Adopt, adapt, and improve

Ready for our back-to-school-but-now-online week. I’ve posted a series of online-learning orientation activities that I had used in a 2015 online course. For more substantive work, there’s still a discussion board that I started last week, asking students to find court cases on government restrictions of civil liberties in times of national emergency. This will get us through this week. For next week, I can use some of the materials and activities of that 2015 course, which was also on courts. Then new materials for the following week.

I am so lucky, having taught a related online course before. I have videos, video lectures, ideas for discussion boards, even some quizzes that can be re-used. I can only imagine how much work it is to create these things from scratch, for three, four, five courses. In a week.

We really may not pretend that the coming month is anything like regular online teaching. It is an extended period of makeup classes in face of a national disaster—and one that is exceptionally, criminally mishandled by the federal government to boot.

It’s like a snowstorm followed by a hurricane followed by an earthquake. We make do, we comfort each other, we try to help people to learn something, to grow. To survive (knowing that not all may make it). If the Imperial College report is right and we’re teaching online for 18 months, then we may be able to develop more meaningful online learning structures over the summer. If the resources are there to compensate faculty who are on 9- or 10-month contracts.

The people in our library who help people transition to online learning are positively heroes. I was only involved in a few roundtable convos and one-on-one consults this week (all online, of course), and these were very insightful. Faculty are committed to making this thing work, and they are dedicated to quality teaching. Many are also deeply worried about the situation and how the students will cope with the stresses and pressures that go beyond health towards renewed economic fears.

My own worry, in this context, is that faculty will do too much. This is a general theme in the faculty development literature—see Bob Boice’s exhortation to moderate, particularly when it comes to teaching (here is a blog post by Nancy Chick, 14 years after publication of Boice’s book, with some thoughts that may be helpful in the current situation as well). We easily overdo things. And in the current situation, we will overload students, and we will overload ourselves, and we will overload our technological systems.

What will we do if things break down? If in the middle of our synchronous WebEx lecture the system freezes, or one of our 150 semi-anonymous students posts an obscene screen share in our Zoom class, or half of our class does not do half of the activities we’ve posted on Canvas, …? Will we be able to, as Chick, channeling Boice, suggests, pause, breathe, and then revise?

And if we get sick and pausing, breathing, revising does not work, what will we do? I have not found any good answers to this one, except: do what we gotta do (that is, not do) to survive. That’s not comforting.

Kind of appropriate: adopt, adapt, and improve.

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