report positive tests to the Student Services Department. The Student Services Department will work with the student to develop contact tracing in the event the student was on a College campus while COVID-19 positive. Students who have tested positive may return to F2F classes as recommended by their health care provider, normally after a 14-day isolation period. All medical information collected will be held in strict confidence in accordance with legal requirements.

Name/severity of conditions will not be identified in any notification the College is required to release. The Department of Human Resources will be responsible for notifying employees of information; Student Services will be responsible for notifying students of COVID-19 positive contacts.

That is a very long set of rules on what must be done. However, you will note that the first sentence of each of the first two paragraphs includes the word “expected.” That is what worries me.

Here is what I know:

  • I have had two cases of students who have been quarantined in my hybrid courses from exposure to someone who was positive. Both are students who self-reported to me that this was the case, and neither had actually been in class since they were exposed.
  • I have two students who were reported to me as being quarantined. The softball team was exposed with at least one positive COVID-19 case on the team. They are all quarantined. I have two softball players in my online classes, and so I was not exposed to them.
  • There have officially been 17 positive COVID-19 cases reported on all campuses, which is 13 students and 4 faculty/staff

That’s the extent of what I know. And my worry goes back to the question of “expected.” I expect that our case count on my community college should be low. The majority of our students are commuter students. We have a small dorm population (under 300 for a campus of about 6000 students), and so there is less opportunity for spread from a dorm-living situation as there is at a lot of 4-year universities. So, the majority of what would be here would be community spread. And, if everyone is wearing their mask and behaving responsibly, then there should not be that much spread.

However, without widespread testing and with only an “expectation” that people report, I don’t really have any idea what is going on. I assume that we are doing relatively well, and our numbers are certainly low. In fact, I sincerely hope that we stay very low in cases. I just worry if we are getting the whole picture.

This is not unique to my college at all. It is the same thing I worry about going out in public anywhere that we go. I have two sons who are also going to my community college, and so realistically, there are three of us scattered throughout college buildings and classrooms who could be exposed. One of my sons had his class meet virtually last week because the professor had positive cases in the class, but I don’t know when those cases were and if my son was exposed. Both of my daughters are currently in online schooling, but we are considering sending the youngest back to in-person school, as the online schooling is really rough on all of us. That will be one more exposure vector to worry about. And, for each of us, there’s the question of bringing it back to a 6-person household.

(And, as an aside, yes, we had an encounter at a local store last week where there was a family of five where none were wearing masks in a store where masks are required. Not only were they not asked to leave or wear a mask, but the young kids were running up and down aisles while the husband was calling people who showed displeasure at their behavior “sheep” for wearing masks. He was very obviously looking for a confrontation, and we quickly wrapped our shopping up and got out of there.)

So, what I can say is that I am worried. I’m worried that there are more cases than reported, both at the college and in the larger community, because we don’t have widespread testing. I am worried that, despite everything we are doing to try and stay safe, simply the fact that a number of us are going out of the house and into public regularly means that we are going to bring it home.

But what I really worry about is the problem of how hard it is to prove a negative. Every time I think about it, I can see ways I could be exposed. It is hard to prove safety from exposure. It is hard to prove that everyone around me has been trying to be as safe and protected as I have been. It is hard to know what level of risk I’m at on a day-to-day basis.

I hope that there are only 17 cases at the community college where I work, and I hope that everything I am doing is keeping me and my family safe. But I don’t know. To echo how I ended my last post, it is just one more thing…

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Mask Requirements? – 09/19/2020

We just finished up Week 4 of the semester, and I wanted to put in a couple of thoughts on how it has gone. I’m going to break this up into a number of posts, just so that this is not just one really long post.

Today’s topic is masks.

Sigh.

Masks.

Yes, we have a mask wearing requirement at my community college. I am fully in support of that policy, and I have not had any people in my classes who have been openly defiant or confrontational about masks. However, that does not mean this has all been easy.

I am a very hands-off professor when it comes to what students can and cannot do in the classroom. I have traditionally allowed all levels of eating and drinking, allowed students to come and go as they choose, had a minimal attendance policy, and largely allowed them unlimited access to technology during class.

The only time that I am not very lenient is if whatever the student is doing is noticeably distracting others who are trying to learn. This most often comes up with regard to cell phones or laptops, but it has also come up with food before – there are just some foods that are inherently distracting.

