As I wrote in Part 1 of Hacking My Own #HyperDoc Template, I love using HyperDocs in my classes (both online and hybrid). However, after years of teaching with HyperDocs I am finally hacking my own templates. I made this decision not only because it was long overdue, but also because this fall (OK, let’s be honest, the entire coming school year) is going to be rough (gestures wildly at the world). While we do have the advantage of moving into the fall semester knowing enough to prepare for our dramatically changed teaching/learning circumstances and can prepare for a sudden switch from hybrid/HyFlex to fully online, we are also exhausted and overwhelmed. In some ways it is worse than the spring because then we had hope for the future. But I’ll rein it in before I spiral into despair and pull you into the maelstrom with me. My point is that with everything else going on in the world I want to keep things as simple and streamlined as possible for myself and for my students which is why I created a template to guide our unit workflow and a template to guide our weekly workflow. This weekly workflow template is the focus of this post.
In the blog post describing my process for developing the unit template I explained the focus for the class which is built around my American Literacy theme which will center around three driving questions. Those questions are posted at the top of the weekly template to make sure that they are front and center as we work. Similarly, when describing my process for developing the unit template I explained the four-unit journey we will take over the course of the semester. Each of those units is posted at the top of the weekly template as well to make sure that we all understand how the units work together and can check at a glance where we are in the process. The final step of the original blog post was to describe the workflow for the unit and again the workflow will be posted at the top of the weekly template so we can see how the work of the week fits into the bigger picture of the unit as well as the work of the semester. I really like including the focus of our work, the description of our journey for the semester, and the steps involved in our workflow at the top of the weekly template. I hope that those continual reminders will keep me on track as I plan and build the course and will support my students as they work and learn through the semester. Each week I will expect students to engage in three types of coursework and an accompanying deliverable to support their growth and development as writers.
Each week we will have between one and three goals or tasks. For example, the work of our first week will include completing an orientation and sharing our values with our community. The orientation is mainly a passive experience although I do try be funny (see (Re)Orientation for some idea of my approach) so it is not a complete drag and the deliverable is an even sillier form that is more of a recap of the essentials than a check of learning. However, sharing our values is a highly personal and interactive experience that will serve as an icebreaker and community building experience as well as the foundation for work we will do the rest of the semester. This work will involve a low-stakes writing prompt, building a value snap, and interacting with the value snaps of their peers via Google docs. This work will closely follow the activities I used last fall when teaching this class in a hybrid format as they were already set up as asynchronous and online.
Community support has always been an important component of my classes and is even more crucial when operating a HyFlex class during a pandemic which is why it has been the focus of much of my thinking about the weekly workflow. The big picture goal is to develop and sustain our class community by helping each other, but I also want to make sure that all my students receive the help and support as well as the human connection they need to succeed in the class (as well as college and life). I cannot do this alone. My students cannot do this alone. But together we can – if I can help them create a community out of a class that is never together physically.
I have been teaching online for more than 15 years and participating in online communities for even longer and I know, absolutely and without question, that it is possible (even highly probable) that with care and attention an online or hybrid/HyFlex community can come together as a cohesive unit. But, based on my long-term experience combined with my spring pandemic teaching experience, this challenging task is complicated by the pandemic in general as well as its specific impact on traditional college life. However, based on my summer pandemic teaching experience, the shared trauma and worry inherent in our lives can also bring us together if we harness that evil for good.
I have built in two essential elements to support developing and sustaining our class community: Check-Ins and Support. The check-ins are something new that I developed after realizing this spring that it is too easy for students to lose touch with our class community without structure so every student will be expected to both post and interact on our Community Check-In site. This will just be a place to share general life news that we might have learned by sharing a classroom space and will allow us to just interact as humans. Students will also be expected to check-in academically through one of our weekly meets or Direct Line. I will hold weekly meets (2-3 sessions at different times dependent on student schedules and needs including possibly (if circumstances allow) a face-to-face weekly meet during class time. These meets will kick off with a writing prompt as my classes typically do and then run as a collaborative study session where we work through challenges students are facing. The Direct Line option will be for students at the far ends of the spectrum. Some students will be ahead or so comfortable with their work that they don’t need/want additional support so I won’t hold them back. Other students will be behind due to illness or life and need some one-on-one or just-in-time support to catch up with the rest of the class. Note: weekly and individual meets include option for phone or webcam.
Students will also be expected to actively participate in the work of the class then pay it forward three times as well as participating in the weekly meets that they attend. In addition, students are expected to use and support our class Information Booth (where questions about class assignments are asked and answered) and award badges.
I have been working toward an ungrading, or metacognitive grading, approach for about 18 months now. I have described my approach as conference grading and I thought after the spring semester that I had finally worked it out in that third iteration. Then my co-leader, Leslie Workman, and I tweaked it yet again for the Morehead Writing Project’s Online Summer Institute and I think I have both shifted my thinking again and added another tool to help keep students moored to the class and our work. There is also the simple fact that during a pandemic I cannot hold 38 student conferences four times over the course of the semester (the logistics of scheduling that many video or even audio conferences makes me want to cry) just for my Writing I students. I haven’t quite decided if I want to refer to this new plan as ungrading or if I just want to describe it as metacognitive or reflection grading. Stay tuned for a blog post!
As I describe in Conference Grading 3.0, I guide students through a reflection process to help us determine the grade that they have earned for each unit based on both the work that they did and the unit deliverable they completed. During the OSI we shifted the reflection process to include weekly updates and we (both leaders and participants) found that we really enjoyed and benefited from watching the growth and development in each area as well as the ability to look back. I expect this process will be even more rewarding for first-year writing students and will give me the opportunity to provide the timely intervention that would normally happen if work was taking place in the classroom. I hope it will also allay some of the fears that plague students during their first encounter with ungrading and provide another way to stay connected with me and our work together.
Each week students will be given a version of this weekly template with links for the current work and unit in progress and special instructions for that specific week (essentially a to-do list). I have always done this with an entry on a Blackboard page as well as emailed announcement and course calendar, but I hope following the same template each week will help keep students on track and unworried (or at least less stressed). Much of this structure and procedure already existed in my classes, but now I am making it explicit using these templates. What steps are you taking to streamline your classes and reduce stress for yourself and for your students?