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 in a Pandemic – The Students – 05/18/2020
My last post was a general reflection on my teaching during a pandemic. It was on my own experience and how it affected me. Today, I want to talk about how my students responded to the changes that came this semester.
- As I noted in my last post, the online students’ experience didn’t change a huge amount, but really the experiences of both the online and hybrid students did change.
- The majority of students expressed a feeling of overwhelm and anxiety to me with the switch. For a lot of the hybrid students, they were taking hybrid because they did not want an online class, but they said that since the class did not change significantly that it was not a major issue.
- For my classes, the fact that we lost a week and had to make things up pushed assignments closer together.
- As well, while I do think students often take Spring Break to do some catch up in their classes in a normal semester, we extended the Spring Break by a week this year. This 2-week Spring Break was very unproductive for them because of how the world was overturned. Not only that, but it also took longer for them to get back into working on classes at the level they had previously.
- So, even though I moved some assignments to extra credit rather than required and moved the exam to a take-home, there still was a feeling that they were doing more than usual in my class each week.
- However, while many said they were working more for my class, almost all who were in multiple classes said that their workloads for school had gone up even more for other classes. I heard many say that the result of changing online out of face-to-face classes was that the expectations and workload seemed to go up dramatically. I have no insight beyond that, as few said why that changed happened and I did not want to pry into what other faculty were doing, but the universal feeling was that classes that were face-to-face that went online got both more demanding and more difficult to complete.
- Here is what one student said: “I got really behind this last unit, having more than one online class (since they all got put online) has been really hard to keep up with all the work. And effectively giving each class time in your day is very challenging, So with that being said, I did not participate in this discussion forum. I hope no one else is in the same boat and struggling to stay a float with all their classes being online! I miss face-to-face classes so much. A lot of my classes are 10 times the work online. Finish Strong!”
- A majority of students reported difficulties in prioritizing school work.
- For some it was because they were now working more because they are essential workers or now had time off to add hours to their jobs.
- As one online student put it: “I personally have 2 classes online including this one, but besides having these classes I have been working almost every day including weekends now because I have more responsibility for my projects. the quarantine didn’t stop the company I am working for because of the nature of what we do. However, I have been feeling like I am not productive enough and so I started to do some online courses, reading new books and also I started to do the extra credit assignment. So far I have tried to keep a daily schedule to keep up.”
- For others, the loss of jobs meant that they now had financial strains that impacted their ability to do their work for classes.
- I did not keep track of everyone who reported this, but I had a number of students tell me that either they had lost work or that people in their families had lost work.
- For some it was because they were now working more because they are essential workers or now had time off to add hours to their jobs.
- What I heard the most, however, was that the isolation was quite intense for the younger students who were now stuck at home with their families, especially those who relied on leaving the house to get work done because of chaotic home environments.
- For those who are older and have kids, they had the same experience that I have had – namely that I am now educating my kids and/or trying to keep them focused and entertained. We are now at home all the time, fixing way more meals at home, and having to run all sorts of educational and Zoom sessions for my kids. Those with kids noted that the shift to having kids at home and having to educate/monitor them was a primary distraction to getting real work done.
- As one online student put it: “Hello! I hope everyone has been staying safe and healthy as we are coming to the end of the semester! Summer is almost here and thankfully this week most states are gradually opening back up again so hello sun! These past few weeks have been crazy at home though I haven’t been working from there…So while having a family at home while I was working a bit more than usual school seems like a lot as all of my classes are coming to an end. This class has been great I have been working hard in this unit 5 I am actually almost done with it!!! I think the most stressful part about this class at the moment is the Final paper only because all of my other classes have a final paper due the week too. Anyways I hope everyone is doing great any comments about unit 5 or the paper please leave I’m interested to know where others are at the moment in the course.”
Those are just some of my thoughts about how the students have reacted to the situation in my own experience. For those of you who are teaching or for those taking classes, what was your experience?
Thoughts on Life – Work-Life Balance – 6/14/2016
So, hello again. Yes. I know. I have not been on here in a while. In fact, if you look back at the posting history on this blog, I have not been posting regularly since the fall of 2014. Here it is, the summer of 2016. So, what happened?
We had our fourth kid in the fall of 2012, and by the time I stopped posting regularly, she was up and running around the house. In fact, if I look back at my extracurricular work (blogging, Coursera courses, and the like), a lot of it stopped around that time. I was able to keep going through the first couple of years until she was very mobile and demanding on time. I can’t say it was a conscious decision, but it was something that my wife and I had conversations about. We discussed the constant pressure that I felt to be on all the time in my job. With a teaching load that is at least half online, there is pressure to be doing work 24/7, and, to a certain extent, I was. However, since that point, I have tried to incorporate more family time and more free time into what I do, so that I am not constantly expected to be working. I am not saying I was constantly working, but I was always work-aware, checking email, looking at my courses, and trying to fill my free time with relevant activities. That all changed around the spring of 2015, when I changed how I balance my work and my life to be biased more toward life. And, this blogging has been one of the things that has dropped off.