Now, with masks, it has become something that I have to deal with every day. The campus has a clear mask policy, as in they are required at all times on campus. From what I have seen, most students (and those who enforce it) don’t apply that much to students walking around outside, but it is certainly to apply to those in class.

Here is what our policy says:

“To avoid confusion and promote consistency, … masks (face coverings) are a requirement for presence anywhere on … campuses.”

Everything beyond that is up to the instructor in the classroom. So, for someone who is generally hands-off, I am the one who has to monitor what face coverings are being worn and whether they are being worn properly. Again, this has not been a problem in any of my classes so far, but it is something that I worry about. In other words, it ends up being that one more thing to think about each time I’m in class.

As of this week, we have also been told that our failure to ensure that masks are being worn and being worn correctly will result in us being written up. So, it is not just my responsibility to monitor, but it is also my responsibility to enforce. Again, it is not that I do not agree and not that I personally would feel a lot safer if everyone is wearing masks correctly in a classroom with relatively poor ventilation that we all sit in for 75 minutes at a time. It is more that this becomes just that one more thing.

We are already navigating a new semester, a new set of students, new expectations on social distancing, last minute changes to instruction, teaching with both social distancing and masks (I really don’t mind teaching in a mask, but that’s for a later post), and just the general atmosphere of anxiety and fear. To add to that the need to enforce mask requirements among my students is just another thing to add.

And, yes, I know this probably seems quite minor, and again it has not been a major issue. It just is one more thing. And this is a semester of a lot of one more things …

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Campus Guidelines – 08/28/2020

In trying to figure everything out on how to teach in a pandemic this semester, we received a lot of different emails from administrators and staff at my college. I had to clarify and render all of the different information down into a format that I could present to my students. I just thought I would share here what that ended up looking like. I am going to share the one from my hybrid classes as they are the ones who have to come to campus at some point.

This is what my syllabus starts with this semester:

COVID-19 Information

Due to the COVID-19 situation this semester, the following restrictions are in place for the Fall semester:

  • Teaching and workspaces will be limited to 50% of maximum capacity. Students in this class will be divided into two cohorts, with each cohort meeting on either Monday or Wednesday. This cohort division will be visible in the Canvas classroom and will be communicated to you via email and Canvas Announcement. You will not be allowed to attend class on a day when your cohort is not allowed to attend.
  • Same day attendance tracking through Canvas is mandatory for all hybrid classes. 
  • Assigned seating is mandatory for all hybrid courses.
  • A student reporting potential illness serves as sufficient grounds to excuse the absence. This means you are not allowed on campus or in the classroom if you: 
    1. have current symptoms of illness
    2. have been exposed to someone who has symptoms of illness and have not yet been cleared by a health professional to return to class and/or passed the quarantine stage
    3. have received a positive test for COVID-19 and have not yet been cleared by a health professional to return to class
    4. are quarantined because someone you have been in contact with has received a positive test for COVID-19
  • Students who are COVID-19 positive must report this status to Student Services. Students are not required to disclose symptoms to anyone, including your instructor. This means that you do not have to tell me anything more than that one of those 4 conditions above applies to you (and you do not have to tell me which one).
    • If you are actively sick with COVID-19, you are not expected to complete work for the class at that time. If the symptoms are mild, you are welcome to keep up with the work as you feel able to.
      • You will contact the instructor once your sickness has ended to see about what make-up work will be needed.
    • If you are quarantined but not actually sick, you are expected to keep up with all assignments for each week as if you are in the cohort that is not coming to campus. You are not allowed on campus during the quarantine, and so even if your cohort is to meet in-person that week, you will be online only that week.
  • In the event of a COVID-19 positive confirmation in a College building, the institution will:
    • Identify locations impacted and implement cleaning protocols.
    • Complete trace procedures to identify those who may have come in contact.
    • Notify those who may have come into contact while protecting the identities of the COVID-19 positive individual.
  • Employees and students will self-monitor temperatures as well as other COVID-19 symptoms through the wellness self-check.
    • Students shall be introduced to the wellness check during the first class meeting. Self-check signage/messages will be posted in classrooms and workspaces.
  • It is the responsibility of the student to have and wear a mask. A student who cannot wear a mask but who does not have an approved exception should not take face-to-face classes. If this applies to you, you need to go to Student Services to see about moving to an online class.
  • Eating and drinking occur in private offices when a lone occupant is present or outside College buildings, where the College has provided seating. Classrooms and instructional support locations are never eating or drinking sites.
  • Breaks from classes to allow for personal wellbeing are allowed and encouraged. 
  • Students and faculty are encouraged to bring wipes if they so choose and to clean their workspaces before and after uses. Disinfectant wipes should be placed in the wastebasket in each classroom after use.
  • We are maximizing fresh air flow into College buildings to decrease the potential virus load. Classroom and workspace doors shall remain open when occupied. All unoccupied rooms will remain locked.
  • Faculty Office hours will be maintained with student visits occurring by appointment only. Maintain social distancing at all times and keep records of visits for tracing purposes. Faculty members are encouraged to conduct meetings via Skype, Big Blue Button, or Zoom when telecommunication serves the student.

