First forsythias

This afternoon, a teaching colleague emailed to ask for any advice I might share as he transitions his face-to-face class online. Since so many instructors find themselves in a similar situation right now, I thought I’d share my response:

Although I spent more than a decade teaching fully-online classes elsewhere, I’ve never taught a face-to-face class that then suddenly went online. Ideally, you’d design an online class from the ground up versus on-the-fly. So don’t set your expectations too high: at this point, you’re trying to salvage some sort of decent learning experience out of a crappy situation.

More than anything, you want to be human and humane. I think this pretty much sums it up.

The more you can do asynchronously, the better. Let me repeat that: THE MORE YOU DO ASYNCHRONOUSLY, THE BETTER.

I know everyone is fascinated with the “shiny new toy” aspect of Zoom, Collaborate, and other real-time meeting tools, but I’d under-emphasize those. Students are going to be living at home with family, roommates, significant others, children, shared (or no) Internet connections, unpredictable schedules, and a pandemic that might affect the health of their loved ones and/or themselves. Adding the learning curve of new technology and the stress of real-time scheduling is NOT helpful.

When you’re teaching online, less is more, less is more, less is more. Or as Thoreau would say, Simplify, simplify, simplify.

The Blackboard discussion board is your friend. Students can post asynchronously whenever they are able, and they can post from their phone with the Blackboard app. Provide your students with clear expectations about discussion board participation. Emphasize that in an online class, “participation” and “attendance” are the same thing. You can’t sit in the back row and lurk: to be present, you need to participate.

In converting my face-to-face classes, I’ve cut a LOT of content and activities that work well in person but just won’t work online. In an online course, there is no need to “fill class time” with activities. Decide which final deliverables are essential, divide those into weekly chunks, and jettison the rest.

For one of my classes, this means each Monday-Sunday module features one discussion board and one writing assignment due on Sunday night. (These writing assignments are pieces of a larger research project.) THAT IS ALL.

We aren’t doing any real-time class sessions. If there is something I absolutely have to teach “in person,” I’ll record a video that students can watch whenever is convenient to them. Each Monday morning, I’ll post everything students need for that week’s module, including a checklist of relevant tasks and due-dates, links to whatever they need, etc. It’s up to students to plan out how they manage their time and work-load for each week’s deliverables.

The only real-time component I’m keeping is virtual office hours. I’ll have set times twice a week when I’ll be available for students to talk via WebEx or Blackboard Collaborate. (Skype is also an option many students are already familiar with.) If students want to “meet” at other times, we can schedule that, but I’m not requiring anyone to meet me in real time. Students’ schedules are too complicated for that, especially during these crazy times.

Students won’t remember whether you were a tech-guru who was a master of online technology; they’ll remember whether you were kind, humane, and helpful during an unbelievably stressful time.

I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have additional questions, and STAY HEALTHY.

Yarnbombed

It’s been two years since I quit my adjunct teaching job at Keene State College, and it’s been two weeks since I quit my online teaching job for Southern New Hampshire University. This means that after having spent a dozen years in the Granite State, I no longer have any official New Hampshire ties: I now live and work entirely in Massachusetts rather than leading a divided life shuttling between two states.

Yarnbombed

I taught at Keene State for ten years, I taught online for SNHU for eleven years, and I lived in New Hampshire for twelve years. I mention these details because this summer feels like the end of an era: the end of one life and the beginning of another. Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond for two years before deciding it was time to move on: he had, he said, other lives to lead. I seem to be on a slower schedule than Thoreau, needing a decade or more before realizing I’m ready for a change.

Yarnbombed

Over the past twenty years, I’ve proven I can patch together a livelihood as an adjunct instructor; now, I’m wondering what I want to do with the rest of my life outside of working. Teaching online was a great moonlighting gig while I taught full-time at Keene State, and it was a good supplemental income while I got settled into my part-time job at Framingham State, but teaching online can be grueling if you do it long-term. For the past eleven years, I’ve taught online classes year-round, taking my laptop on every vacation and checking my classes at least once a day, every day: weekdays, weekends, and sick days included. One of the benefits of teaching online is you can do it anywhere…but one of the drawbacks of teaching online is you feel like you must do it, everywhere.

Yarnbombed

Now I find myself wondering what I’d like my life to look like now that I’ve said “no” to year-round, around-the-clock teaching. In a previous lifetime when I worked for a church, one of my colleagues warned me about what she called the caring professions. Anytime that your job involves caring for other people, it’s easy to forget your own self-care. When you’re doing “the Lord’s work” at a church—or when you’re focusing on student success at a college—you feel guilty leaving your work at the office, as if it were “just” a job. But at the end of the day, that’s exactly what being an adjunct instructor is: it’s a job, and a part-time one at that. Looking back on the past decade or two, I realize I’ve regularly put my students before myself, pouring more time and energy into my job than my part-time status deserved.

Yarnbombed

The other day I brainstormed a list of things I want now that my days teaching for SNHU are over. “I want my life back” was the first thing I typed: a hyperbolic statement that popped out the instant I set fingers to keys. There are a lot of things I’ve let fall by the wayside in the past decade: I want to practice more, exercise more, and write more. I want to finish that book I’ve started then set aside umpteen times. I want to see myself as a writer and human being first and a teacher second: I want to remember that even the caring professions are, ultimately, just jobs. Now that I’ve fully crossed from one state to another, I want to settle into life in the here and now, spending less energy Earning-a-Living and more time Simply Living.

Leafy

Today’s Photo Friday theme is School, so here is an image of the Elliot Center at Keene State College, which I’d blogged this time last year.

Line 'em up

Today I’ve been busy with my online classes, responding to Discussion Board posts and grading a batch of student essays. This weekend, I’ll work on my fall semester syllabi for Keene State, once again taking the long view as I plan the path for another academic year. It’s been hot (in the ’90s) and humid this week, so it’s hard to believe that fall semester is right around the corner, but I know better than to believe the thermometer. The empty seats I photographed in Keene State’s Morrison Hall aren’t going to stay empty for long, so I’d better be prepared for the upcoming influx of students. Ready or not, here they come.