Are we O-K now that we are on-line?

One WSU faculty member’s perspective at the end of week #1 of moving in-person classes 100% online


This is a follow-up piece to my first Online Teaching Tips installment: “We will be O-K if we go on-line…one WSU faculty member’s perspective” from Mar 7, 2020 and continuation of reflections earlier this week: Day 1 and Day 2.

I am not a Coug by my mortarboard. I earned my roar in the trenches of classrooms and at whiteboards – teaching emerging young professionals how to parlay what they learn into real-world applications. No matter how you got here, we are all #OneWSU.

As tenacious beasts, Cougs did not falter in the face of this challenge – taking all of our existing in-person classes and moving them online – all in a one-week turnaround. WSU leadership came together to make hard choices and find one voice. WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation stepped up immediately to run in-person and virtual training sessions in Zoom, Panopto, and Blackboard. Deans and department chairs rallied their troops and ensured they were informed, had access to resources, and that no one was left behind. Faculty dusted off their webcams, untangled their headsets, adjusted their curriculum, and polished up their PowerPoints to ready themselves for a shift from standing in front of a classroom to sitting in front of their screens. Students gathered their things, found their safe spaces, sat up with their backs straight and messy buns high – and showed up to their virtual live sessions.

Was it a perfect transition? No. Were their glitches, frustrations, and fears? Yes. Were their successes and failures in the delivery of content? Yes. Did we give up? Never.

So we find ourselves at the end of the first week that felt like a month. We are tired in a way we have never been tired before. We are behind in grading, emails remain piled up in our inboxes, we are not fully prepared for the second installment next week. But we survived. We made mistakes and learned from them. We persevered. Regardless of the bumps and bruises acquired along this first week’s journey, it is important that we not lose momentum. We must not waste too much time mourning what has been lost and instead rise up to this challenge, deliver the best content we can, and use this experiment as a teachable moment not only for the students, but for ourselves as qualified, experienced instructors.

As this is the “Rebecca’s Online Teaching Tips” series, I want to close out Week One with a highlight of six lessons learned and ways we can maintain an upward trajectory in virtual teaching:

Six Lessons Learned in Week One

  • Keep what works. Abandon what doesn’t.

    These first two weeks are experimental. Some of your ideas and approaches will work well, others will fall flat. Do not force it. Focus on what works well, what the students respond to most, and what makes your life easiest. My original plan was to run loose, “workshop-style” virtual live sessions. As it turns out, students responded better to a more structured topics-based approach. I switched. It’s working well.

  • Adopt a rhythm and stick to it.

    I am referring to “rhythm” in two forms:

    1) How you start and manage your day: I find it helpful to have consistency in my morning routine, taking breaks throughout the day, and shutting things down by 6p. This helps maintain balance.

    2) How you structure the delivery of course content: As you do for your in-person classes, what is your process? Do you have a lesson plan, lectures, discussions, guest speakers, etc.? Whatever it is, version it for online delivery and stick to it. This will not only help you feel more organized, it will build confidence in your students.

  • Love your teaching space. You will spend a lot of time there.

    I am one of those individuals who work best if I love the space I am in. I like things orderly and clean. I like visual stimulation with color, photos, and memorabilia around me. I need decent lighting, a good chair, and a hard surface to work on. I need quiet (or sound-canceling headphones). I need a side table for papers and pens and highlighters at easy reach. I chose to go with a custom backdrop because the virtual ones (although very fun and well-designed) make me look like I have a floating head. Find what works for you. Get creative. Make it yours.

  • Take screentime breaks. You need fresh air.

    Take walks. Work in the yard. Join a meeting outside on your porch. Very simple concept – you need to move, you need fresh air, you need to connect with something non-technical in nature. Call a friend or family member so you can unwind and laugh. Your brain, eyes, ears, and heart need to cleanse. Take care of yourself so you can be amazing for others.

  • Keep students informed. They have never felt more disconnected.

    Notes I have received multiple times this week include thank yous for the emails, for keeping them in the loop, for sharing my candid and non-plastic thoughts, and connecting with them in multiple formats. Many of my students are alone in apartments or stuck back in their childhood bedroom (now converted to a parent’s office or storage space) with tiny desks and sub-par lighting. Few are with roommates. Most are physically detached from their best friends, significant others, and lifeline that is their support network. You may be the only consistent presence in their lives right now that is not a relative or nosey cat. They want to hear from you. They want to know they can see your face and hear your voice. Be as present and connected with them as possible.

  • Continue learning and improving. Use available resources.

    With this tip, I am not suggesting you take on any new professional development activities right now. I am only encouraging you to keep growing and evolving in this new challenge. AOI offers daily on-demand support Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m via Zoom providing support in Zoom, Panopto, Blackboard, and online course design. They are also offering a complete line up of virtual workshops throughout April. Of course, there are other terrific resources outside of WSU as well. Here are a few I have bookmarked:

    > Chronicle of Higher Education and their ongoing series of supporting faculty moving in-person classes online

    > Poynter and their COVID-19 Resource page

    > Adobe Creative Cloud and their resources page for faculty and students teaching and learning remotely

    > Zoom’s resource page specifically geared toward COVID-19 transitions

    > Educause support resources for online teaching and delivering of digital content

    > Evolllution special section for faculty teaching online classes during COVID-19

    > “Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption…” by two Stanford professors.

So as we head into Week 2 of our new normal, it is a great time to take a step back, reflect, and consider how you want to proceed to the next phase of this endeavor.

  • Be kind to yourself
  • Have faith that you are doing all you can to make the best of the situation
  • Stay connected to your peers and your students
  • Take breaks, get outside
  • Breathe
  • Keep going
President Schulz posted this on Twitter this week. I like the spirit. #WAZZOOM!

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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