I wasn’t surprised when ACC announced it would be switching to 100% distance learning for the remainder of the semester. And as someone who has been teaching at least one online class a semester since I started there, I’m pretty comfortable with the distance format. Because of my experience, I had a relatively easy time converting my classroom courses to online ones. Still, this challenge has given me an opportunity to reflect on my current teaching habits, and how I might shape my courses in the future.
Even students whose classes were already 100% online are struggling. Many of them have lost their jobs. Or they are essential workers, pulling lots of overtime and stressed out. Or their kids are suddenly home and also have to be on the computer all day for their K-12 classes, and there isn’t necessarily enough bandwidth or enough devices to go around easily. Some have even gotten sick. Every student needs to be treated with care right now, even if their course format didn’t suddenly change.
Converting a classroom course to an online course halfway is not the same as teaching a course that was online all along. My fully online courses are being run the same, though with an adjusted course calendar, because the extended spring break was granted to all students. I am also being as flexible as possible with everyone. But the converted courses are being run differently to maintain consistency where I can. Whereas my fully online courses were set up to be asynchronous, I’m running synchronous video sessions during normal class sessions for my classroom courses. Not everyone can attend (for all of the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph), so I’m making video available after. But trying to maintain some semblance of regular weekly live connection has been helpful. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for how to do this.
Even students who attended live video sessions like being able to watch the replay. Many of my students have reported going back and re-watching the videos to clarify and reinforce information. This has been a great source of insight for me. Although my online classes will still be generally asynchronous, I’m exploring with ways to add a synchronous option once a week for those who want to attend. Then the video will be available for anyone who wants it. I haven’t decided how I want to implement that into established distance learning courses, but it will happen in some shape or form. And while I don’t love the idea of recording my in-person classes (once in-person classes can happen again) and posting them, I’m also wondering if that wouldn’t help student outcomes. It’s definitely something to consider.
Sometimes I still expect too much. This is true for both my students and for myself. In having to adjust all of my course calendars due to losing a week of instructional time, I had a great chance to see where I had too many activities, or was trying to cram in too much content. And there have been times in all of this where my perfectionism has caused me a great deal of stress. But I have to give myself the same sense of grace I do for my students and for my colleagues.
I’m glad I trusted my instincts. In the initial weeks of lockdown, there were a lot of articles about what teachers should or should not do, many of them with very black-and-white stances. Ultimately, I took some advice and rejected other advice. Implementation hasn’t been 100% perfect, but these are nowhere near perfect conditions. I’ve done my best, and most of the feedback from students tells me I made the right decisions for my particular courses.
This has truly been the most challenging semester of my teaching life. I already had a double overload before all of this started. I’ve faced a lot of doubt and overwhelm. But in all that, there has been a great deal of opportunity for reflection, and I think I will come out of this a better teacher.