You will be required to confirm during the first week of class that you understand and will abide by these restrictions. If you do not agree to abide by these restrictions, you will need to go to Student Services to be transferred to an online class if available. 

Finally, if things change through the semester, I will contact you with what the changes are and how that will affect us as we move forward.

Thoughts on Teaching – First Week Craziness – 08/27/2020

Well, the first week of Fall 2020 is coming to a close. It was quite a week.

So, what is #3. I was not on campus, but my department chair was. My hybrid classes were to meet on Wednesdays, and he checked to see if the same room was open on Mondays at the same time. When he found out they were, he authorized splitting my hybrids in two, with half meeting on Mondays for the semester and half meeting on Wednesdays. This is a very good thing for the purposes of getting all of my students in the class once a week, which is really pretty necessary with a hybrid class.

It began with a blur of changes. All of those options that I referred to in my previous post as to how the fall semester was going to work were thrown out the door on Monday. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing, as I would have liked to have #1 as the option and really did not want #2 as the option. What I ended up with was #3, however. And since I did not even know about #3 until Monday, it required a lot of scrambling and a recreation of many parts of my hybrid classes.

The complicating factors, however, are many.

  • For one, not every student can switch, as some have scheduled other classes in that time on Monday and others didn’t do classes on Monday because they were already working or had other obligations. So, even after splitting the classes, which was left completely up to me on how to do it, I then had a couple of days of exchanging announcements and emails back and forth with students to get everyone in the section where they could meet, either on Monday or Wednesday
  • Second, I generally avoid Monday hybrid classes, as there is always one more Monday missed than all other days in the semester (Labor Day and MLK Day). Now, with not making this change until after Monday classes would have met this week, I have essentially lost two Monday classes in comparison with the Wednesday section. I have somewhat solved this by having the Monday class meet once in finals week and having the week of Labor Day be an online-only week.
  • Third, I now have to (and am still) double all due dates on all assignments, as the Monday and Wednesday meetings will necessarily have different due dates. I had to recreate the syllabus to reflect this first, and I finished that up on Tuesday. Now, I am still in the process of doubling all assignment due dates so that there are different ones for Monday and Wednesday. This is not a hard thing, but it is both tedious and time consuming.
  • Fourth, Canvas does not easily allow you to divide up students inside your classroom, and so I had to work around some things to get the students to only see the due dates that were relevant for them.
    • And, on that note, McGraw-Hill Connect (which I use in my classes) does not allow you to have different due dates for a single section, meaning that everybody’s due date became the later due date

Whew!

And that’s just the hybrid stuff I had to do.

We also had the very fun situation of having changed over our ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) this semester. The changes have made two complications for our classes.

  1. About half of the classes in our system could not bring students into the Canvas classrooms. This was not solved until late on Monday. This just added to everyone’s stress level for starting the semester. There’s nothing like taking or teaching online classes and having students not be able to access anything in that time.
  2. This same ERP changeover affected those of us who use McGraw-Hill Connect, as both the faculty and any students who had used Connect prior to this semester had to go to McGraw-Hill’s tech support to have their logins reset. While this was not difficult, it was again one extra step.

So, all of that adds up to me being much further behind on the Thursday of the first week of classes than I would normally be. But, I am catching up and moving forward. I just hope we are done with these types of issues for a while.

How has your start of the semester been?

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Fall Semester (?) – 8/21/2020

I write this on the near-eve of starting back to the Fall semester. There has not been a semester like this before in my lifetime, for sure.

