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[HOW] Teaching Better in Covid Times

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

To all the online students I had in the Before Times,

I owe you a huge apology. You see, back then we thought we were being edgy by replicating what we were doing in a classroom. Like: I had literally 6 weeks and a team of people helping me prepare for my online section.

We had time!

We had options!

I got to learn Panopto and Blackboard Ultra!

We got to be picky!

We vetted our students: "Want to take my online class? Are you sure you'll be successful at it?"

Knowing what I know now: I AM HORRIFIED. Replicating the class is not the goal. Interpreting the class to be effective in an online format is much more complex than a copy + paste from face-to-face to online learning.

My past teacher-self had been on autopilot cranking out my class term after term. COVID was the wake up call I needed to reflect on what I love about teaching and what I wanted my students to feel when in my classroom community. When it came time to prepare for my Winter 21 online class, I wanted even more so to make sure my students felt like their experience was meaningful, they felt connected to me and each other, that they had even more flexibility, and that they got the sense from me that I was supporting them.

With a focused lens, I opened my Blackboard site and realized I had 10 discussion boards. That calculates to almost once a week for my full-term section, almost twice a week for my compressed summer section, and (I'm scared to write it) almost every day for my 2 week Winter section. How was that even possible? I'd been teaching for years and literally didn't notice.

What had I been putting them through all these years?

I'm sorry for all of those discussion boards that I made you slog through. I thought I was capturing the magic of my in-person section, when really you were probably making fun of it on Twitter like the students featured on this Buzzfeed post:

And while we're airing grievances, I'm sorry I made you all sit through 90 minutes of student presentations in a Blackboard Collaborate meeting. Did I even have my camera on? It was so long ago and it was so boring I don't remember.

And lastly, I'm sorry I was such a stickler about late work. That was on-trend back then for soft-skill based courses. Are you worried your students won't think your assignments are valuable? Force them to complete them on time and don't accept any late work! Pretty novel concept, right??

I write this with the benefit of hindsight, the confidence in my ability to be a good teacher, my willingness and devotion to learn and grow as a teacher and lifelong learner. You see: don't always get everything right. If we waited until we were perfect before we taught anything, well, we'd never walk into a classroom.

What I can do though (besides hope my former students loved me enough as a human being to forgive my transgressions) is make life better for my future students. So, leading up to the last Winter term I made some changes.

So, leading up to last Winter term I made some changes.

I updated our content to reflect current events.

I teach a career development course for sophomore college students. It made zero sense not to update their research on the future of their career field without also accounting for the effects of COVID on the economy and the workforce. This involved editing the text of my assignment instructions in Blackboard Ultra and sending students out into the wilderness of the internet. Oh: and bracing myself for how they would react to what they would find. Spoiler alert: I was amazed at their generally positive attitudes about life, the desire to contribute to saving lives in the healthcare industry, and the vows to soak up every bit of life after quarantine. More about that in a future post.

I gave them choices.

Want to come to our synchronous presentation day (that's a word I didn't ever use in the Before Times) or would you rather create a recorded production of your presentation instead? Fun fact: the group that chose the asynchronous (another new word!) presentation joined our synchronous session anyway because they wanted to learn from their peers. *pats self on the back for that win*.

I accepted late work.

Enough said here, I hope. It's a pandemic. Flexibility is what helps us succeed. Besides, it's a career development course. Let's be real. My bosses let me be flexible every day. I care amore about the quality of work, their persistence through the course (it's a required course for graduation and I don't want this class to sink their GPA and/or have them repeat this class if they score below a C. Read: there's many ways of being successful in a course. I don't measure success by a due date. Period).

I let my dog be a guest star.

Throwback to that time I was leading an online training in March 2020 and my husband put our dog in the car in the garage because I was so anxious about him barking in the middle of my session. Pearl-clutchers and dog-lovers alike: don't worry. He was perfectly safe and warm. Just loud. This time around, I decided that I wanted students to see me as a human being and remembered how much I love seeing my co-workers dogs and children on the screen. Seriously, let us see your dogs. They make our day. Baron von Doodle, the adorable Havanese, sat in my lap when I recorded my introduction announcement. But really: let yourself be a human. The biggest difference about taking a class versus just reading a book about the topic is who you are as a person/teacher. Don't underestimate your influence on the learning experience.

I asked for their feedback.

How did I come to realize the ridiculous amounts of discussion boards, you wonder? A student filled out my end of term Google survey and suggested I take a look at it. Thank you, student, wherever you are! Every future student who takes this class will love you forever and owes you a Starbucks.

The moral of the story here is that if you're going to be a teacher, you're not going to be perfect. Why I love teaching so much is because there's always ways to improve, always something to learn, and always new people to meet, connect with, bore to tears, etc. Try something new and see if it sticks. You might even say "I'm going to try something new. Will you let me know how it went? This might totally bomb, but I think it's worth trying because xyz reason." And don't be afraid to ask them what went well. You might end up having students come to the optional session, ask to meet with you after the end of the semester because they like your teaching style and want your advice, or tell their friends to sign up for your section because they enjoyed the experience.

All the best,


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