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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 – 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 in a Pandemic – Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning

One of the issues the I keep coming back to in thinking about the past semester is how we teach online. Much has been made of the difference between online teaching (which I have been doing for over a decade now) and remote learning that was forced on everyone in March of this year.

The difference between the two is vast, as a true online course is one that needs to be created from the ground up as an online course and cannot be a quick move over of face-to-face content to an online environment.

One of the real differences that I noted in the approaches to online vs. remote teaching is the question of how the learning takes place. In my online course (and as echoed by my friend Mike Smith at McNeese State University), I have taught almost exclusively asynchronously. Most of the design books that I have read and resources that I have accessed over the years have confirmed that this is the best format for fully online instruction, as it allows for the flexibility in completing work and interacting with material that many online students are looking for.

Definitions

Before I go any further, however, I do want to provide some definitions here:

  • Synchronous Learning – Learning that takes place in a format where both the instructor and the learner are in the same location in time and/or space. This can be a traditional classroom format or something like a Zoom session that delivers content in real-time.
  • Asynchronous Learning – Learning that takes place where the instructor and learner are separated in time and/or space. This is seen very often in online courses, where resources and assignments are provided for students to access and complete on their own time.

Asynchronous Learning

As I stated above, my online class is completely asynchronous. The students are given the resources, assignments, lectures, textbook information, assessments, and discussion space all online with no expectation that there is a specific time or place where they will all come together for instructions. This does not mean I am not involved, as I generally work inside my classrooms for 1-4 hours each day, depending on the time of the semester, and am constantly monitoring both my classrooms and other messaging that I get from students outside of the classroom (such as email).

The only real point of direct, face-to-face interaction would be office hours. I also do hold more traditional office hours. This is a bit of sticking point for me, as my department had up to March of this year not allowed online office hours, which seems to me to be a blind spot to where our students actually are. Since March and probably for a while after, we now can have online office hours, which would actually be the only really synchronous material for any students who would come into those office hours and get instruction or have questions answered by me in real time.

Hybrid Learning

One thing that I do differently than a lot of people in their teaching is hybrid learning. I have been teaching hybrid classes for about 6 years now, and my model is roughly a 70/30 model, with 70% of the learning taking place online and 30% in class. Thus, like what I noted above, all of the online portion for the hybrid course is asynchronous. That 30% is the hour and fifteen minutes that I meet with them each week, and that is the only synchronous portion of the course.

My hybrid students are more likely also to come to physical office hours than traditional online students, meaning that they do also have those synchronous options.

The Change in Learning with the Pandemic

As we moved to remote learning in the pandemic, everyone had to scramble to figure out how to make those changes. I have already detailed some of this in previous posts in this Thoughts on Teaching in a Pandemic series. Since a lot of those who were guiding this move were focused on how to move the face-to-face classes to online, much of the assumption was that the remote learning would be at least somewhat synchronous. Since this is the assumption that many have of what online teaching looks like when they have not taught online before, I saw this all over the place – the assumption that we would all just schedule Zoom sessions during our normal class time and then lecture to the students as we would have at the same time and same place.

For better or for worse, this has become part of the story of what has happened – with a narrative emerging of how challenging, or even ineffective, Zoom learning (as it so often came to be) is. In my opinion that is because online learning is not meant to be synchronous. There can certainly be successful synchronous elements in an online course, especially if students are notified up front and early that there will be certain times or certain assignments that are going to require their presence. I don’t use any, but I know of a number of successful online instructors that do use synchronous discussions, group work, and the like in online classes. However, even those classes remain heavily asynchronous overall.

So, What’s the Point?

Why am talking about this somewhat weedy subject? I think that why so many faculty and students were unsatisfied by what they saw in the spring of 2020 is because of this synchronous vs. asynchronous distinction. I have heard, even from my own sons in college, that the learning situation in the spring was not very good. Both of my sons recounted having to get up for 8am classes from home and then sitting there with a lot of random banter, technical problems, and then not learning much overall. Now, could I say that every class experience I have had has been worthwhile and engaging, but there is something different about trying to do it online vs. face-to-face. Especially for my son who is going to a very (VERY!) expensive private university, he felt he was getting very little value out of his education for those last months. A lot of the “value” comes from being on campus and having access to everything there. Sitting at home in front of a screen when that is not what you signed up for is going to be rough no matter what. The insistence on holding classes at the same time and in the same format as before seems to me to be a recipe for discontent overall. It’s not the fault of the professor or of the university, as everyone had to figure out how to do this in a week or two. So, if it didn’t go well, then it just didn’t, but at least everyone knew that we were all doing our best in a difficult time.

