SERIES | REBECCA’S ONLINE TEACHING TIPS
Counting finals week, we have just over two weeks left of the spring semester. This journey from transferring in-person classes online started for all of us back on March 13 when Washington State University leadership first announced the mandate. That means that for more than 42 days you have been in the trenches, adapting, changing, and proving to yourself and others that you are able to rise above and make it work.
But you are also probably exhausted, fatigued mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. You are afflicted with Zoom-fatigue and miss your office. As you have adjusted your classes, you have upended your home life. You have not hugged friends or extended family members in over a month. You have become home-school teachers, armchair therapists, and career counselors to both your kids and students. You are working harder now than ever as looming uncertainties of the fall semester persist.
It is sometimes hard to stay motivated. Some days you would rather curl up under the covers and tell students you are not available that day. But despite these good days and challenges, as faculty, it is our responsibility to teach, to finish what we started, and to meet the needs of our students.
Staying fresh is the theme of this post. I’ve compiled a list of 5 ways you can close out this unprecedented stage of all our lives on an uplifting, positive note.
1) Update your physical space.
Consider where you have been holding your Zoom meetings. Is it time for a change of scenery? Would it be cleansing to rearrange things, set up a new backdrop, or play with virtual backgrounds? I find that reorganizing and re-configuring my physical space can be very therapeutic and uplifting.
2) Incentivize with low-stakes extra credit assignments.
When grading this week I discovered that very few students had turned in two of the required tasks related to personal professional development. As it is a stressful time in the semester and they have a lot to accomplish by May 4, I decided to make these two tasks optional, extra credit. They were important assignments that would have had greater meaning if delivered guided and in-person. At a distance, their impact fell a bit flat. Students are grateful for this shift.
Other low-stakes extra credit assignments could be short quizzes built in Blackboard, writing prompts, converted in-class activities they can accomplish on their own or in virtual collaboration with other students, or creative assignments such as building an infographic, short video, or audio diary.
3) Offer 1:1 meet-ups.
If you have the time and energy, offering optional 1:1 meet-ups can be very effective for connecting with students and building their confidence. I tried using Calendly so students can set up these meetings themselves. For whatever reason, they are not using the tool. As an alternative, I set up an editable shared Google Sheet where they can sign up for 30-min blocks. I then follow-up with a Zoom invite. This is working well and the response has been positive.
4) Create a discussion board inviting stories.
In case you are not familiar, Blackboard has a discussion board feature you can easily set up with a prompt that provides students a platform to share their thoughts and stories around their time taking classes online, managing stay-at-home orders, and enduring the disappointment of lost summer plans, jobs, and internships. As the instructor, you can contribute and interject as much or as little as you are comfortable. Just promote the fact that the board is there and students will do the rest. Those that want to share, interact, and engage will do so – and you may find they support each other in very valuable ways. > Learn more about Blackboard discussion boards
5) Enhance learning through creative interventions.
A couple of weeks ago my husband started a #DadJokes series for his business course. He invited our 19yo daughter to be the one who sits next to him while he tells these terrible, cringe-worthy jokes. I take pictures. The joy is in her reaction. It is always hilarious. His students were not so sure about this at first, but it has caught on and now they look forward to it – even ask that he record it on Zoom for posterity. They also now submit jokes for him to read and he has switched it up – sometimes the TA or our daughter will tell the joke so he is the one reacting. This week he invited his brother (also a dad) from Ann Arbor, MI to deliver the joke. It’s fun. It sets a tone. It’s simple and it works.
There are other ways to engage with the students in a creative way – even from a distance. You can start a Padlet discussion with a prompt, initiate a short game with Kahoot, ask talented students to “take over” part of the class session to cover a topic they are experts in, or use Zoom breakout rooms for small-group sidebar discussions or mini competitions. The point is not necessarily great intellectual outcomes. It is more about making the effort to enlighten, engage, and inspire.
This week I added a Google Sheets sign-up sheet so students could meet with me individually. I also changed up my background and workspace so I could showcase a gift from my Center for Civic Engagement leads received in a care package over the weekend. For the next two days, I will continue with 1:1 meet-ups with teams for their final digital campaign implementation and optional meet-ups with individual students who want to review their LinkedIn profiles and online portfolios.
Dead Week is my final week of formal meetings with students. Student teams will deliver their final presentations, and individuals will continue with 1:1 meet-ups. I am also hosting a dynamic and energetic alumna and advisory board member who will share her knowledge around career preparation with students in a live Zoom session.
I may not be going out with a bang or fanfare. Instead I am opting to be available and present; calm and accessible. I will take extra time in providing my final feedback, send notes to students where I developed special connections, and make sure they know that even though the semester is coming to a close, I am still here. As always, 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.