Best-laid plans of Zoom and engagement often go awry

End of week 3 and the ongoing journey of learning and real-time adjustments


This is a continuation of two previous posts… Day 1 reflections (Mar 24) and Day 2 reflections (Mar 25)

After getting the official word we needed to move our in-person classes online, I spent some time contemplating my next move. In the week leading up to the Mar 23 new-normal start, I thought I had it all figured out. Here was my plan…

I would hold live Zoom sessions during my normal class times MWF. Attendance would be optional but encouraged. I would hold virtual office hours for those who wanted more personal attention. I would hold 1-2 team meetups in COMSTRAT 310 for status reports on campaigns.

So that worked – for one session. Time to adjust.

  • Zoom links broke.

    After my first session , my “recurring meeting” Zooms links broke and had to be re-setup and calendar invites were re-sent. I also learned that it was better and more secure to set them up within Blackboard instead of Outlook.

  • TAs wanted to meet with students too.

    I have three Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) teams in COMSTRAT 383 with student leads serving in a TA-esque capacity. They also needed to meet with the students. It was already confusing. So we stopped, shifted, and collaborated. Wednesdays are now CCE days and we use breakout rooms so everyone can meet-up and then return to the main room for large-group discussion.

  • Loose structure failed.

    My “open forum” plan proved ill-fated. I needed structure so the time spent was valuable and purposeful. Turns out them showing up and seeing my face and voice saying “hi, what’s up?” isn’t terribly compelling or bode confidence in my abilities to teach. I quickly created an updated lesson plan for both classes and set forth to provide a combination of lectures, discussions, and demonstrations. I also started recording my sessions and posting them on Blackboard so those who did not attend could view them later.

  • Vision for a new type of engagement didn’t pan out.

    I envisioned that my virtual live sessions would be similar to colleague meet-ups where most are on-screen, smiling at making some level of eye contact. Maybe even a pet or family member would pop in to say hello. Turns out this was not the case with the majority of my students. Most preferred to not be “on video” – and on top of that, most do not even have photos or avatars for their no-video screen so it’s just a black background and their login username. I also had trouble getting them to use the emoji’s and reactions, writing in the chatbox, or shifting over to audio so they could provide feedback. Disappointing. This wasn’t very interactive after all. A few would chime in as a courtesy – but mostly I was left with crickets. Time to adjust.

    Smaller groups = better, more personal engagement.

    Starting in week 3 for COMSTRAT 310, I abandoned my all-hands virtual live Zoom sessions with 40 students and shifted to setting up 30-minute sessions with each of my 10 teams. Yes, this adds hours to my classroom commitment and yes, it is more work and means more screentime for me. But it works better for the students. I went from 45% attendance to 100% attendance. I’ll sacrifice a few hours of my time for those statistics. It changed everything immediately.

    Hence my updated graphic for this post. My plan for running 3 live class sessions per week per course has been blown up. I now meet 3x/week minimum for one class and 10x/week for the other. It is a lot, but it is also better.

  • Live demos are popular.

    I run a lot of live demos and tutorials in my classes because we work with about 13 different web-based tools as part of the curriculum. I create very detailed and course-specific tutorials that students rely on to learn and practice with a digital tool. They are painstakingly step-by-step and specific to the task they are asked to do. They take a lot of time to create but they are effective and from what I have heard, students appreciate them. But there are times my live demonstrations are necessary and static tutorials are not as practical.

    So on Apr 3, I ran a live demonstration of how to capture and record digital metrics in Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Instagram metrics, and Constant Contact email results. I have a tutorial slide deck for this too – but it can be daunting for those experiencing it for the first time. I went slow and with intention. We followed along in a template slide deck they were populating. Attendance was good and interaction was better than previous sessions with the larger group. I also recorded the session so those who were unable to attend could follow along later. I received feedback that many referred to the recording and it was helpful.

  • Turns out Zoom is best (for me) for recording both live & off-line.

    I am a fan of Panopto for recording lectures – especially if you are going through a slide deck and covering a topic in a systematic way. The biggest downside with Panopto is that it does not automatically provide an audio or written transcript. It requires more steps. So then I discovered Zoom recording. Several benefits emerged… 1) It records the screen so no matter what you are doing – lecture slides, websites, discussion, etc. – it is seamless; 2) You can save the recording to the Cloud and auto-integrated it with Blackboard; 3) It processes very quickly once the meeting has ended; 4) It auto-transcribes what the instructor is saying, captures the chat, and provides an audio transcript. I have not played with the editing function but I plan to explore that soon.

So the journey continues and is certainly not over. I am happy with my adjustments so far and feel that they are effective in providing regular connection to my students and my CCE Leads. I have Zoom-fatigue for sure. I am participating in an average of five Zoom meetings each day. I sometimes forget to eat, my posture has suffered, and my eyes are buggy. I am trying to take more breaks, turn things off by 6p, and adjust how and where I am sitting so my back and arms will stop screaming at me.

I share these stories, ideas, tidbits as my small way of showing support for my peer faculty. Maybe something I do or mistakes I make will be insightful for others. Maybe you’ll laugh with me, share my frustrations, or feel vindicated. Whatever the response please know you are not alone in this. We will persevere. We are #OneWSU.

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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