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
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.
- 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.
- 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?
I have been trying to ease back into working toward material to do with work as the summer continues to move on. I have an 8-week break this summer, as I am not teaching again until the second summer session. What that means is that I have a number of weeks to take off completely, which is largely what I have been doing to this point, but now it is starting to be time to think about academic work again.
I can’t say I have done a whole lot to this point, but I have made a few starts. For one, I completed a textbook chapter review yesterday, which was something on my agenda for the early part of the summer. I have also participated in a few activities with McGraw-Hill as part of my role as a Digital Faculty Consultant with them. And, in the past week or so, I have been trying to catch up on some of the blogs and e-newsletters that I read, as well as dabbling with some of the academic podcasts I listen to. Shortly, I will start working on my summer class, although I still have about a 3-week window before starting. I am not planning any major changes from last summer, so it will really just be a case of changing up the dates and making sure everything is in there. There are a few changes that I made last semester, including adding screencast videos for the online class, so those will need to be created for the summer session. Otherwise, summer prep is not too bad.
One interesting discovery I have made is the Student Caring project (studentcaring.com). I was turned onto the project from either a Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed blog about podcasts that we should be listening to. I came to this site through the podcast, and I will certainly make it part of what I am going to be looking at in the near future as I get back into thinking about my own job. The project is designed to help professors with all of the issues that we face in an environment that is aimed at helping us teach better, live better, and think better. I have only dabbled in it so far, although I have probably listened to about 15 of their podcast episodes so far. The general professor part of the site has both curated and guest posts on issues related to teaching in higher education. The podcasts (which are what I have accessed so far), are aimed at talking through issues on teaching in higher education. I have thoroughly enjoyed them so far and would recommend them to anyone teaching at a college or university. I am currently in the middle of the series titled, “What Your Students Probably Don’t Know,” which has been interesting and already given me a couple of ideas for my own classes, especially in formulating syllabi and course outlines for our students. I accessed the podcasts through iTunes, but I am sure they are available in multiple places.
Otherwise, I am just starting to do some thinking on my classes for the fall. I already do a hybrid American history class, and I am thinking of moving it to be even more thematic in approach so that the ideas hold together even better than I think they already do right now. I am teaching both halves of the American history survey this fall, and I am thinking of reworking the second half one. I already have a general set of themes, but not everything fits in with those themes right now. I am considering using a race/ethnicity/immigration theme, as over 1/3 of what I already have works with that theme, and I would have two writing assignments already ready to go to aim at that theme. It would help me feel more focused in what I am doing in the class and make it more apparent for the students how everything fits together. So, that is what I am thinking about.
Anyway, I just wanted to hop in here for a few minutes and update. I’ll be back for more later.
So, I had the opportunity on Tuesday to lead my first webinar. It is not something that I have done before, and it was an interesting new experience. I was working with McGraw-Hill for this one, helping them demonstrate Connect History to faculty members around the US. I can’t say we had a huge turnout, as there were only 4 faculty members on the webinar, although we had about twice as many McGraw-Hill employees there as well. My job was to talk for about 20 minutes and demonstrate how I use the Connect History platform. I was sharing my desktop in the process, so that the people there could see what I do with Connect History in my classroom. Then, I took questions for the rest of the time. As I said above, it was an interesting experience. I have participated in webinars before, but it was my first time leading one. It was not a particularly difficult thing to do, as it naturally feeds from the experience that we have as instructors anyway. It is just a different thing, as you are there with no direct audience, talking to a computer screen without being able to see anyone else. I do feel that I effectively communicated what I was supposed to, and I think the participants were satisfied (all except one who would never be satisfied, from what I can tell).
In a broader sense, the webinar format certainly makes me think about delivery of material online in general. I can’t help but think that some format like this would be great for an online course. The only problem is that it really does require everyone to be on at the same time to get the basic interaction down. Otherwise, you are just working with a static delivery of material anyway. If you could commit your students to being online all at a certain time to hear you lecture or discuss, you could do a lot and not take up classroom space at the same time. It is an interesting idea, scheduling an online course to take place at a certain time, even well outside the normal times that we would meet face-to-face. Certainly this does not get me past the lecture, as I have been talking about here, but I can’t help but see a more personalized experience like this being much better than the required time that a student has to come and sit in class. Of course, I would still be requiring the students to be there at a certain time anyway. I wonder about a running discussion or something like that, where students could come and go over the course of hours, and I would just be there to moderate and guide for that time. I wonder if that would be more effective that the old standby of a discussion forum.
What do you think? Have you taken any webinars? What do you think of the format? Could we do something like this as teachers and enhance/change the online experience?
I’ve been meaning to do this post for a bit, but my grading has distracted me from other things.