Another decision that affected the blogging came straight from this decision. I had always had Sunday evening online office hours, even though few students ever attended them. I took two hours out of every Sunday and sat in front of the computer in my office on a video-conferencing program to be available to my students. That was an ideal time to also sit down and write a blog entry, as I had to be in front of the computer doing work for that time. Of course, since almost no students ever came on, I had the time for blogging as well. After the fall of 2014, I dropped these hours because they were so poorly attended and because they were more of an inconvenience that a help to my own work-life balance. While occasionally productive, it brought work home even more directly than I do now, and it was something that became harder and harder as the toddler got more mobile. Dropping those hours is not something I regret, and it has again moved me more toward the life side of the work-life balance, but it has had an impact as well.
In looking back on it, I have mixed feelings about the change. I miss blogging regularly, and I feel more disconnected from my work at times. It also has made my actual work time more stressful, as there is more pressure to get things done in the time I am working. As well, when work does poke into life, as it did in the last semester because of a committee I was chairing, it is that much more stressful as well. However, the overall effect has been good. I do spend more time with my family than before, I think, and I am not as tied into work as I used to be while at home. As well, I have been reading more than I used to, especially of fiction, which I love. I have been using Goodreads to keep track of the books that I read, and during the last school year (September-May), I read 39 books. I consider that a success as well.
Lately, however, I have been feeling the need to get back into pushing myself more academically. I need to find a balance, and I have not yet figured out how to hit that balance. I do not necessarily think that I have leaned too far toward life at this point, but I do think that I have not committed myself to as much of the extracurricular work activity that I should be doing, such as keeping up this blog. I would like to take more continuing education-type courses. I would like to read more in my field (yes, of those 39 books, not a single one was a history book). I would like to work on course redesign, lecture rewriting, and new teaching methods. And, I want to do all of this without disrupting the balance too much. So, we shall see how it goes.
I guess you will see this result directly. If I am regularly posting on here, then you can see that I am working more outside of just teaching. So, keep me honest and let me know when I fall behind. Also, do you have any thoughts on this?
Thoughts on Education – 3/18/2012 – Comparing 5th graders to college students
My fifth grade boys brought home an interesting assignment on Monday. They had to write an outline for a “research” paper that they are working on. They had to pick a topic and then write a thesis statement. They had to put it all into the standard 5-paragraph essay format, putting in topic sentences for each paragraph and then listing 3 details they were going to put in each paragraph. What was interesting about that is that they really did not have a strong grasp on what a thesis statement was or how to put together the paragraphs. I saw the instructions that the teacher gave them, and it’s not like they hadn’t been taught this to a certain extent, but the boys obviously had not fully grasped it.
So, we had to have some work time on Monday on what a thesis statement is. Since these are fairly simple research papers (topics = muscle cars for one and puffins for the other), we had to start pretty basic. I had them think about why they wanted to write on those topics and then come up with three reasons for each one. So, the why they wanted to talk about the topic became their thesis, and the three reasons formed the body paragraphs. While that sounds pretty simple, it was actually a pretty long and agonizing discussion, as they had not really thought about why they had picked their topic, outside of the fact that it seemed cool. So, we had to work on some reasoning skills and delve down below the level of cool and into the reasons behind cool. It took quite a while, and one of the boys did have a short crying fit over frustration at not being able to articulate his reasons. However, we ultimately prevailed, and they were able to put together their ideas into the format that was desired.
What was interesting about that, is that we put more thought into how they were going to go about thinking and writing this paper than I think a lot of my own students do. They have just as much trouble with the idea of a thesis statement and presenting evidence, which makes me think that my 5th graders are not alone in not fully understanding this concept at this level. In fact, it seems to me that this is a concept that gets lost all the way through, as there really is no excuse for my college freshmen and sophomores to be having trouble writing a coherent thesis statement and using evidence if they are supposed to start learning about this all the way back to elementary school.
As I said, though, it was very obvious that even though my 5th graders had been taught generally how to do it, it took us a long time to translate that into a practical and working thesis and essay outline. So, maybe it is just assumed along the way that they have learned this before, when maybe they really have not.
The whole process has made me think about assumptions. I assume a lot about what the students I teach have had as a background before entering my class. As this example shows, however, just because someone is taught something, that does not mean they actually understand it. I think this is certainly a lesson that all of us in education need to consider on a regular basis.
Thoughts on Life – 3/19/2012 – Wrapping up Spring Break
Spring Break is nice. We took some serious time off and tried to rest up. I did a fairly minimal amount of work, but after about 2 1/2 weeks of grading, I was happy to have a break.
We did some house searching and found one that we really like. We are going to see it again soon so that we can fully evaluate it. We have also been pre-approved for a loan, so we are right on target. We don’t have to move out here until the end of July, but we are trying to be active here in looking for a house and coming up with the best opportunity for us. We found a 2700 sq. ft. house in our price range that seems quite perfect for what we are looking at. Plus, the kids would get to stay in their current charter school, which is perfect as well. We are continuing to look, but that house that we’ve found so far is really going to have to have something else perfect to beat it. It is exciting to look for a house, but it is also stressful. I have not slept well for days as I keep running ideas through my head rather than sleeping.
