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Story Title: Teaching in the Times of Coronavirus

Contributor Name: Jim Hays
Created: March 21, 2020 at 6:56 PM

Story: What are your experiences teaching & learning in the time of coronavirus?

It was a pretty hectic and stressful week in which we had two days to transition our students to the online environment. I work at an intensive English Program integrated into the Cal Poly campus. Our students come from around the world to improve their English and, for most, to enter a university. The biggest challenge has been dealing with a stressed out director who was trying to use this time to improve the curriculum. For many of the teachers, the transition to online classes was enough of a cognitive load already. But to hear the boss demand top down curriculum changes was a bit disconcerting for me and overwhelming for others. One thing good that has come out of this for me is that I've been able to leverage the online/digital skills of a lifetime into a very smooth transition. I had already been using most of the technology and anything "new" required very little effort to learn since these skills are transferable. For example, I know it's crucial to be patient when trying new things online, so I know to expect roadblocks. I just keep trying the different options, experimenting and keeping the tools that work well with students. It's a sort of inductive exploration process. Perhaps other teachers who might be more stuck in a pre-planned fixed pedagogy mindset may have more difficulty adapting if they are not willing to accept failure as a price of learning new ways to leverage technology. I've been in this frame of mind for 25 years, so the technical change of moving classes online has been the least of my worries. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether or not my students will be engaged in my class.  I'm using Zoom for holding classes in real-time, which is crucial because our students are still working on their English-language speaking and listening skills.  We combine this face-to-face instruction and interaction with interesting COVID-19 readings uploaded to our Learning Management System (we use Schoology).  I've also created tests and quizzes that students can take to hold them accountable and reinforce the learning in class.  Finally, I have students upload speaking tests via audio files to Dropbox; they can conveniently do this using their cell phones.   That way, I can listen to their recordings in my own time and provide them with a grade and hopefully valuable feedback. Unfortunately, I keep in mind that no matter what I do, I'm going to lose some students.  I lost three Japanese students on Friday who were required by their university to return to Japan. That decision was not made as a reaction to my providing an anemic on-line environment for them, but keeping my remaining students engaged is a challenge I will continue to face over the next weeks and (hopefully not) months.  Again, I am comfortable with the online environment but the loss of physical proximity does have an impact on my ability to keep students involved in the learning process.

Keywords/Tags: transition, online teaching, being flexible, teying new teaching methods

Contributor Comments on the Story

Hope it doesn't sound arrogant that I've been comfortable with tech. I didn't say I'm great at it in an analytical sense. It's just that I'm deeply committed to finding more efficient ways to teach and tech has a lot of potential for this.