I finished up a fully-online summer session just last week, although that was not unusual for me, as I normally teach online-only in the summer. The only two differences were that I did not have access to a testing center for my students and I did not hold any face-to-face office hours. That saved me a bit on gas, not having to commute to campus (about a 50-mile round trip), but the effect was largely the same as any other summer. So, my summer teaching in a pandemic was barely different than my normal teaching in the summer.

This coming semester, however, is going to be intense. It is going to be uncertain. As of right now, the Friday before the semester starts on Monday, there are still a number of things in the works and decisions that have not been finalized, leaving a lot of things in the air.

I am, much like in the summer, fairly well positioned already for this upcoming semester. I already teach online, which is what 3/5 of my classes are this semester. The other two classes are hybrids that have run about 70/30 online/face-to-face, meaning that they are also pretty much ready to go with only minor adjustments. The only thing giving me anxiety about them right now is the question of if I am going to have to hybridize my hybrids. Both of them are in classrooms where the full class cannot meet at one time and still maintain social distancing. There are two ways this can work out this semester:

  1. If bigger rooms can be found for the two hybrid sections, then they will run just as normal hybrid classes this semester.
  2. If not, then I have to hybridize the hybrids. That means that there will be two cohorts of students, and half will meet on one week and half on the next week, with each student ultimately meeting face-to-face for half of the normal number of sessions. For a hybrid class that would only meet 16 times a semester, that would mean each student only meets 8 times, with the rest of the class being fully online.

I call this hybridizing the hybrid because all face-to-face classes are already being hybridized at my community college. The classes are being divided in half if they are not in a room large enough for everyone to fit, and then half meet on the first day of the week and half on the second.

And, just as a side note, I will not know if I get option 1 or 2 above until sometime early in the coming week. And, when it is known, there is not a clear indication of how I am going to get every student to know what changes there might be, especially if some of them are not to show up on the first day we meet (Wednesday).

If this all sounds really complicated, it is. It is stretching all of our imaginations, our resources, and our capabilities across the college. But we are managing so far. It is nobody’s fault that things are this way, but it certainly makes everything difficult.

I will return soon to talk more about what this semester looks like, but that’s where we stand at this point.

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – 7/28/2020

It is no coincidence that my last post here in the blog was just before I started up teaching again. It is my standard online summer class, and so there is no direct effect on my teaching from the pandemic except for the switch to take-home tests since our testing center is closed.

However, life has been busy beyond just the teaching. So, let’s catch up on a few things (maybe this one should be called “Life in a Pandemic.”

  • I have been attending a number of workshops, conferences, and meetings (all virtual). I don’t think I have ever had as much choice of things that I can attend related to teaching, and I have been trying to do as many as I can, as free and professional development are two words that do not often go together.
  • My youngest daughter is at a Montessori school. The school started a summer session in early July. They offered it for free to help the students catch up on what they might have missed from all of the disruptions in the spring. It lasted two weeks, then they shut it down for a week because one person tested positive, then it came back for 2 days, and then it was shut down for good when our county shut down all public and private (but not religious private) schools until September 28.
  • My oldest daughter, who is entering her senior year of high school, was given the choice between going face-to-face or online this coming school year. We left that decision up to her. What she decided was to go online-only. When looking at all of the guidelines, she thought it was too uncertain to even try face-to-face. Of course, as noted in the previous point, her school will also be affected by the online only until September 28, but she was going to do that anyway.
  • My sons, who both just finished up their freshman years at 4-year universities, have made the decision to go to my community college for the moment. I’m not going to go into the reasons specifically, but this was something we had all been hashing out over the summer. It is definitely hard to justify paying the money for a university (especially the one going to a private university) that may or may not be running and may or may not be having in-person classes. Both may stay as long as two years at my community college, as they can largely get what they need there for a while.
  • Finally, there’s the question of what I’m doing in the fall. There is no official word from my community college that anything has changed. The schedule that students are signing up for now is the same as the one published prior to the pandemic with some more online classes added. I am scheduled to teach 2 hybrid sections and 3 online sections, which would be my normal Fall load. But there is just too much uncertainty to know how all of it is going to play out. I’m in better shape then many, as I have a fully ready online class, and that is over half of what I am teaching anyway. I do not know yet if my hybrid will actually be a class that meets face-to-face or not, but that is where we are going so far. With all of the uncertainty, that’s really all I can say at this point.

