Day 11, 26 March 2020

I got rhythm (I think); I’ve certainly got hippos

I’m starting to fall into a rhythm with the courses, and I think it works. But we’ll find out next week, when we go in for the control repeat. Essentially it does mean that I am covering less ground: preparing materials for online delivery takes more time. I don’t want to overburden the students with sitting in 75 min zoom sessions (my eyes! my butt!), but I also am not ready to go fully asynchronous. Enough are commenting that they find the brief “breakout room” sessions useful for me to suggest we meet for “class time” once a week. Obviously, not all students are there, and I record for those who can’t join the party. So here is the current schedule for my former Tue-Thu classes.

Monday: reflection on the previous week’s material due, or other writing exercise. This used to be on Tuesday before class, but now we have other things sprinkled through the week to make up for less contact time, and the students confirmed Monday works better for them.

Tuesday: We meet as a class on Zoom, either to talk through some announcements (e.g. our new pass/fail policy) or for me to give some feedback on the final project; students can also ask questions about course materials, it’s a bit like massive drop-in tutorial/office hour. Not everyone shows up, but I record and post it on Canvas. I start 30 mins later than I used to. It forces me to keep the sessions shorter, but also gives those with back to back classes a break. Later in the day, before midnight, students post their initial response to course materials for the week. Depending on the course, I can provide two options of complementary materials; students pick one to respond to. If a student has time and the inclination, they can work with the other option as well. If they’re pressured for time, they focus on one option only.

Wednesday: by midnight, the students respond at least twice to the other students’ posts. This is where the real discussion happens: students share how they see things perhaps differently, or how an insight from a fellow student has them reconsider their original thoughts. If they pick different options to work with, at this point the cross-pollination can begin to happen, and it does. It’s about as close as we’ll come to capturing the classroom small group discussions, but I have been thoroughly impressed with the work I see here.

Thursday: we meet for a Zoom “class session”, again 30 mins shorter than in-person contact time. I prepare by picking from the discussion the points where I need to provide a bit more background (I plan to pre-record quick responses in future), and I look for one or two questions to deepen the discussion in a 5-10 mins breakout session. Today I asked the Japan history group how they would explain the aesthetics of the objects we looked at, if they were not allowed to refer to Zen Buddhism, and I think it worked. Before they head into their breakout room, I also ask them to appoint a spokesperson for the room, so when we get back together, that person reports on behalf of the group. Then in the final few minutes I ask them to type in the chat what they learned that day (and I point out the option “nope, nothing, this session did not help me”, because that would be useful feedback!). I gather from this that the background info and the breakout rooms do help, because we are so used to have synchronous sessions. At this point in the week, they’ve been in contact with the course materials three times already, and repeated exposure makes for better retention and deeper understanding (at least that’s what the theory says).

Friday: if all goes well, I can put materials for the next week up on Friday, but it will more likely be on Saturday. Still, for the class with a final project they know what the next step is, and for the others, they know there is a regular reflection due on Monday now, when we start the cycle all over again. The students are doing stellar work in the discussion boards and in the Zoom sessions, and the project pitches I’ve seen make me excited about our OER efforts. I don’t think I could have wished for a better birthday present from them today! (Yep, today’s the day.)

I also have THE best colleagues: now I have a growing hippo bloat with the pepper and salt shakers, and one sneaky colleague arranged for one of my favourite places in town to deliver my dinner right during the departmental happy hour. I thought it was a mis-delivery for somebody else in the building! Physical distancing, not social distancing– we’ve got this!

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