What I worry about in the summer and fall. The easy path will be to try to continue on as if nothing really happened and feel that we can all just turn on a dime and teach online again if a second wave breaks out. I only hope that some lessons have been learned about what works and what doesn’t. This summer has to be one of reflection and reworking of courses for everyone. If change isn’t made, it is the students who will suffer. Both of my sons have said that they are worried if it will be worth it to go back to their four-year universities if it is going to look like it did in the spring. I am certainly not trying to say that the question of synchonous or asynchronous is the only issue in making a strong course that can be presented online only or moved online if needed, but it is an issue that needs to considered by everyone who wants to teach in any online format for the future.

Thoughts on Teaching in a Pandemic – Reflections, Part 2 – 05/31/2020

As noted in my previous post, I am continuing my reflecting on the previous semester.

I am continuing looking at a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education from earlier this month – “5 Takeaways From My Covid-19 Teaching.” by Michelle D. Miller.

I had previously looked at lessons 1-3 that she had identified. In this post, I will look at the other two lessons that she was talking about.

4. High-stakes assessments are overrated.

This one is definitely one that I believe in completely. As she said, “For a while now, teaching experts have advised that students learn best from frequent low-stakes quizzes and other assignments — either in addition to, or in place of, traditional midterms, final exams, and term papers.” I have been working in this direction myself, moving more and more toward many smaller assignments rather than a few big ones. This transition was already coming for me prior to this move remote teaching, and I was very glad that I had started on that path already.

The large numbers of low-stakes assignments gives my students a lot of opportunities to work through the material in ways that keep them engaged throughout the semester and working fairly constantly on the material. Rather than being graded in 2-4 high-stakes assignments, the students can have their grade evolve through the semester. It allows them to work regularly with the material rather than put their attention (and grade) on a couple of assignments where they have to memorize and perform well in a couple of sessions throughout the semester. In a high-stakes environment, the students pass/fail based upon just their performance in a few points of the semester. Now, this is not to say that some students do not do well in these types of assessments nor that there is no value in testing the students on their knowledge. It is just that many of students do not perform well in these circumstances for reasons beyond their own control. It is not about being good students or bad students but about being able to perform in a very specific circumstance.

I had already come to the conclusion myself that I would rather see how my students progress through the semester and learn versus seeing how well they can memorize a specific set of information in a single sitting. This was even more true in the high-stress environment of last semester. Students already under stress and unsure about their economic and physical futures don’t need to have the added stress on them of a high-stakes assessment. Students already freak out about exams, and even the best students can struggle. Add on the pandemic, and you have an even more perfect storm of disaster for most students.

5. Student mental health will be on my mind.

This one became completely clear to me in these last couple of months. This is something that I have largely ignored in the first decade or so of my teaching career. It is only since attending a couple of sessions at conferences in the last couple of years that I have become more and more aware of the struggles that they are under. The research is showing that more and more of our students are financially insecure, food insecure, and housing insecure. It is harder for them to succeed academically if they are struggling in every other way.

At a community college, even more than at many 4-year institutions, our students are working, taking care of families, and just trying to get by. The pandemic and the implosion of society just piled on top of what else they had going on. I saw it myself, as did many of my fellow faculty members. We saw many students who continued on with out major problems, but some of those who were already on the edge were pushed over the edge by these circumstances. By not seeing the problems previously, it allowed us to largely ignore the ongoing problem. We have to consider the issues and problems from the beginning, not just address them when they come to the surface.

So where does that leave us? I can really only leave this reflection with her words, as I can’t say it any better than she did:

“If the Covid-19 crisis ends up making me a better-prepared, more supportive, and more agile teacher, so much the better. And if it spurs our institutions to put more priority on serious collaboration between administrators and faculty members, backed up by the best evidence and research out there — well, we couldn’t ask for more. I’m not one to say that this tragedy is full of silver linings. However, I intend to come through it stronger, and I hope our whole profession will, too.”

How are you reacting to the crisis, and how will it change you?

Thoughts on Teaching in a Pandemic – Reflections – 05/20/2020

I am, of course, not the only one out there who is reflecting back on what teaching through the pandemic was like. I have already discussed some general thoughts on the transition and on how the students reacted in previous blog posts here. I have been consuming various pieces of media, from blogs to webinars to podcasts, where everyone has been reflecting on the changes and how the last couple of months have gone.

One of the pieces that I wanted to reflect some on was a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month – “5 Takeaways From My Covid-19 Teaching.” by Michelle D. Miller.

Probably the most direct takeaway from the piece is what she said about how the transition – “In short, we did the job we signed up to do — under conditions that none of us signed up for. And, unfortunately, it looks like many of us will be in the same predicament come September.” To me, that is really the story of this time. I won’t say at all that everything was the best at all, but I do think that I did a pretty good job in keeping up. I also feel like I actually did more work in the last month and a half than I normally do.

In looking at her 5 lessons learned, I can see some parallels in my own experience.