So, there we go. Everybody in the family is up in the air. All six of us are back to living in the house, although that’s not as much of an adjustment as some, since the boys were only gone from the beginning of the Fall semester last year through Spring Break. I guess we shall see if we get any more clarity as we move forward.

Thoughts on Teaching – Series on Student Reflection, Part 2 – 7/4/2020

In Part 2 of this series, I am going to look at why I decided to introduce and include student reflection in my courses.

I started out using what I called reflection responses in my hybrid class, largely as a check on making sure that students were actually paying attention in class to what we were talking about. The first two semesters I used them, they took the form of questions that I posted in the last 5 minutes of class, with the answers due the next day. This both helped make sure the students stayed for the whole class and helped me see if they were understanding the main points from the day. I was reasonably happy about this method, but in a class that is discussion-based, the difficulty was both in making sure I ended with enough time to write out a question and in not being able to set the question before that point in time as I did not know how the discussion might go. As it became more of a burden, I moved to a new type of reflection in my hybrid courses the next semester.

In Spring 2019, I changed over the reflection responses in my hybrid course, giving the first ones that look like the assignment I discussed in Part 1 of this series. I started using a set series of questions that were released on the day of the class and then due the next day, giving them about 36 hours to complete them. While they were not tied specifically to the discussion, I still tied them to the larger themes of that week in the class. Again, that worked reasonably well.

In Spring 2019, I attended the TxDLA conference in Galveston, TX, and heard another session on the ideas of having the students do self-reflection. It was not the first time at all, but it was the one that really triggered me to consider expanding their use. That conference also started getting me to think about reflection more as a way to have the students set their own goals for how they would complete the material and allow me to check in on both their progress in the course and their overall attitudes each week.

In combination with the ideas from the conference, I had reformatted my online course in the 2018-19 school year, moving from weekly due dates to a unit format, with each unit being open for 3-5 weeks and all assignments in the unit due at the end of the unit. I was overall pleased with how that was going, but a certain percentage of students were waiting until the last minute every unit and then not being able to complete everything. For other students, they were really confused on what they should be doing each week, as they could not plan well enough to be able to spread out the material to get it all done in a 3-5 week period.

So, in Fall 2019, I introduced the reflection responses as I detailed in Part 1. The immediate benefits were that I could help direct the students in what they should be working on each week to keep on track. The questions asked also put it in their own minds that they did need to plan out how they were spending their time in the course. I also used the “nudge” approach by mentioning certain upcoming assignments in the middle questions, getting them to realize that certain deadlines or assignments were coming up that they might not have on their radar yet. I saw an immediate improvement in their own self-reported progress in the course, although I have not had a chance yet to go back and run any comparison numbers to see what it might have changed in grades.

The bigger surprise was the answers to the final question — the open-ended one. From the beginning, a good 1/2 to 2/3 of the students were answering that question. I was getting at least a paragraph and sometimes multiple paragraphs about what was going on in their lives. I started having a much better sense of what their lives were like and what challenges they were facing outside of class. I also heard about birthdays, celebrations, pets, relatives, accidents, funerals, successes, failures, and just about everything else you can imagine. While I can say that not all of what they wrote were things that I necessarily wanted to know, it kept me appraised of what they were doing with their lives and how they were fitting my class in with everything else going on. I had a better idea of why one student might not be completing assignments on time or why another student might need an extension on an assignment. I could see ahead of time when a student might be struggling with something, and I could send congratulations to them when something positive happened.

Over the past two semesters, I have found the whole process to be very rewarding. In the next post, I will talk more about the student response to the reflections they were asked to fill out.

Thoughts about Teaching – Teaching about Race – An Assignment for Students – 6/29/2020

In teaching about race at a community college in introductory American history courses, you get used to students saying that they are learning things that they had never encountered before in their previous history classes. This is even more true for issues of race in American history, especially in teaching at a majority white institution (although that has actually become less true than when I started 14 years ago).

I wanted to give an example here of one assignment that I give my students in my hybrid courses. It introduces students to a portion of American history that is usually left out. I will admit that I had not even heard about it through my own undergraduate and graduate education. However, I have come to believe that you cannot understand any of the ongoing racial issues in our country today, especially those between African Americans and police, if you are unaware of what happened in the period after emancipation and especially after Reconstruction.

