Day 1 reflections & adjustments: Lessons in adapting in real-time


One down, 17 to go: A journey in taking an in-person class online and then adjusting in real-time

Six years of creating, modifying and delivering online classes did not really prepare me for live presentation of a formerly in-person class in a virtual environment.

I’ll begin with a quote I believe says it all. This is from my colleague and Murrow College associate professor Beth Hindman, Ph.D. in a Facebook post this morning- “I’ve been a professor at Washington State University for 17+ years and have been teaching online for roughly half that time (both grad and undergrad). In my case I always had a YEAR to prepare to move courses online, and even then they’ve required tweaking (or more). I am in awe of my faculty colleagues at WSU (and around the country) who have managed to prepare their courses for online delivery in only a week, in the middle of the semester.”

When professors prepare an online course, we typically have months to strategize, plan, prepare, and design. We conceptualize our lesson plans, assignment goals, video lecture creation, and discussion prompts. We work with an instructional designer from WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation, peer faculty, and other support staff. We take time to sit in workshops or tackle tutorials in video lecture creation, and pour over articles and resources about best practices in online course design.

With #Covid_19 academic impacts, our past approaches to online course design were only moderately useful. We all had to adjust quickly, consider what was already in place with our in-person curriculum, and in a flash, figure out how to translate that content and experience into an online course space. Heroic? Maybe not that far. But certainly challenging.

I did all the right things in preparation for this inevitable Day 1 of teaching my two in-person undergraduate courses online. I adjusted the syllabus and course schedule, I updated Blackboard and the course blog, I set up Zoom virtual meet-ups, I established a block schedule for virtual office hours, and I communicated with my students about changes, what to expect, and getting ready for the adjustments.

With a 1p class, at 12:45p I sat down at my new home office setup, tested my audio and video, considered my lighting and the ambient noise factor, made sure I didn’t look like I just rolled out of bed, and put on my bravest face. I was ready to go.

At the top of the hour, I logged into Zoom and waited for the flurry of activity. Here is what came next:

  • One student popped in, then dropped immediately.
  • Another student popped in but had no sound.
  • Then I had no sound.
  • I checked the Zoom setting and realized I had it set to “phone only”. That won’t work. I fixed it. The student and I dropped and came back in.
  • Now there was sound. Two more had joined.
  • We chatted for a bit – a check-in on how they were doing and how they were feeling; what was their current living situation; were they safe, fed, and OK? Three more joined.
  • My daughter came in and asked me a question. We kept going.
  • I went through my spiel – the how-this-will-work, hot priorities for assignments, call for teams to meet up outside of class session so they can implement campaigns.
  • A student let me know that my Zoom wasn’t working in Blackboard. I checked. It wasn’t. Will deal with that later.
  • A few students dropped off the call – had what they needed. Three more joined.
  • I started my spiel again.
  • Somebody named “none” came in but never spoke. Not sure who that was.
  • Another student couldn’t get his microphone to work. So I texted my spiel and he responded.
  • More chatting – mostly not about class and instead a lot of me reassuring them, making them feel better about things, trying to get them to smile.
  • Three minutes to go and another student joins. I chat with him for a bit. Had to go. Another live Zoom session starting at 2p.
  • One student pops in. Her mom joins us. We chat for a bit. Four more join.
  • I again started with a check-in on how they were doing and how they were feeling; what was their current living situation; were they safe, fed, and OK?
  • I begin my spiel for this class – focusing once more on how-this-will-work, hot priorities for assignments, what happens next with CCE projects and working with their CCE Leads.
  • A couple students drop off, a few more join. Sound doesn’t work for one of the students. We troubleshoot for a bit until we all help him figure it out.
  • More chatter continues that is mostly not related to the course.
  • We talk up until the hour. I make sure they have what they need.

Not everyone showed up. But those who did needed to hear my voice and see my face. They cared about orientation on changes with the class in the online format, but mostly they needed to be re-assured that they are OK.

What I heard from my small sample size of students…

  • They are nervous, scared about lost jobs, and worried about succeeding in their classes.
  • They miss their friends, Pullman, campus vibe and activities, and are sad about the prospect and (likelihood?) that commencement will be canceled or postponed.
  • Four were back in Pullman living alone in their apartments. They are OK for now and not yet too worried, but I made a note about these students to ensure I check in on them often.
  • Most of their classes were holding live virtual Zoom sessions during normal class time. They were glad about that.
  • Most of them felt supported by their faculty and confident things would be OK; appreciative that instructors are adjusting, being kind, and are willing to hold virtual office hours.
  • Those back at home were grateful they had family support.
  • Some worried about how they get their stuff back in Pullman, pay rent, wrap things up before summer.
  • Some were worried about their Jr. Writing Portfolio, delivering Honors Thesis presentations, and logistics for classes that were most certainly geared for in-person activities.
  • They want to remain connected. This is critical to them right now.

So after two hours of meeting with them, some interruptions, some technical glitches, and a lot of talking — I would say it went well.

My parting notes and reflections…

  • I am going to keep my virtual Zoom classroom open every MWF during normal class times. I want them to know they can always pop in even to just check-in, say hello, hear a friendly voice.
  • I expect more will schedule a time to meet with me 1:1 through virtual office hours after this week.
  • I will prepare more structured discussions, tutorials, and activities for my open Zoom class time to keep things focused on learning and relevant to course content.
  • I will play music as an opener to set a tone for our time together.
  • I will remain positive, upbeat, and encouraging.

I survived my first day of synchronous delivery of two live-yet-virtual classes. It was surreal and instructive. I will learn a lot about this mode of delivery and myself in these final weeks of the semester. I have 17 more sessions to go in both classes. I will do all I can to bring my best self every time.

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

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