COVID-19 Teaching Pt. 2: Presence

by theadventuresofbeka

My full-time teaching position does not involve summer work, so I moonlight as an adjunct at a local community college. This summer, the college decided that all courses would be fully online and asynchronous (i.e. no required course meetings even over video software).

I approached this course differently than I did my emergency transition in the spring for a few reasons:

  • I knew ahead of time that I was going to be online. My goal is to not only survive but to also flourish.
  • All community building would have to be asynchronous and digital rather than moving an established community to an online space.
  • I had read this post by David White which resonated with me – I decided to focus on the idea of presence rather than contact hours. As I was designing my course, I was constantly asking myself, how can I be present for my students?

Online asynchronous teaching sometimes feels like I’m starting over. I have rhythms and practices that work for me in a physical classroom space, and, in some ways, I was back to being a beginning teacher questioning every decision I was making.

This course is usually a hybrid, flipped classroom model. Because of this model, the value of our time in the physical classroom centered around a few key things.

Community: Pretty much all of our community building was happening in the classroom. The online work was mostly individual, and it was in the classroom that they shared ideas and collaborated to learn and create.

Evaluation and Feedback: Although I gave regular feedback online, much of my informal feedback happened in the classroom. This is where I encouraged struggling students, walked students through processes or technologies confusing to them and gave general guidelines to the class based on common issues I was noticing. This is also where students asked the most questions.

Rapport: I set high standards, I come from a prestigious university and I give direct feedback primarily focused on improvement. I can be intimidating in the online space. It is in the classroom where I show that I care for my students as people and that my goal in setting high expectations is that they will succeed.

I am two weeks into this course. Although I have a list of things to do better next semester, I don’t feel like I’ve lost these elements in my teaching due to a few practices that I’ve implemented.

  • Regular Informal Instructional Videos – As much as I hate recording myself, I know that a student will feel more connected if they can see my face and hear my voice. I also don’t fuss over these videos – my dog Akela has appeared in quite a few of them.
  • Weekly Check-ins – I require students to briefly tell me about their week through email or over Zoom including something that they learned and something that challenged them. I then respond to these check-ins.
  • Forum Participation – I have always required students to respond to their peers’ forum posts, but I now also act as a participant. I respond to students’ posts as if we were having a discussion in class. These comments respond to their content and do not provide any evaluation of their performance.
  • Weekly Recaps – Each week, I post a brief video where I address the week before. I teach on something that came up or address a common question that I received.
  • Optional Online Meetings – I polled students for their availability and host weekly “meetings”. They are optional, and students can come and go as they please. Anytime a student enters one of these sessions, I start personal before addressing course content.
  • Timely Correspondence – My response time to messages from students is under 12 hours except on weekends. I include screenshots or screencasts when students are confused about the technology.
  • Scaffolded Flexible Groupwork – I still require that students collaborate, but I taught them about online collaboration first and am extremely flexible in defining what the groupwork looks like.

Overall, I’m really enjoying online teaching. It’s been fun to rebuild what it means to create a classroom community. If given the opportunity, I would love to continue to expand my skills in online instruction. I also think that some of these approaches and lessons learned can be applied to an in-person classroom (whenever we can go back to that).