As a side note, for those of you who might not be interested in looking at a full assignment, I urge you to go and either watch the documentary Slavery by Another Name and/or read the book Slavery by Another Name. It is such a fundamental part of understanding American racial history, but I find that I am introducing it for the first time to most people who I mention it to. So, even if you don’t want to delve into what I have below here, do yourself a favor and go watch it. I cannot link it directly, as PBS has made the decision not to offer it streaming on their website anymore. However, a quick YouTube search will give you numerous places to watch it. I am not endorsing bypassing the source of the documentary itself, but I have never understood why they can’t offer their documentaries on their website for viewing, especially one as fundamental as this one. I had our library purchase it so that my students can always have a stable place to see the documentary.

For those of you who would like to see what one of my assignments looks like for my hybrid course, I have included the one that is based around Slavery by Another Name here. This is what my students see for their first week of my HIST 1302 hybrid course. I am leaving out the link to the documentary that is in the assignment, and you can see the previous paragraph as to why.

Week 2 Activity

Skills for Week 2

    For Week 2 of HIST 1302, we are going to start with a continuation of the last topic in HIST 1301. We will look at what happens in the South with the end of Reconstruction and how slave-like conditions would continue well into the twentieth century.

    Week 2 is aimed at the following core competencies for history as developed by the American Historical Association:

  1. Build historical knowledge.
    1. Gather and contextualize information in order to convey both the particularity of past lives and the scale of human experience.
    1. Recognize how humans in the past shaped their own unique historical moments and were shaped by those moments.
    1. Develop a body of historical knowledge with breadth of time and place—as well as depth of detail—in order to discern context.
  2. Develop historical methods.
    1. Recognize history as an interpretive account of the human past—one that historians create in the present from surviving evidence.
    1. Practice ethical historical inquiry that makes use of and acknowledges sources from the past as well as the scholars who have interpreted that past.
    1. Develop empathy toward people in the context of their distinctive historical moments
  3. Recognize the provisional nature of knowledge, the disciplinary preference for complexity, and the comfort with ambiguity that history requires.
    1. Describe past events from multiple perspectives.
    1. Explain and justify multiple causes of complex events and phenomena using conflicting sources.
  4. Use historical perspective as central to active citizenship.
    1. Apply historical knowledge and historical thinking to contemporary issues.

Overview of the Week’s Assignment

For a period of nearly eighty years, between the Civil War and World War II, Southern blacks were no longer slaves, but they were not yet free. Generations of black Southerners lived in the shadow and under the threat of being forced to labor against their will.

Legally, slavery was outlawed by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, “except as a punishment for crime,” and even before Reconstruction ended in 1877, many Southern states began enacting a series of laws intended to re-subjugate newly freed blacks and provide cheap sources of labor. Vagrancy, loitering, riding the rails, changing jobs, even talking too loudly in public — these behaviors and more — all became crimes carrying stiff fines or sentences. Although these statutes made no mention of race, Southerners knew that they were intended as instruments of white control. The result was a huge increase in the numbers of blacks arrested and convicted.

Peonage or debt slavery, an illegal but widespread practice, flourished. Many black men were picked up for these minor crimes or on trumped-up charges. When faced with staggering fines and court fees, these men were then forced to work for a local employer who would pay their fines for them.

Others were victims of laws that made it a crime to leave employment for another job, keeping many blacks working under intolerable conditions as sharecroppers or elsewhere, rather than face the terrifying possibility of being arrested and sent to a forced labor camp. In other cases, workers would become indebted to planters (through sharecropping loans) merchants (through credit) or company stores (through living expenses). The workers were often unable to re-pay the debt, and found themselves continuously forced to work without pay.

Convict leasing, a form of forced labor that was legal, occurred in concert with Southern state and county governments. These governments realized they could lease their convicts to local planters or industrialists who would pay minimal rates for the workers and be responsible for their housing and feeding — thereby eliminating costs and increasing revenue. Soon markets for convict laborers developed, with entrepreneurs buying and selling convict labor leases.

The victims of forced labor were disproportionately black and poor. Ostensibly developed as a social solution to prison costs or insolvent debtors, in reality, forced labor was tightly bound to systems of racial oppression, and its abolishment accompanied the growth of a greater public concern for fairness and equality.

