As I begin my third semester of pandemic teaching (not counting the summer and winter terms), fully recognizing that before this is over we will have spent more than a year just trying to survive this toxic stew of unsupported pandemic education, I have carefully considered three alterations to my teaching plan.
The biggest change is my orientation. In the past I have forced students through a very long Google slideshow then followed up with a Google form to emphasize key points. There was a lot of silliness intended to set students at ease, but pandemic teaching has taught me an important lesson as I keep trying to Marie Kondo my praxis – nobody has the time for that nonsense. So I abandoned my long-standing practice of making the syllabus (and its pages of standardized elements) an institutional document and added a lot of detailed information specific to my class and my methods. This includes adding two sections (with links):
- Channels of communication with descriptions, instructions, and my preferences
- Essential course documents with details about how the documents interconnect to suppport our work
This allowed me to replace the painfully long slideshow with a simple “5 Things to Know” version (see below). I did keep the orientation form and inserted some of the essential videos, memes, and info that didn’t fit into the syllabus or “5 Things”, but the streamlined information included in the syllabus is much more accessible (for the future) as well as easier to process (now). The essential part of this change was implementing syllabus annotation inspired by Remi Kalir. Part of the orientation process encourages students to interact with the syllabus (we use Google docs as that is the platform we will use for the work of the class) – asking questions, leaving comments, etc. Reworking and rethinking this information was a lot of work for me, but the new format should be so much better for my students and hopefully leaves us more time to play! So far my students seem to enjoy this approach as they interact with the syllabus and they are more excited about the class than I would have expected them to be inspired by a syllabus and the invitation to collaborate on it. I’m pleased with student response to syllabus annotation and how well it supports my student-centered pedagogy.
Updated #HyperDoc Templates
I am still in love with my HyperDoc templates, but I have definitely discovered some flaws in my original design that (hopefully) I have corrected for this semester. Most of these changes were small, but meaningful. For example, changing some language and organization to be more consistent. Some other changes include adding the course overview (including brief descriptions of the goals of the class as well as each unit) plus links to each unit at the top of the course calendar page. I hope this will provide easier access to the units but also serve as a constant reminder of the big picture goals of the class and how our work supports those goals (see below). I also streamlined the weekly activities so it will be easier to follow along as well as make choices about how to focus time and energy when those resources are scarce. Some of this work involved rethinking and reorganizing on my part to reduce the number of moving parts and tasks the students and I were expected to track each week without losing important interactions along the way, but I am very pleased with the end result (see below). Part of that process was adding a new doc to my toolbox: a unit logbook. One of the things I love about HyperDocs is the way they support a community at work. While my units are carefully planned so work builds on previous work, too often I didn’t purposefully connect that work as it was completed so I was constantly toggling between docs — and I suspect some students were as well. However, my logbooks will hopefully make the connection and progression of the work of a unit very clear and available for easy reference. The logbooks should also reduce the confusion that often occurs in an asynchronous class when we might have students working ahead as well as trying to catch up.
Next Level #Ungrading
One of the solutions I implemented in the fall in response to the great unmooring caused by the pandemic was to institute academic and community check-ins. This decision was only partially successful. This spring I will keep my community check-ins (we use the blog function in Blackboard) because they are such a valuable space to get to know students I may never see in person as well as offer comfort and support for us all. There were times this fall when check-ins were the only good thing about my day. However, the academic check-in was much less effective and as a result I’ve shifted the academic check-in to become part of our weekly reflection process which moved into Blackboard (using the journal tool). While I miss my cute dogs, this will reduce the number of moves required for my students and I and make the academic check-in a conversation – which should be more useful than a form. In addition, combining the academic check-in and reflection into a private Blackboard channel of communication is one more effort to streamline things. My previous version of ungrading included a unit reflection in Google docs that students were expected to update each week as the culmination of the work of the week. Some students failed to do so or erratically. At the end of the unit we would shift the conversation (because it included grades) to Blackboard but I strongly suspect some students didn’t read those posts. Hopefully making that final grade conversation the natural conclusion of a conversation (based on their reflection) in one space will simplify life and make the best use of our time and energy. Finally, I am integrated Laura Gibbs’ declaration quizzes into my ungrading model so I can spend less time with spreadsheets and more time with student work. I also hope that the quiz combined with the streamlined week overview will help keep students on track with weekly expectations and help me focus my time and energy on the students who need it the most.
I still began the work of the semester with snaps and kicked off our game-themed writing class with play (even if I had to resort to a choice board we will play some party games via Google Meet). In addition, I rebranded our weekly meets to jam sessions where we will kick off each unit with some small group writing. We are in the thick of our first week of classes and I feel good about these changes and students seem enthusiastic too. What new moves are you making to survive another semester of pandemic teaching and learning?