Sunday, August 23, 2020

Teaching In Fall 2020

 At the start of a new semester, I'm amazed at how much I've learned over the summer about online and remote learning. Taking the workshops on learning about how to deliver such classes was definitely worthwhile. My perspective on such modality has expanded and I think I am significantly better equipped than when this whole mess has started.

The biggest takeaway from everything that I've learned is that taking what you do in a face-to-face (f2f) classroom and importing it wholesale into a remote or online class does not work very well, even when delivered synchronously. f2f and online are two completely different beasts, and the mechanics, pedagogy, and "psychology" are very different. Based on what I have learned about some of the best practices method, student engagements and interaction are significantly more important in online courses for their success. So there has to be a conscious effort to design the course so that the students have to engage with the material, with the instructor, and with other students. This seems to be a very common and central pedagogy in almost everything that I've read about online learning.

Luckily, the tools that we use for that can promote such engagements. It appears that many Learning Management Systems (LMS) have upgraded and add features to their software over the summer. I know that the one that I'm using seems to have been loaded with a lot more capabilities than what I remembered earlier in the year. I've employed a bunch of tools in the LMS system for the asynchronous part of my class, and I've planned many activities during our synchronous sessions via Zoom (breakout rooms, polls, etc.). This includes a few "live lab sessions" in my physics class where the emphasis will be more on simple observation, extensive analysis, qualitative explanations, and a few quantitative  calculations. We'll see how that will work.

I think that taking the workshops over the summer and being an online learner myself with those two workshops gave me a more accurate perspective from the point of view of an online student. Just finding things itself can be an issue, and you have no one to ask immediately. I used to arrange my LMS page in terms of modules. There's a module for quizzes, there's a module for homework, there's a module for exams, there's a module for labs, there's a module for lecture notes, etc. So if you want to find the document for Lab 5, you go to the lab module and search for Lab 5 document. If you want to take a quiz, you go to the quiz module and take the quiz that's relevant for that week.

While on paper this all looks fine, when you actually go through something like this, you realize that you have to jump to several different modules for find all the tasks that you need to do for that week. I noticed that this is not what they did and how they presented it in all the online workshops that I took. Instead, they organized everything weekly. In Week 1 of the course, these are all the stuff you need to do. Then we go to Week 2 and these are all the stuff you need to do, etc. Each week, the lecture notes, the quiz, the homework, etc.. are all there, in the same folder or module. You don't have to go jumping around to different module to find all the things you need to do. This is such a simple thing to do and yet, it made for a more intuitive approach once you go through it as an online student.

In the end, I'm not as stressed out about my classes being completely online this semester as I was in Spring. I think I'm better prepared for it, and more well-equipped. And boy, I hope it shows in the students' performance this semester. Stay tune....