Additionally, the history of forced labor in the South is connected to a number of major events in American history ranging from Reconstruction to the New Deal. Today, forced labor, in various forms, continues to exist around the world.

Background Information

While all of Chapter 18 is assigned for reading this week, the Weekly Activity is specifically focused around the sections on the South.  You should reread and concentrate on pages 356-61 as a general background before viewing the video linked below.  You also should read the lecture for this week, especially the first three lecture points, “The End of Reconstruction,” “The New South,” and “Jim Crow.”

For more specific background on the ideas discussed in the video, you can also refer to the following webpages for more information:

The Documentary

Here is the documentary: (documentary link removed)

The documentary is 90 minutes long and will stream directly through your browser.    

While you are watching the video, I would like you to consider the following questions. You do not have to submit answers to these questions to me, but they will help you be prepared for what we are going to discuss in class.

  1. In what forms has forced labor been practiced in the past?
  2. How is the forced labor that was practiced in the American South after the Civil War connected to broader American history?
  3. What impacts did the use of forced labor have in the American South? Do these impacts continue to affect us today?

Before-Class Writing Assignment

To prepare for class, you need to submit a 250-word response to the Canvas classroom. You can find the submission link on the Week 2 Assignments page. You can either enter the response in the text box or upload a response in one of the following formats: .txt, .rtf, .doc, or .docx.

Access the following short videos to guide you in writing your submission:

  • Reflections on Peonage – This video is from a StoryCorps oral history that features Kate Willis and her cousin Susan Burnore, descendants of John Williams, a plantation owner who practiced peonage. In this clip Willis, who wrote a high school paper about peonage and her family’s connection to it, defines the practice as well as discusses how it operated and how it differs from slavery.  The clip is about a minute and a half long.
  • Reflections on Robert Franklin – This video is from a StoryCorps oral history that features Robert Corley, a descendant of Robert N. Franklin, a white shop owner who benefited from forced labor. Here, Corley, an historian, talks about how he felt to find out about his great-grandfather’s role in the illegal practice. Corley discusses John Davis, a 23-year-old black sharecropper who after encountering Franklin, was fraudulently charged, imprisoned, and subsequently forced into labor while traveling in Alabama. As an historian, Corley also provides context regarding forced labor and racial attitudes of the time.  The clip is about five minutes long.
  • The System at Work – In this book excerpt from the book Slavery by Another Name, author Douglas A. Blackmon writes about how an intricate system of forced labor, supported by local criminal justice systems, operated in the American South, by examining the inner workings of the farm of John Pace, who used forced labor. The audio excerpt is about two and a half minutes long.

Using the materials presented here, your response for this week is on the following topic:  I am fairly certain that you have never heard of any of this before, as it is not a topic generally covered at all (outside of sharecropping).  What is your initial reaction to it?  Why do you think it is something that is generally not discussed or remembered?  How has it affected racial relations in the American South through today?  Please use specific examples from the background information, documentary, and/or supplementary videos to illustrate your thoughts.

In-Class Discussion

We will discuss the following:

  • What was the system of peonage and contract labor like?
  • What conditions in the South led to the development of the system?
  • What have the consequences been for the US through the period of time we will be studying and through today?
  • What does this change about the way we think about the US and the American South?
  • How does it help us understand racial issues that still face the US today?

Thoughts about Teaching – Teaching about Race – Starting the Conversation – 6/27/2020

I am going to talk about teaching about race as a relevant topic in today’s world. Teaching about race has been a primary part of my own American history classes and of both my undergraduate and graduate studies.

I was first introduced to discussions of race in American history during my time studying history at Rice University. The courses taught by Dr. Edward Cox there opened my eyes to a whole new sense of the world that I simply did not have from my K-12 experience. Although I went to diverse schools overall in K-12, being in the honors/gifted program meant being primarily around whites. I had never even thought of why that was or what might be wrong with that model until my undergraduate studies.

Courses in the history department at Rice in the African American experience, in Caribbean and Latin American history, and in the history of the Civil Rights Movement all served to provide me with a broader understanding of the history of race. History put me on that path to understanding, and it is a path that I am still on today.

While Dr. Cox was certainly not the only one at Rice from whom I learned about the history of race and racial issues, his courses were so crucial to my growing understanding that I still look back fondly on him and his classes today (over 2 decades later). I took every class that he offered while at Rice and only wish I could relive some of those classes now, knowing what I do, as I think I could get even more out of them in the current era.

