Tag Archive | teaching

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – The Hybrid Back Channel – 03/01/2021

One of those very interesting things that has come from the forced synchronous hybrid model that we are now doing is that I have actually been able to experiment with something that I have been wanting to do for a long time. I have really been wanting to have a back channel for communication in my hybrid classes.

When I started teaching hybrid, I originally had it as a discussion-only class. The highest grade came from coming to class every day and talking out loud in class. As I came to realize that I was disadvantaging students who either could not or did not want to participate in an oral discussion, I have added an online discussion forum that runs along with the course. I first had just a single discussion forum that the students could use at any time in the semester. Since the pandemic, I have moved to weekly forums, but they are still open the whole semester. The weekly format allows each one to be topical rather than just a broad discussion that could include anything. That has solved the problem of giving a place for students who either can’t or won’t participate in an oral discussion.

What had been missing was a synchronous way for my students to participate in class without having to talk. I had considered some options, such as Discord or Slack, but I really didn’t want to add yet another technology for my students to have to manage. As well, I just wasn’t sure if I could manage students in class and a text chat at the same time. So, this had been an idea that had just been running in the back of my head for a while.

What has happened this semester with the new synchronous Zoom hybrid course is that I now have that back channel discussion. With the students on Zoom, they have the full capabilities of Zoom to play with. And, since many of them don’t want to have their cameras on, and it is hard to manage them talking along with the people in class talking, they have been using the chat to contribute in class. And, it has been great!

It is actually pretty easy for me to manage having about 1/3 of the students in class, while the rest are on Zoom. With most of them typing rather than talking, it actually is pretty easy to then manage the 2/3 on Zoom. I actually can call on the people in class by name more easily, and I have a better ability to memorize their names, as fewer are there. Then, with the ones typing in the Zoom chat, I also have a name associated with each one. So, I can read what they write out to everyone, and I can also call on them by name as well as get to them for follow-ups.

Even better, Zoom automatically sends you a transcript of the chat, so I don’t even have to keep track of who participates in the chat in real time, as I can get their names and what they said afterwards. That actually frees me up to pay more attention to the actual conversation, as I don’t have to worry about keeping track of participation from that part of the class.

So, in summary, this has been a bit of a blessing in disguise, as something that I had been looking to do just fell into my lap.

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Synchronous Hybrid Courses – 02/21/2021

With this semester introducing the new mandate of all-synchronous hybrid courses, it has caused some changes to my teaching. As this was a decision made in the week prior to classes starting, there was not a lot of time to think about the various options, and so I settled in on what is one of the standards out there today – teaching simultaneously to students who are in class with me and with students who are on Zoom with me at the same time. We have an institutional subscription to Zoom, and so this was the most logical format to work with.

To do this, I had to split my classes. Back in October, when the schedule was built, we planned for 75% capacity for rooms. That meant that each of my hybrid courses was capped at 22 rather than the usual 30. I’m certainly not going to argue with that, as I have a very writing-intensive class, and 8 fewer students each across 3 hybrid sections is a nice little reduction in the number of written items that I am grading. However, as the spring semester actually started, the idea that we could have 75% capacity in rooms was something that just was not going to work. That meant that, in order to split my class, I had to divide them into two cohorts, with each cohort switching off as to when they would be in class versus on Zoom.

The process of splitting into cohorts went reasonably well, but the chaos of the first week of classes nearly messed everything up. Among my three classes, I had one that had its room moved in December, one that had its room moved in the week before classes, and one that ended up being double booked with another class. So, in the first two, I had students all over the place, depending on when they had last looked at their schedule. It took to the second week before I actually saw all of those students. The one that was double booked ended up with me having to find another room, which we did, but that was also a very chaotic start to the semester.

After all of that, I really felt like we were on a path to disaster this semester. If you had talked to me by the end of that week, you would have found me to be very worried and pessimistic that any of this was going to work out as the semester went on.

This is a completely discussion-based class, and so that worry was enhanced by worrying just how this was all going to work out.

However, as of week 5 of the semester, I would say that things have settled down nicely in this new format. I say week 5 because, even though we just finished up week 6, that week was lost to all of the ice, power outages, water outages, and the like here in Texas for that week.

