Now that we are all looking ahead to next semester, and perhaps still learning painful lessons from the semester we’ve just completed, it’s time to think about how I’m going to teach from home. I’ve got a bunch of teaching experience, but it’s all in-person experience.
That being said…. I’ve had the chance to the teach some of our Graduate Apprenticeship students for the past 6 weeks. While it’s a smaller class size than I might usually work with, it’s given me a chance to trial a few things online, learn lessons along the way and listen to the student experience of this pandemic situation. This what I’ve learned…
WE ARE ALL HUMAN
This one has held true since I started my teaching career with the words “I just picked up this class last week. That means I’m one week ahead of you and might not always know the answers, but I promise I’m trying very hard. Please be kind”. This is what I rather nervously told the first class I was ever responsible form on day one of class, in September 2013. That were so very kind and taught me so much. The only way we could have that connection is because I showed my vulnerabilities; I showed them that I was a fallible human.
Now, we don’t want our work to invade our homes any more than it did in 2019, but if we told anecdotes about friends, pets, kids, etc before then why do we not still do that? Just because you are teaching from your living room, your garage, your garden or a cupboard under stairs, doesn’t mean that you need to keep your virtual distance. Connection with students is still important, perhaps even more so. We still want to build a community of learning and that community begins with a human connection.
PANIC-GOGY, NOT PEDAGOGY
We are working to solve an immediate crisis, with this new virtual learning setup unknown to both staff and students. In this sense, we are partners in the exploration of a new way or working together. Too often I’ve seen people go our of their way to justify how they have decided to approach this situation as a new pedagogy. I’ve got bad news…. We are operating a new panic-gogy. I first heard this term in a presentation by Prof Sally Kift for the QAA Enhancement Conference (see recorded presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upYdEAamcpQ).
What is blended learning anyway? It means different things to different people and arguing on a definition isn’t helpful. You know your subject best – so plan to teach it how you see fit to do so. Advice is useful, but each domain is specifically different and we must not lose those unique elements.
I’ve been doing some reflection of my own and have come across this video on YouTube (https://youtu.be/D7vooDcxUaA). I’ve picked up a few things that I really like from it, e.g. video introductions from students, etc. I’ll be implementing some of these ideas next semester in an effort to build a collaborative learning community.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
We always say this but now it’s even more true. There is no way to overcome poor communication in person and it’s not so simple for student to drop by your “office” and ask a question, so take extra time to set out what you expect from students beforehand. It’ll save time in replying to emails later if everyone knows what they need to do.
Also, let students know what to expect from you. This is a two-way street. It’s also your opportunity to set boundaries from the outset, especially ones that help you maintain your work-life balance.
This is an example of a set of expectations from my summer school class.
What I expect of you:
- I expect you to take responsibility for your own learning. I’ll check in with you, but if you didn’t understand something or you need more examples, let me know.
- I expect you to complete the tasks that are set for each week. It can be tempting to jump straight to the assignment, but completing the tasks gives you practice which will make the assignment work much easier.
- I expect you to tell me if something isn’t working well (e.g. too many videos, etc). Equally, if you’re really enjoying sometime tell me about that too, so that I can do more of that.
- I would love it if you told me about other things you were doing. That can be a Processing project, or a history project, or a jigsaw. It’s just good to connect with each other.
What you can expect of me:
- You can expect me to be available for our regular meet-ups to catch up on how you are progressing.
- You can expect me to reply to emails or Teams chat / group discussions within 48 hours (typically 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday).
- You can expect me to help you to troubleshoot problems. There’s nothing worse than being stuck with a programming problem that just won’t go away.
- You can expect me to give you constructive advice. This means highlighting both positive points and areas for improvement.
- You can expect me to give advice on any academic or pastoral topic you want to discuss with me. It’s a privilege that you would trust me to share your experiences, so I’ll do what I can to help.
Overall… the best piece of advice I have for you is DO NOT PANIC.
In terms of shifting teaching online (or to a blended format), there is great variation among my colleague in terms of confidence and preparedness. This is reflected at a national level across multiple disciplines (https://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/forced-shift-to-online-teaching-in-coronavirus-pandemic-unleashes-educators-deepest-job-fears-). The good news is that computing is (unexpectedly) more prepared than many other disciplines, but there is variation.
Start with what you want to achieve and work backwards. Don’t start with tech. Just because the local online learning technologist or Sandra on Twitter has something new…. It doesn’t mean you need it.
Sometimes the most simple solutions are the best. Re-purpose available resources where you can. Are there videos on YouTube that you can link to rather than reinvent the wheel? For example, for my summer school class that will be running soon, I have videos from a variety of sources and I record an overview for each week so that students know where to focus and what they should be doing.
Finally, explain to students how you have structured your class and why. In my case, I have used existing resources so that I have more time to work directly with individual students to address questions and to help them focus on practical tasks. It’s new to everyone, so keep the students on board with regular communication and explanation. It’s also a great sanity check for you too – if it makes sense when you say it out loud, then it probably makes sense.