[This Fall was another extremely exhausting semester, and first and foremost I’m proud of all of us for making it through. But it also featured moments that reminded me of why we do what we do, and in this recap series I wanted to highlight one such moment from each of my Fall classes. I’d love to hear your best and your hardest moments, and everything in between, from Fall 2021!]
On how small follow-ups can make a big difference, especially in online classes.
I’ve been teaching at least one online class a semester for more than seven years now, and over that time I’ve certainly gotten better at this new (to me) form of pedagogy in a variety of ways. For this semester’s online American Literature II course, as I indicated back in the Semester Previews series, I added a new component, short videos (of me talking—not high-tech enough for much else!) that introduced our different time periods/Units. I wasn’t a huge fan of what I was able to do with those videos—they felt largely redundant to the Word documents featuring Unit/time period contexts I was already providing students; if I’m to keep using them I’ll have to find a way to make them stand out more, I’d say—but I hope at least that they gave the students a little better sense of me, my voice and perspective, my ideas, the kinds of things I’d of course share as part of (or at least frames for) our discussions in in-person classes.
I’ve also recently found another way to add myself into these online classes a bit more, and this semester it yielded some unexpected and really compelling moments. I’ve written at length about my gradual shifts in grading processes and emphases, and as part of that I’ve started to give both Paper Feedback (focused more on writing and analytical skills) and Idea Feedback (focused more on, well, y’know). While I would never want to insert my own takes on readings and related topics into the Paper Feedback (that’s about my response to their skills and work), I’ve felt more comfortable doing that in the Idea Feedback if and when it’s felt relevant: if, for example, a student is analyzing Sui Sin Far’s “In the Land of the Free,” as a few did in my online American Lit course this past semester, I’ll pass along my first ever Saturday Evening Post column from back in January 2018, a piece which I began with a bit of my own analysis of that story in historical and cultural contexts.
I can’t say that I really expect students to read such pieces when I share them—they’re not required (or even optional) readings for the course, after all, and there are more than enough of those that I’m already asking my students to look at. But when they not only do take a look, but also share some continued thoughts in response, each and every one of those moments immediately becomes a favorite for me, with different sides of my work and career, different conversations I’m part of, coming together in such inspiring ways. Those quick email follow-ups, from them in response to my paper feedback and then usually from me back to them with a few follow-ups to the follow-up, are quick and small moments in the arc of the semester, outside of the official work of the class and easily forgotten once the semester is complete. I hope the students won’t forget, but I can promise you I won’t, as these moments help me feel a bit of that classroom conversation and community that can sometimes be hard to come by in online course.
Last recap tomorrow,
PS. Responses to this moment or other Fall 2021 reflections you’d share?