I attended a webinar last Thursday on the subject of blogging in the classroom. It was led by two authors of blogs and attended by several others running blogs in the classroom. In this case, the focus was history, and I found the fantastic blog Teaching United States History through the chat. We bounced around ideas among the 15-20 people active in the webinar, and I found it productive and academically stimulating. The primary discussion centered around how blogs could be used and how they could be evaluated as part of an assignment. I can’t say we came to any profound conclusions, but I enjoyed the time there and hopefully have made some contacts in the broader blogging community out there. I wish I had more time to devote right now, but I’m just able to get out these short posts right now.
So, here are some of my thoughts on blogging.
- As I’ve been exploring the “flipped” classroom idea, the question keeps coming up of how to evaluate the students. Weekly quizzes are an obvious way to get the students to do the work, but I’ve never really felt that quizzes truly evaluate much more than basic recall. LearnSmart through McGraw-Hill is a bit better, but at its heart, it is still a quiz. I also don’t really want to get weekly papers from the students, as I’m the one who then gets to grade them. So, something ongoing like a blog could be ideal.
- There is a danger with a blog that is not well defined. I tried wikis that were worked on over the course of a semester, but 90% of students did them all at the end of the semester. If I did not have weekly requirements for the blogs, most students would not do them until the last minute. And, if I have weekly requirements, then I’m back to grading something from every student every week.
- I like the idea of an informal blog for the students. It would be required but be open ended in what they write. But then, would they post well? Would I get what I want out of them, or would they turn into a busywork exercise of the students?
Just a few things I’ve been thinking about. What do you think?
OK, so the first major assignment is coming in, and so I am just starting to grade them. It’s always an interesting point when you get to see the first major set of assignments from a group of students. All they’ve had to this point are some chapter quizzes to keep them moderately honest in what work they are doing for the class, but here at the third of the way through point, the real stuff is coming due. I have multiple writing assignments over the course of the semester (6 for the online class and 8 for the hybrid class), and these are the first written ones. So, not only am I seeing their work for the first time, a lot of them are doing real work for me for the first time here. For each of us, this is the point where the class really starts. This is especially true for the class that I just finished grading. I teach the two halves of the American history survey, and so in the spring, I mostly teach the second half. However, I do have one online class that is the first half. Whereas many of the students in my second half class are ones that I’ve had before, all of those in my first half are new to me. So, it really is a new experience all the way around.
What they had to do was work through a Critical Mission within the Connect History system associated with our textbook. There were two written assignments out of that. The Critical Mission had them take on the role of an advisor to Moctezuma as Cortez and his men are approaching. The students have to advise Moctezuma on whether to take a militant approach to Cortez or whether to greet him peacefully. The students are given evidence to work with for it, and they have to put together an argument using the evidence. Anyway, the details aren’t all that relevant, but it does give you the idea of what the students are doing for me. So, I graded their two submissions and discussion forum over last night and this morning, getting all of those out to them early this morning.
It is interesting to see how it goes. First of all, there were 30 people in the class when we started. We are down to 26 now with drops by this point. Of those, 4 have not logged into the classroom in over 14 days, so they are also not really counted. Including those, 11 did not turn anything in for this project, despite multiple reminders throughout the weeks leading up to the project. So, of 30 that I started with, I actually graded 15 projects. The overall results were pretty good for a first assignment. I mean only one or two really hit the mark completely with regards to my expectations, but the results were good overall. What I was actually most impressed with was the discussion participation. I give them a couple of topic options to write on, and generally they give 2-3 sentences at most on the first time out in an online discussion. Instead, here I got long thoughtful discussions with replies that showed they actually had read the other person’s writing and had thought about it. It was impressive for a class of people that have not had me or known my expectations before this point.
I guess I really don’t know what else to say about it. Nothing all that profound here at all, just wanted to share what was a pretty decent feeling for me about an assignment. Yes, so many people didn’t do much of anything on it, but those who did participate actually turned out a good product. That is always gratifying, as it makes me feel like I put together a good class with good instructions if they were able to succeed like that.
P.S. I apologize if this is a bit rambling in nature. I’ve been doing a few other things and keep coming back and adding a sentence or two at a time. So, if it’s disconnected and disjointed, that’s the reason. I’m not going to go back and read over because I’m tired and ready for bed, so everyone will have to take this one as it is. Talk to you tomorrow.
Just a quick post today, as I need to get some grading done.
I had a spectacular discussion yesterday in one of my sections. We were working through the issues of a Critical Mission from the McGraw-Hill Connect History program. I started off the discussion by asking, “What did you think?” Then, an hour and fifteen minutes later, I ended the class. In other words, they talked for 75 minutes in a productive discussion with no further prompting from me except to interject some comments and call on people to make sure people got to talk. Rare but quite satisfying.