September 29, 2020

September check-in: How is everyone?

The "this is fine" dog as a stuffed animal
Your loyal blog team, and possibly also you.

Hi everyone. How are you? Your blog team is tired, but doing our best. We wanted to take this moment to check in with all of you in the Teaching SIG as this unprecedented (we are also all very tired of that word) semester inches up to a midway point. We talked earlier this year at our virtual meeting about how we were all preparing for instruction in the time of COVID, but now we want to take a moment to see how that’s actually going. We sent out a survey earlier this month, and this is what y’all had to say:

What kind of teaching is currently happening at your institution?
This one was a mix, with “a mix” being the most common answer! All except one of you were at institutions that were offering some kind of hybrid modality, with one person’s university holding all classes remotely, both synchronously and asynchronously. Bronwen Bitetti, at Bard College, shared that all the classes at her institution are either held in a tent or virtually, which was unique among our answers! As far as ways to take classes during a pandemic go, sitting in a tent by the Hudson sounds kind of nice.

What kind of teaching have you, personally, been doing since the start of the semester?
While your institutions may have been mixed, all our respondents were teaching primarily or wholly online. For most of you, that’s meant a combination of synchronous and asynchronous, though some are being requested to create only asynchronous tutorials, and occasionally you’re dropping in to in-person classes to say hello and introduce yourselves. Either way, everyone is living in Zoom these days–which isn’t much of a surprise.

What are your biggest struggles?
A lot.
Some of the issues we’re all struggling with aren’t too surprising; time management is rough, of course. Teaching in a remote environment is difficult, whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous. Folks mentioned the frustrations of trying to hold an interactive, engaging, and meaningful class experience in Zoom. Even with tools like breakout rooms and polls, people are struggling to get participation in an environment where everyone is muted and has to intentionally unmute before speaking.
Asynchronous teaching may be less awkward in the moment, but offers its own frustrations–in particular, not knowing how it’s being received, and not really having a good way to find out how students are experiencing your materials.
This feeling of being “out of the loop” also extended to coworkers and whole workplaces. Some of you felt disconnected from the decisions senior leadership has been making to handle life and work during a pandemic (#mood), and others just felt it was difficult to connect to coworkers remotely.

What’s going well for you?
It wasn’t all bad, though–and it seems like members of the Teaching SIG are great at making some good come from a really bad situation. Several of you shared that having to teach remotely and/or asynchronously forced you to think differently about your instruction, prompting you to trim down content to retain what was most vital for a live session or prepare more thoroughly before a class. Others shared tech successes, such as successfully getting Zoom breakouts or other tools to work for you. What seemed most meaningful, though, was the emotional impact, both of support from institutions and coworkers and the added flexibility of being able to work from home.

None of us know where the spring semester is going. In fact, we’ll likely do another blog post about that as it gets closer. We’re not going to sugarcoat things and say that it seems like we’re pulling more good out of this moment than we are struggling–but we can say right now that it’s been meaningful to hear from all of you, and see our own experiences mirrored. And, unsurprisingly, it seems like you’re all putting in a ton of work trying to make this semester’s instruction as engaging and meaningful as possible for your students. We hope this chance to vent and glimpse into your colleagues’ experiences was meaningful to you, too.

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