Teaching Hub

Last Week’s Teaching in 2020 – Episode 3

Last Week's Teaching in 2020UA faculty describe their experiences teaching during the 2020-2021 academic year. Share your ideas and experiences here, and your entry could be featured in the next episode.

Success and Disaster Teaching via Zoom

I taught all my courses this semester synchronously via Zoom. One class is going great and the students are very engaged, learning the material well, and are making great grades. The other one is a bit of a disaster because some of the students do not show up (even though they don’t have to physically go anywhere to attend class!), or do not participate when they do show up, or do not turn in coursework. I am trying lots of different strategies to engage students. I find it very frustrating that several are not responding at all.

Students Email Discussion Questions to Increase Zoom Participation

To encourage better participation/investment in the class by around midterm, I split the participation/attendance grades (with announcements that this was coming for a week prior), and started requiring that, in order to earn full participation credit, they email me discussion questions based on the readings before class. Each week I have screen shared a document containing these questions, and have had the students lead the discussion themselves, choosing to answer a question and then tagging the next student.

By the third week, my students were comfortably discussing and tagging one another, keeping the conversation going. My role, then, was to step back a bit and listen, offering input, redirection, or a further question only infrequently, and/or summarizing themes and making connections toward the end. By this point in the semester, I feel the class is comfortable interacting in Zoom, and they seem to look forward to seeing one another.

* For one class I was double-booked, so rather than cancel class, I had them proceed with the discussion on their own, noting that I would record the session and would pop back in when my other meeting was finished. They stayed within the realm of the provided questions and did a good job keeping the discussion going — but ALL by using the chat feature, no mics/voices. This choice of medium surprised me although the discussion was thoughtful and relevant. This has given me something more to think about regarding online interaction preferences and this generation of students.

Discovering that Remote Students Genuinely Want to Learn

This is the first semester I taught online synchronously. I’ve taught online asynchronously before, so this is my first chance to compare. What I have is an anecdote to share:

The synchronous class I’m teaching is a research methods course — pretty dry material. It’s a master’s level course, required for the degree, and motivations and abilities vary across students. But generally, I’ve found that the students have acted as though they genuinely want to learn. I didn’t see that in the same asynchronous section of this course that I’ve taught previously. I do wonder to what extent that is self-selection. These students signed up for an in-person degree, whereas the others did not. I really think that self-selection bias informs why different outcomes emerge from varying modes of instruction.

I was very heartened by the fact that these students wanted to learn. I did not feel that they were in the course just to pursue a degree. Their behavior doesn’t give the impression that they think everyone and everything standing in the way of their degree needs to get out of their damn way (I felt this teaching asynchronously online.). The students ask questions and participate. We have developed a rapport and chemistry that I haven’t seen teaching asynchronously. I am not a ‘true believer’ when it comes to synchronous remote courses, but I now have a different understanding of their value.

Using Discussion Forums Generates Discussion on Zoom

I taught two very different classes this semester: one a small seminar with just over 10 students; and the other a large lecture with almost 150 students and three GTAs leading weekly Zoom discussion sections. In both classes, I used the discussion board forum function in Blackboard. Students were required to make a post each week based on the readings and to reply to another student’s post. I gave them very clear directions about format and content for both the post and response.

For the smaller class, this enabled the students to begin a conversation about the text prior to class and to develop ideas to use for their papers. In the large lecture, the GTAs used the forum assignment to engage the students and teach close reading skills. It takes time to read and evaluate the posts and responses, but I’d say it’s worth the effort, particularly to help generate discussion in a Zoom class.

Questions about this series? Contact Nathan Loewen at nrloewen@ua.edu