We also had one of my friends visit for a couple of days. The kids went off to stay with their grandparents for a good portion of the week, and we spent some time just hanging out as adults, something that is hard to do with three elementary-aged kids in the house. We also did, as my friend called it, a culinary tour of the city. We ate all over the place, avoiding chain restaurants and hitting various types of cuisine over the several days he was here.
Beyond that, I can’t say I got ahead on any work that I needed to do, but then, do any of us ever get as much done over Spring Break as possible?
Thoughts on Teaching – 2/20/2012 – A slow day
Today was an uninspiring teaching day. I have reworked lectures at various times over the years, and much of that has been to shorten earlier in the semester lectures so that I can make it further into the time period that I’m covering. Today was one of those lectures where I made cuts that disconnected the material from its real point. So, I struggled through the first delivery to connect everything together and show the students why this was not just a collection of random material but instead was connected and relevant. It worked better by the second class, but both classes were also depressing for another reason. The big problem is that I felt the students were more disconnected than usual today. The drops are starting, so some students are getting out of the class now, but I really have a large number of people simply not showing up. And, of those who do show up, it’s hard to peg very many of them as actually paying all that much attention. Again, it certainly wasn’t my best material at all, but it just reinforces for me the problem with a lecture. When my lecture is going really well, I might have 50-60% student engagement. Today, it felt like 20-30%, which is just depressing overall. In my second class, which is a two-way video class, the high school I was connecting to was not in session, and a lot of people were missing in front of me, so I ended up lecturing to nine people. Twenty-six out of forty in the first class was already low for this time of year, but nine is really depressing. And then to see them mostly disconnected is even worse, as there’s no hiding the fact that you’re not connecting on the material with that few students in the room.
I have been saying for a while that my lectures need to be revised soon, and this lecture was one that needs to be worked with desperately. It might work better as one that is not delivered but that is, instead, seen by the students not as an individual lecture but as a narrative supplement that I have available to enhance the hybrid class going on in the classroom. I guess that’s going to be the question when I do redo the class, whether it’s a full flip or not, which is do I present the lectures at that point in episodic form, like they are now, where there are distinct lectures, or do I format my own material like a book, putting it together in a narrative that the students can engage with like they would the textbook. They can read it in pieces or all at once. I’m thinking of an integrated lecture, with my PowerPoint images combined with the text from the lectures that can be read more like a book. I don’t know, just brainstorming here. I started that a while ago and made it through the first two lectures, coding them in Dreamweaver to bring together a web lecture. Nothing fancy except for integration of the images with text. Still, it would give the students something to read more interesting than just a Word document with an accompanying Power Point. And, this would give a good opportunity to rework the lectures, especially if I am to move beyond the delivery of the lectures and think about them more as a way to deliver my ideas to the student. I can imagine that the lectures would be different if they were aimed at being read rather than delivered. I don’t know. This will be something to think about as I move forward.
I guess all of us who teach have these days, but it was definitely less than inspiring. Beyond that, it was mostly small stuff at work, writing a recommendation letter and weighing in on the choosing of a new textbook for the class. I wish I could say there was more, but that’s about it. I have grading to do, but I did not get any done today, because that filled up my day, and by the time I got home, it was time to pick up the kids. Then, it was chores, homework time with the kids, and dinner. Now, all of the sudden, it’s 10pm. So, I shall sign off for the evening and hope for a more inspiring day tomorrow.
Miscellaneous Thoughts – 2/16/2012
Not a long post today. That tetanus shot on Tuesday is really getting me down. I’m surviving on Tylenol/Advil to keep going, but I just don’t have any real energy or drive at the moment. So, just a few thoughts here:
- Frankie really loves music, especially when I’m whistling along too it. We’re listening to Tool right now, and she is really responding.
- My wife reminded me last night that I had told her that it couldn’t be that bad when she got a tetanus shot a year ago. I admitted I was wrong.
- We had homemade spaghetti for the third time tonight. I’m going to freeze the rest of it, as three times in a row is enough of any meal.
- My wife is gone to class tonight and won’t be back until very late. She does that on Wednesday’s as well, so I am fully responsible for feeding the kids and getting them ready for bed on those nights. The other nights, we share the responsibility.
- I am very proud of my wife for finishing up her BA this spring.
- The kids had chore night tonight – vacuuming, emptying the garbage cans, emptying the dishwasher, and general cleaning. I did the dishes and am doing laundry.
- It just occurred to me that I should also go check my blood sugar soon, as feeling off and out of it is never a good sign for a diabetic. I’ve got about another hour until it’s been 2 hours since food, so I’ll check it then to see where I am. Then, I’ll have dessert. My dessert is something I made for myself, a low-sugar graham cracker crust, no sugar strawberry mousse (from a package), strawberry slices, and no sugar whipped topping.
- I have nothing else to say at the moment and will sign off for the day.