In graduate school at Penn State, I did not have as much exposure directly to African American history or the history of race overall, but I still was able to read a diverse set of materials in my classes, and the Civil War focus of a number of my graduate courses did give me a good background in the ideas of slavery and emancipation.

While I had many strong history professors as a graduate student at Penn State, the one who still sticks out to me is Dr. Thavolia Glymph, who is now at Duke University. Her Slavery and Emancipation class was transformative for me. It was certainly one of the most difficult classes I had at Penn State, with a reading load that was astoundingly high on a weekly basis (think between 600-800 pages a week with over 1000 pages a week a couple of times). It was also a strange class, as there were five of us in the class, all white men from the South and West, who were taking a class on slavery from a black woman. I admire her patience and understanding with us, and I still remember the class today as a key one in my education. The amount of information in the class was so high, that I do wish that I could go back and take the same class a second time, this time without the time pressure and cramped setting of a full graduate semester, just so that I could delve deeper and understand the concepts, theories, and ideas with more time for consideration.

I did not set out to be a historian of African American history (although I strongly considered that as a focus while an undergraduate), and I still am learning all the time about issues of race and ethnicity in the United States. I feel moderately educated in African American history, and I have often regretted not going into that as a specialty going into graduate school, as it has become more and more of a field of strong interest for me. I am still woefully undereducated in many other fields of the history of race, have taken almost no courses on Mexican-American or even broader Latin American and South American history. I also never once took a course on Native American history or many other specific ethnic groups in the American history experience. So, for much of what we might consider the history of non-white American history, I am still very much a beginner.

I wish I knew more, but I bring what I do to my courses and to my life. In the context of a national conversation about race, I do my part by staying current and applying the lessons of history to what is going on around us today. I hope to show some of these things about how I think about and teach race in American history as I move forward in this series.

Thoughts on Teaching – Series on Student Reflection, Part 1 – 6/24/2020

This is the first substantive post of my new series on student reflection. I have detailed where this series comes from in my previous post introducing the series.

In this post, I am going to describe the student reflection assignment that I have used for 4 semesters now. Later posts in the series will deal with why I use student reflection (Part 2), the student response to these reflections (Part 3), my thoughts on how they are going and what they can help with (Part 4), and then what use they can be in our new pandemic world (Part 5).

I started using student reflection as a part of my hybrid classes starting in Fall 2018. For the first year of using them, they were more aimed at making sure the students were paying attention in class, but they slowly morphed into something more than just a reflection on the class. Over the summer of 2019, I made the decision to move student reflection into my online course and to change up the use of them in the hybrid class.

In Part 2 of this series, I will delve more into why I use them and why I made the changes. For now, I just want to give you the format of them.

Each week, my students are asked to submit a response to the following 5 questions. I have no specific word count on this assignment, and I grade only on if they complete it.

  1. What did you do in the class in the past week? (After the first week, I add a second question: How does that match up with what you said you would do in the previous week’s reflection?)
  2. What are you planning on doing for this class in the upcoming week?
  3. This question relates to something going on inside the course. This can be something like:
    1. Have you started working on a particular assignment yet?
    2. Reminder to make sure they know something is coming up, like the drop deadline.
    3. Question about how they responded to a specific assignment, especially if I am trying something new.
  4. This question relates to something going on outside of the course, such as:
    1. How are the other courses going that you are taking?
    2. If it is later in the semester, what advice would they now give themselves at the beginning of the semester?
    3. What is the best piece of advice they have received about succeeding in college?
    4. What one change would they make in the course if they had the ability?
    5. Are you planning on attending/participating in this particular thing going on at the college?
    6. What are your plans for after you finish the course/finish at the college
    7. And, especially after the COVID-19 shutdown, this question became one about how they were doing and if they needed help with anything.
  5. Lastly, is there anything else you want to tell me, either about yourself, about the class, or about something interesting in your life? This last question is your free space to write whatever you want to. If you do not want to write anything, that is fine, but I wanted to give everyone some space each week to write whatever they want with no judgment on my part. I will read it, but that is all, unless you ask me for advice or have questions.

So, for each student (I start out the semester with about 200-220 and end up with about 170-180), I get a response back to these questions every week. As noted at the beginning of this post, I will be exploring aspects of this assignment as I move forward with this series.