The Format

To set up a completely discussion-based class as a synchronous hybrid was a logistical challenge, for sure. I have to get to classes early enough (especially hard when two of these are back-to-back in rooms in different buildings) to get everything set up to two simultaneous courses — one in person and one on Zoom. I have determined that the best way to have Zoom work with in-person classes is to have the Zoom classes projected on the screen in the classroom so that they are all part of the class together. Then, I have a microphone hooked up to my computer that is aimed out at the room, so that when people speak in class, they can be heard online. I also have a rotating camera on my computer so that I can turn it to the people in class so that the ones on Zoom can see who is speaking. I then have the computer hooked up to the speakers in the classroom so that when people speak on Zoom, they can be heard by those in class.

This set up seems to work ok. I get feedback each week from the group that was on Zoom the previous week, and it is going ok so far. I think I need a stronger microphone, as my little one isn’t great at picking up the whole room. However, we have now missed 3 class days in a row — the Thursday of week 5 and both Tuesday and Thursday of week 6 — due to weather, and so I have not had a chance to try out a stronger microphone.

The Result

In looking at how it has been working this semester, I would say that I am surprisingly pleased with how it is going. I have had some students who want to be on Zoom the whole semester and some who want to be in person all semester. What that has meant overall is that it is really varied as to how many I might have in class with me. I have had as few as 3 and as many as 12, just depending on the class and week.

It is actually nice to have the class split up this way. With the students on Zoom, I have all of the names there for me, allowing me to see exactly who is speaking. That also means there are fewer sitting in front of me, allowing me to have a simple seating chart that lets me also identify they by name easily. Most of the students choose to have their cameras off, especially knowing that they are being shown on the screen for everyone in the classroom to see. And, there are definitely some of them who are obviously just there and attending because they feel they need to be, as I never hear or see them at all.

The same goes for the in-class students. Some are just there because they have to be, but I am getting pretty decent participation out of them as well.

My conclusion? It’s not been nearly as bad as I was afraid it would be. It is challenging, but it has opened up some opportunities. I will talk about those opportunities in my next post.

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Hybrid Courses – 02/18/2021

As things have “normalized” in this Spring semester, a decision was made that we needed to teach all students at the same time. So, instead of doing what I did last semester, which was splitting my hybrid courses into two different cohorts meeting on separate days with those who could attend neither essentially doing the course completely online, I now have only one session a week for my hybrid courses, and every student either needs to be there in person or on Zoom.

I have gone back and forth on whether that is a good thing or not. I will definitely say that, when presented with this idea, I was not in favor of it at all. In fact, it would be safe to say that I both hated the idea and dreaded having to do it. By the end of the fall semester, that previous model had me teaching only to about 3-5 students in person each session, leaving about 75% of the students essentially using my hybrid course as an online course. There are definitely reasons for this —

  1. For some students, they were either quarantined or tested positive, meaning they would be out of in-person class for 2-3 weeks depending on when it occurred.
  2. For others, as it became obvious that in-person classes were leading to spikes in exposures and cases, they chose not to come to class to stay safe.
  3. I also had a couple of students who were taking care of relatives or had relatives in the hospital, and they did not want to be in public for fear of exposing those they were taking care of. One student noted that his/her parent was in the hospital, and if he/she left the hospital, he/she would not be allowed back in without a quarantine period.
  4. And, finally, I very simply had students who had signed up for a hybrid course but realized that they could do the course completely online and decided they would rather do that. Two thoughts on this one:
    1. First, we were specifically asked to have a fully online version of the course ready to go so that if we did get shut down, we would have alternatives for them ready to go. As that alternative was up and ready to go, I let my students know that they could move online-only when they thought it was necessary. For a number of students (especially those who might have dropped the course otherwise), this was a good alternative.
    2. Second, and this is a much broader thought on it, it allowed for students to change their minds on what they wanted out of the class. Every semester I have 2-3 students who at some point come to me and say they would rather be in my hybrid course if they are online or would rather be in my online course if they are hybrid. This is because they either realized one mode did not work for them or their circumstances had changed and the other mode worked better. It was kind of nice to have this alternative of a course that could be either. (As a note, I am going to explore this idea more in a later blog post.)

This semester, because of the decision that I said at the beginning, we have had to move away from that model of allowing for different modes. Now, we have synchronous-only classes. Every session of my hybrid course this semester has all of my students in it, either face-to-face in front of me or online via Zoom. It has certainly been a mixed bag so far on working in this format.

I’m going to explore more in how it’s going and what thoughts I have on the format over the next couple of blog posts.

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?