[This week I start what is unquestionably the most distinct and strange semester of my 20+ year teaching career. So for my annual Fall previews, I’ll be discussing some of the ways that my classes will and won’t be different this time around. I’d love to share some of what you’ve got going on in a crowd-sourced Fall 2020 weekend post!]
On one thing I’ve learned about teaching in a new format, and what I still haven’t figured out.
On or about March 3rd, I think it’s fair to say that I had dedicated roughly 30 seconds of my life (give or take 15 seconds) to date to thinking about the digital video communications platform called Zoom. In the six months since, it sometimes seems like I don’t go 30 seconds without thinking about Zoom—and while that’s fortunately an exaggeration, the fundamental fact is that I have had almost infinitely more conversations on that platform (and on Google Meet, which Fitchburg State uses for most of its official digital meetings and conversations; for whatever reason my personal preference so far has been for Zoom, however) over the last six months than I have had in person with anyone not biologically related to me. That includes all kinds of meetings and conversations, but it also and especially includes teaching—every time I’ve “met” with a class since early March, whether in the optional ways I instituted for my Spring classes or the more required ones I included in my undergrad, grad, and adult learning Summer courses (which I was able to plan from the beginning for the realities of teaching and learning in this brave new world), it has been on Zoom.
As of right now, the Fall semester will include some in-person meetings for four of my five undergrad courses (the fifth is an online-only course from the jump)—but even if that schedule goes forward (and my instinct is that we will have to switch to remote-only relatively quickly), the courses will be hybrid, meaning that those in-person meetings will be complemented by both asynchronous Blackboard discussions and synchronous Zoom conversations. When it comes to the latter, one definite thing I’ve learned is the value of Zoom’s “Raise hand” function—in my Spring classes I would ask a question and then wait for any attending student to chime in, but I believe a combination of digital shyness and an accurate concern that multiple folks might start talking at the same time led many fewer students to add their voices to our discussions. Over the summer, I started asking students to raise their hands whenever they had a thought or question, and then could call on them in order; that process has led to far more consistent and widespread participation in my Zoom sessions. For anyone hoping to have multi-vocal conversations over Zoom or any digital platform, I’d strongly recommend making use of such functions to create a more organized and participatory communal space.
While I have thus begun to figure out how to make Zoom work a bit better for my class goals (most especially that of a student-centered pedagogy which includes as many voices as possible), there’s one aspect of my pedagogy that I haven’t at all figured out how to transfer to this new medium: writing on the board. I’m sure any student who’s ever taken an in-person class with me would testify (as do a lifetime of chalk stains along the edge of my left hand, although fortunately most FSU classrooms now have whiteboards) to just how fully I make use of the board, and in a very particular way: highlighting specific things from each student comment, in order to validate their voices and contributions and at the same time build an emerging collective conversation about the day’s texts and topics on the board. I’ve considered a couple ways to approximate that process in Zoom conversations: purchasing an actual white board and writing on it while they talk (but that seems like it would potentially derail a Zoom discussion with all the stopping and starting, and would be hard for them to see as well); or sharing my screen and writing in Word (but ditto to the potential derailing, and I like students to be able to see me in these sessions). I’m leaning toward the latter, but as with every topic this week, would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Last Fall preview tomorrow,
PS. What are you teaching or working on this Fall? Let me know for the weekend post!