Now that we are all online and/or live online and/or hybrid instructors, regularly checking for “attendance” in our courses, managing last date of attendance (LDA), reaching out to disappearing students, responding to student email, sending class announcements, and managing video meets are likely feeling like the norm. As students and teachers alike settle into these new learning environments, and the scorching summer heat dissipates, I hope we can all take a few moments to reflect on the work we have done and the work we have left to do this semester. (I also hope we all can take a few moments for self care as well, but that is a different blog entry topic!)

Person pondering with hand on chin and big red question mark behind the person.

One reflective question that a number of colleagues and I have been discussing these past couple weeks is: 

“Am I actually teaching?” 

  • What am I doing now, in my online environment, to recreate (as much as possible), the teaching and learning that I create in my in-person classes? 
  • How am I delivering content now, virtually, and how does that compare to what I do when in a physical classroom with students?

Our conversations have been enjoyable…and revealing. It turns out that teaching well in an online space is…ummm…challenging. Many of us have discovered that what comes easily to us in the physical classroom feels uncomfortable or unnatural in the virtual classroom. Probing questions that lead to engaging, thoughtful discussions amongst students now require a “delivery solution” or a “new tool” or “best practice strategy”. We have learned that even our relatively simple, in-class lectures paired with a slideshow now require new approaches and/or tools to create student engagement and deliver it effectively. And we are learning that formative assessments need to be much more calculated when we can’t “feel the energy of the room”. Alas, we are learning and modifying and adapting as we go. Teachers rock that way, but we still find ourselves questioning all that we are doing.

Turns out…some of us aren’t actually teaching (or not as well as we could be). So then we asked each other: 

“How can we do better?”

We have learned that we must be more specific and thoughtful in how we approach teaching and learning. Specifically, we have learned things like:

  • We can’t just post a PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation in Canvas and leave it be. 
    • We have to add audio to provide the extra context around that information, just like we would do if we were delivering that presentation in-person (we would never walk into class, pull up the slideshow, and then not say anything for the class period, would we?!).
      • Make a screencast (screencast-o-matic; screencastify) that shows the slide and allows for the instructor to narrate over it
      • Record a lesson in Zoom or WebEx and then share/embed that video recording in our Canvas course.
  • We can’t just assign textbook reading or publisher materials followed by a quiz and call it a day. If we assigned readings in our in-person courses, we wouldn’t just ignore all of that material when we came back to class, right?
    • We would have an in-class discussion where we would pose questions that push students to speak, consider, and generate answers (or attempts at answers) through critical thinking that is informed by and connected to the reading assignment.
      • Use a discussion board in Canvas. Ask students to have an initial post to your question(s); provide guidelines for their initial posts (length, depth, support, etc.); provide guidance regarding responses to classmates (required, suggested, length, amount, etc.); monitor posts and responses and chime in when necessary to help navigate the discussion (just like we would in-person)
      • Create weekly discussions in Packback. Packback ultimately asks your students, “What are you curious about?” regarding specific course content of your choice. Give your students some parameters and guidelines to help lead them into your assigned course content, and then watch them pose questions to their peers, answer with further questions, provide your own coaching and/or praise, and check out the AI moderation that promotes better student engagement.
    • We would pair or group students for an activity in class that would ask them to consider and discuss the presented material and then apply it to a problem, task, etc. 
      • Create a collaborative assignment for pairs or groups of students to accomplish together using Google Docs or Google Slides. Provide guidelines and details for the work they will do and how they will divide it, and provide some instruction of how to access and use the Google product and submit the assignment.

Reflection is valuable. I will continue to reflect because I want to continue to improve. For me, part of that improvement process has always included asking colleagues for suggestions, feedback, and help. And, let me tell you, some of my favorite colleagues that are always ready to talk teaching and learning are in the CTLE

If you have any questions or want to learn more about any of the ideas and suggestions in this entry, please feel free to reach out to me or go to the CTLE virtual office hours.

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