Quick College Teaching Update Re: Format

The first week of the semester, I did one class in-person and one class by Zoom. I did that primarily to confirm that all the students knew how to handle Zoom and remote in case COVID cases spiked locally and we had to pivot to full remote; I think that’s a good idea for anyone teaching in-person, if your institution gives you the flexibility to do so.

I then went back to in-person for following weeks. It’s clearly working better for my fiction writing class; the process and discussion is much more generative than it was remote, and we’re able to do a better job of building community and cohesion as a workshop.

But for my other class, a 400/500-level lit. class, the remote class went really well — so well that I ended up sending them a poll, asking if they’d like one class / week to be remote. I gave them five options: strong no, weak no, no preference, weak yes, strong yes.

It was an anonymous poll (free through Survey Monkey), and the results came back with one weak no, one no preference, and the rest as weak or strong (mostly strong, including one in ALL CAPS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!) yes to remote. If there had been even one strong NO, I think I wouldn’t have switched, but there wasn’t.

So we switched to that this week — Monday we’re in-person, Wednesday remote on Zoom. Just taught class, and it went great.

I think this is probably only working so well because half the class are grad students, and the rest are upperclassmen, and the class is at 9:30, so the first of the day for many. Only one or two of them might have to do it on campus, which matters — for my fiction workshop, we’d have at least five students who’d need to do it from campus, which creates technological challenges if they’re all zooming in from our regular classroom. So I’m not saying this is going to work for everyone’s classes.

But for us, I think having half the classes remote in the upper-level lit. class is a clear improvement. It lowers COVID risk, most importantly. Remote also saves most of us commuting time (not me, because I’m still going in for my other class, but still).

In terms of pedagogy, remote gives the quieter students who get nervous about speaking up in class more avenues for participation, such as through the Zoom chat function. Breakout rooms work just as well as small groups in the classroom setting. For those who find in-person exhausting, half-remote gives them a break (while we still have some in-person for those students who find it energizing).

I don’t know what the future of teaching is going to look like, but I’m hoping that one consequence of the pandemic will be a lot more flexibility in teaching modalities, and a lot more teachers experienced in how to do online learning effectively. Among other things, it means that when I travel for conferences, instead of trying to get colleagues to cover my classes, I can simply teach them remotely. That’s going to be better for my students overall.

When the weather is terrible (and the roads are dangerous with ice), we can smoothly switch to remote for a few days rather than asking students and teachers to risk their lives to come to class. When I’m horribly sick, I can still cancel class, but if I’m just a little under the weather and sniffly (as I often am for a few days in winter), I can teach safely from home, conserving my energy and not risking spreading disease, rather than trying to power through in the classroom.

I’m honestly excited about what teaching will look like, once we’re past the crisis of the pandemic. It’s going to take flexibility on the part of administrators (and teachers, and students), but I think the rewards could be immeasurable.

Photo: me teaching from home this morning — no masks, which also means I get to see my students’ faces (if they’re feeling up to having screens on), and they get to see mine.

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