Sunday, November 28, 2021

Covid-influenced pedagogy

 Teaching college students in the middle of a global pandemic has been a delightful challenge, if I am being honest. It is a sign of the unrelentingly privileged bubble that surrounds me that I can think this way, of course. But really, having 2 kids while writing a dissertation and then a bunch more while working full time made the pivot to WAH not terrible at all. In fact, I liked not having to go out in the freezing cold, find maternity clothes to fit my giant body, and pay a million dollars to park downtown. Sure, sure, Zoom is the worst, and true distance learning is not synchronous, but I enjoyed having the opportunity to rethink my teaching practices and redefine what it means to have an accessible classroom.    I know that this was a luxury and that so many people were in survival mode as they balanced the competing demands of work and kids and marriage. 

Amount of work:

The first thing I am changing about my teaching practice is the amount of work I assign. I stopped introducing new content on weeks when students had a high-stakes assignment or an exam due. Now, when part of a paper comes in, for example, we do not have lecture or discussion section, and my TA and I instead lay out a ton of office hours to be available.

Exams:

Speaking of exams and papers! From now on, my exams are take-home, open-note exams that ask students to synthesize a bunch of material as opposed to in-class exams that stress recall. I am leaving them open for a week, and students can work at their leisure.  We also do not have formal class meetings on exam weeks, so I know that no matter what else they have going on in their lives, students can devote the time they would have been sitting in lecture to their exams. This does mean that I expect more from their answers, and I think they might ultimately spend more time than they would have with a traditional test, but the way the time is organized seems more humane.

Papers:

I used to assign at least 2 shorter term papers overt the course of a semester, but now, I only assign one big final paper, and I scaffold it into three or 4 chunks. Not only does this make students get started early on what will eventually be their end-of-semester paper (which, in turn, cuts down on plagiarism, since plagiarism is usually a last resort), but it also privileges revision. If students take each part of the paper seriously, they will only need to make some edits and assemble all the pieces into their final paper at the end of the term. Scaffolding a paper has the benefit of letting students master the format of a term paper as well since they deal with sections as discrete pieces. And, most importantly, scaffolded papers are easier for busy graduate students to provide feedback on. By the time they see the final paper-- due at the busiest time of the semester for both undergrads and grads--they have responded to 2 or 3 earlier versions, and grading while also writing good comments is much, much simpler and more efficient.

Attendance:

NO ATTENDANCE POLICIES. These have been exclusionary forever and assume all sorts of ableist myths about students, but in the middle of a pandemic? They're downright dangerous. I have created a couple of recurring weekly assignment--one for lecture and one for discussion-- that hold students accountable for reading and synthesizing the material and reward their effort with some nominal points. The points are not punishing if a student misses an assignment here or there, but they also add up to quite a bit over the course of a semester, encouraging students to interact regularly with course materials. It is easier to do well on these assignments when students come to class, but they can absolutely succeed working from home, and I can be sure they have read and understood everything they're supposed to.

Access:

I make all of my lectures available online as well as all of the reading for the class and all of the Power Point slides. This helps students understand that I am serious about not coming to class sick, and it allows them to access course materials as they are able if the traditional structure of the course doesn't work for them at one point or another during the semester. This semester, I have done the same thing with the discussion materials. Yes, they should attend section, but if they cannot, they will know exactly what the class did and discussed.

Anyone have other things to add? Has the pandemic made a positive change on the way you structure your own work?

3 comments:

Chiconky said...

This is brilliant. I really hope that we come out of the pandemic with a better metric for work/school etc and it’s so heartening to see what steps you’re already taking. Nothing to add. Just appreciation!

maya said...

This is so sensible, efficient, and humane! I usually don't have TAs so I've been doing some of this as a way of being kind to myself too :).

Becca said...

I love this. Now that I am on the other side of the lectern I am so grateful I was never a stickler for attendance. I have a class I otherwise love, but it has a really strict attendance policy, and when I missed one class because my car broke down 45 mins from campus at 7:00 AM and there was literally no way for me to get there, I got three emails reminding me that if I missed two more classes I would get an F. It felt so unnecessary! There are so many variables! It put a bit of a wall between me and the professor, honestly, which is too bad because it is a really good class otherwise.