Monday, March 30, 2020

Teaching in the Age of Corona

I have no background in teaching online.  The good news is that Carleton's technology is actually pretty good even if it has a silly name--BigBlueButton.  It is part of the courseware (CuLearn) that we have, a tool that has always existed, but we are now using much more these days. 

I am lucky in that my MA course has student presentations the last three weeks (plus Canadian semesters end earlier) so I only had to do one seminar that was "synchronous"--live with everyone attending via teleconference.  It went reasonably well.  I lecture better than I run discussions so the dropoff from in person to online was not that severe.  The students had done the reading and were ready to talk about it.  I was able to get most folks involved even if some voices tend to dominate the discussion.  For the rest of the term, students will be posting narrated powerpoint slides that will be their presentations.  Not as good as live and in person, but I am aware that it is hard for students to be all online at the same time--some have kids, some have to share their computer with family/roommates, etc. 

Which gets to the main approach I have right now:
It is unfair and somewhat ridiculous to expect students to perform normally.  I know I am not performing normally even though I have no kids at home and I don't have to share my laptop with Mrs. Spew.  But if I am more distracted than usual, then I can't expect the students to be as focused.  This was a key point that Catherine Sanger discussed on the Duck of Minerva Podcast.  Give it a listen--lots of good suggestions for adopting quickly to online as she teaches in Singapore and is a few months ahead of the rest of us. 

I also agreed with someone who tweeted that they will not be grading as usual.  That they will give students at least the grade they had earned thus far.  That if they do better than their pre-quarantine average, their grade will go up, but if they do worse, the pre-q grade will be their grade.  I told my students the same with two caveats: plagiarism will still be penalized and students must hand in the work ... eventually.  I am willing to give extensions--all they have to do is ask (see above figure).

My PhD class will mostly continue on as normal.  It has five students, with one student presenting their dissertation proposal each session.  It meets in the evening, as it always did.  It is not as hard to get five people plus me to chat in a virtual classroom.  The BigBlueButton has a builtin feature to post slides so you can see the slides and the presenter at the same time.  It is very easy to use, so it has worked thus far and I have figured out how to have others control the slides--the learning curve is not too bad.

What I am most concerned about, besides the physical and mental well-being of my current students, is how I am going to teach in the fall.  Will we be online?  If so, how to teach IR Theory to 90 students?  I do have some ideas, but lecturing for two hours at a time is not one of them. 

Anyhow, the one thing I have figured out is this: perfection is the enemy of good enough.  As one of my students wrote so well, we ought not to put too much pressure on ourselves.

Good luck to all y'all in this difficult time.

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