1. They’ve gotten a bad rap, but Zoom classes can be rewarding.

While I am not so sure about Zoom classes specifically, I found her discussion of the synchronous vs. asynchronous debate interesting. I know for a fact that some of our faculty had never even heard those words with relation to education prior to this, but it became a key point with the transition. My own online course is exclusively asynchronous, but I added in Zoom office hours for them. I have done online office hours before, with only a very minimal participation by the online students. This experience was no different, as they were just online office hours, not a specific session of delivering information. I had not a single student from my three online sections attend any of the online office hours in Zoom, which pretty much matches up with my previous experience. As there was no synchronous component of my online course, there was no expectation on the students that there would be one after, and there was apparently no interest in the new addition for them.

Now, of course, the hybrid class had its own synchronous component of meeting once a week in person. I switched over that time to a Zoom session for each hybrid section, but I did not make it mandatory for attendance. This is largely because of a recognition that many of my students might not be capable of making a session on Zoom, and I didn’t want to penalize them. I had a number of students with connection issues (as in poor internet access), who had family issues or conflicting school times for their kids, or were called in to now work at the time they would have had class. I had one student out of 25 attend for one of my hybrid classes and 4-5 students out of 21 attend out of the other hybrid class. So, there was some small demand, and I gave participation points for coming on and talking about the material. Far more students chose to participate in discussion forums than in the Zoom sessions overall.

2. Have a pivot plan.

This is exactly what we’ve been told to do for the fall. We don’t know if we will be in person, online, or a mix of the two. Right now, our schedule looks exactly as it would any fall, and we have been told that any decision about changes to what we do in the fall won’t come until June. However, the more general messaging is that we need to be ready to pivot and that we all should be developing courses that can be both in-person and online, possibly even at the same time. In many ways, this matches the new thing I have heard quite a bit about in the last week – HyFlex courses. While we won’t have any courses scheduled as HyFlex, the model essentially has students given the opportunity to take the course either online or face-to-face as they want without losing anything either way.

3. Student goals will take center stage.

I will be honest that I did not change enough in my course to affect the student side of things. I already did things like student reflection essays (more on this in a later blog post), things that are already really student-centered. In relation to a lot of the rest of what we were asked to do, my course met the idea of student goals taking center stage before the crisis and continued to do so afterwards.

I will come back soon with the final two, as this is already getting long as it is. What are your thoughts, either as a teacher or students in this new environment?

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.
    • 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 Teaching in a Pandemic – 05/14/2020

We have come to the end of our semester of craziness. The breaking of COVID-19 and the push to abrupt remote teaching at Spring Break made this a semester like no other. I was luckily more able to make the transition than many, as 3/5 of my sections were already online. The other two sections were my hybrid sections, and those are already about 2/3 online in the way that I teach them. Thus, for me, the personal transition was not as hard as it was for many.

There were still some challenges, for sure.

  • My three online sections were still somewhat impacted, as the extended Spring Break moved their assignments back a week and that pushed closer together a lot of the assignments for the last part of the class. It also grouped together my grading more and made it to where I did not have as much time to get comments back to students on their thesis and outline so they could work with them on the final paper.
  • As I noted above, the hybrid classes were already about 2/3 online. It was, however, one of the most important components, the face-to-face discussions, that got dropped. To make up for that, I substituted online discussions each week and a weekly optional Zoom session. These went reasonably well. I don’t think it went nearly as well as if we had been in class, but it was at least acceptable. The big thing that I noted was that I did not have nearly as much time to devote to participating with them, as the pushing together of assignments that I noted with the online class happened here as well. I was grading more, and because of that, I was doing less other things in the class. There is another reason as well, that I will put in the third note here.
  • The thing I spent an unusual amount of time on is the helping of others in the department and keeping up with both the changes and trends in higher education broadly and with COVID-19 in specific. My energy level and attention level were drained by both of these, and that also contributed to me not interacting as much in discussions with my students. I still did all of my Zoom sessions, held my online office hours, and answered student questions in a timely manner. I would even say that I got things graded faster than I would normally at the end of the semester. But I definitely participated less in discussion forums, both with my online and hybrid students. In fact, in grading them in the last couple of days, I see that I missed a number of places that I might have responded, either with information or with prompting questions to get them to go further.

Working on all of this from home was also a challenge, of course. While working from home did take out many expenses in time and gas for travel, sitting at the office, and eating meals/snacks there, there were also costs to being at home. I have four kids, two in college, one in high school, and one in elementary school. Everybody was home (and still are) since the start of Spring Break. The three older kids have had their work to do, but they are relatively self-sufficient with their work. We are, however, full-time teaching our 7-year-old. Her Montessori school has been sending home packets to complete, and they are keeping us busy.

Being at home all the time is not a big problem for my own work load, since so much of it was online already. But it still was quite different from the norm. How has everyone else’s experience been? For those of you who teach, what was the impact on your teaching?

I will be back for a couple of more of these as I reflect on the semester and start preparing for the next one, whatever it might bring.