Don’t tell anyone, but I think the COVID-19 crisis might have made me a better educator.
Over the past 3 months, I have taken my fully on-ground, in-person classes and put them completely online, done all my advising and research mentoring virtually, and I think I might be doing the work a little better.
Don’t get me wrong–I miss teaching my students in person and I can’t wait until we get back to some semblance of normal. But normal won’t be this fall, and possibly not even in the spring of 2021, so I decided, as I prep for the fall, to look at my teaching and see what went right this past semester.
1. Variety is the spice of life! I started off slow, but after a few misstarts and mid-lecture meltdowns, using a variety of technology made me more effective and creative. Zoom, Screencast-o-Matic, Flipgrid, Padlet, Google Docs, and more–I use it all, and that seems to really work.
In the beginning, I thought my students wouldn’t want to meet for a full class period. I kept wondering who would want to look at my head for 2 hours. Then I realized that my head is not the issue (at least not for my class)–that the issue is creating a space where we can interact with content in real-time.
I use Zoom for class check-ins and short “lectures” where I share my screen and break the class into small groups. Screencast-o-Matic is great for doing the narration of some short PowerPoints or Google Slides. The important note here is to keep it short–virtual presentations should never go longer than 15 minutes and shorter is better. I also loved using Padlet or Google Docs for in-class feedback or quick ideas, especially following a small group breakout and Flipgrid to share great answers to homework or give students a chance to reflect on the material.
2. Don’t stop moving! I am an ex-elementary teacher, so I am very comfortable with brain breaks–taking a few moments out of the class to breathe, regroup, and then return to work. There’s a lot of research that supports brain breaks for kids, but they work just as well for college students.
Go Noodle is a free resource that I used often in my class for mindfulness breaks (super helpful when you’re a little stressed about the worldwide pandemic) and movement breaks (equally helpful during a 2-hour zoom session). Check out their mindfulness videos–my college sophomores and juniors LOVED their 3-minute Chin-Up.
3. Let students engage as themselves. My students are wise and smart. I allowed them to use part of our class time to do a Class Share to tell us what they were watching, reading, or listening to and how that was either a. helping them understand our course work better; or b. helping them cope with life better.
These brief opportunities for students to lead the discussion (they knew the date they would share and had a 10-minute time limit) allowed my students to make connections and share how what we were doing in class applied to their world. Students also voted (using Poll Everywhere in our Zoom chat) on how to organize our class or on discussion questions for breakout rooms. To build community and engagement, I did things like wear your favorite t-shirt day, wear our school colors day, and–the most popular–bring your dog, your cat, your ferret, and/or your child to class day. It all worked to make a stressful situation often very, very joy-filled.
4. Make time. This was the most important thing I learned: the time I spend with my students has value and I need to build that into my teaching.
I used a variety of opportunities to connect and stay connected to my students. Twice a week I held open virtual office hours. In my classes that met more than once a week, I took class meeting time to create dedicated virtual office hours for that course. I let my students know that I would come early to every synchronous meeting on Zoom and I stayed late after every session. I also made myself available through the app Remind, where students could easily text me with questions or concerns about coursework.
This took time, but I never had a virtual office hour without a student stopping by–I can’t say that was true for my at-school office hours pre-COVID. Some of my best teachings happened during these virtual meeting and I’m going to make them a part of courses from now on.
5. Social media works for me. I used social media to keep the discussion going even after my courses were over. I use Instagram and Twitter to share with my students the latest in educational research and the latest in public discourse about education.
I think it is my responsibility as an educator to make my students aware of what our field of study has to say about current issues, but also the variety of resources that are available for them. For each class I teach, I create a hashtag of the course number and tell students to search for it and share and respond. It’s a great way to connect my students to the larger world, but also to model responsible social media use. My favorite part of this has been that my former students have started their own active professional social media accounts and share some of the great work they are doing in their communities.
I refuse to let COVID-19 defeat me as an educator. I think it is my job to find a way to teach my students. It’s not easy and sometimes it’s clunky (the first few weeks were nothing short of ugly), but we’re all going through so much that it just seems like I should see my work as an educator as a vehicle to support and empower my students–to make their lives better and to model for them what showing up really means.
COVID-19 made me stop and really think about what I teach, what’s important, and see this as a way to make things even better.