Note #132: Nearing the halfway point (2020.10.11)
I usually post something not long after the semester begins, but as you may have noticed I did not do that this semester. I haven’t had a lot of motivation to write lately, for no special reason other than the general malaise that most of us are feeling due to the way things are in the world right now. But we are now rapidly approaching the midway point of the semester (which will be the middle of next week), so I figured it would be worth taking a quick look back at how the semester has gone so far.
In my post-mortem for last semester, I mentioned that one of the things I struggled with was a lack of interaction with the students. I also mentioned that I had never considered requiring the students to turn on their cameras during class. Well, from the very beginning of this semester I decided that I would ask the students to do this. I still am not requiring them to turn on their cameras, because that feels a little too draconian, and I do remember what it was like to be an undergrad. So I’ve told them that if there is some particular reason why they cannot or do not want to turn on their cameras on a given day, they should just drop me a line in the chat. Occasionally a student will do this, but for the most part the students have been good about turning on their cameras. In my larger class, where I have nearly forty students, this does mean that I have to page back and forth to see everyone, but at least I can see everyone. In my other class I only have 24 students, which means that they all fit on the same screen. Of course, if I am sharing materials on my screen—which I usually am—I can only see four students at a time, but at least I can see the students when they ask a question or make a comment. I do wish there was some way to have the best of both worlds, to be able to share materials on my screen and to be able to see everyone’s video feed at the same time, but even if that were possible it would probably require two monitors, which doesn’t seem practical.
Being able to see students aside, there is a lot more interaction in general in my smaller class, not just because it is smaller, but because it is designed that way from the start. The students have been good about sharing their thoughts and ideas, even though the class begins at 9:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays—early Monday morning is no fun for anyone, but the students are good sports about it, and once they get warmed up they do fine. The larger class doesn’t have as much interaction, both due to the size and the way the class is set up, so I decided to make a slight change to how I do things this semester. I’ve been trying to encourage students to take advantage of the asynchronous options at their disposal, and the Q&A board for discussions outside of class is already more lively this semester than I think it was for the entirety of last semester. But the real change I’ve made is regarding the short essays that the students write instead of taking quizzes. Last semester, I simply gave the students their grade out of ten and provided feedback when I felt it was necessary (to correct a misunderstanding, etc.). What I decided to do this semester, though, was to give feedback to every student, commenting on what they had written in their essays. This “feedback” is not necessarily a criticism of their essay (although if necessary I do let them know what they can do to improve); it’s really just my reaction to what they’ve written, as if I were to sit down with each student for a minute or so to talk. This does take up more of my time, but to be honest it is not that much more of a time investment—just an hour or so extra five times a semester. The benefit—namely, giving me an opportunity to interact with students on an individual basis—far outweighs the cost, in my opinion.
There’s more that could be said, but I don’t want to get into too much detail right now. Suffice it to say that I am generally pleased with the way the semester has been going so far. Things have been very hectic, and I’ve been quite busy with various duties and responsibilities, but at least my classes are going well. It is always good to have that.
I suppose that will be all for now. With luck, the rest of the semester will go smoothly as well. That’s only a small drop in the bucket that is life these days, but I’ll take what I can get.