When I started teaching, I had enough youthful optimism to imagine that I could remember, from year to year, what I thought about my past classes: what readings worked well, how I wanted to tweak assignments, which great new ideas I had encountered and wanted to incorporate. You see where this is going: experience soon showed me that I could not remember all of that from year to year, so I started a document called “Teaching Ideas,” organized mostly by course, to which I outsource the tasks of memory.

This year, it grew a new opening section: ideas and resources related to online teaching in the pandemic era. As usual, I was taking these notes for myself, to inform my planning for my fall classes. They have now grown into a fairly large pile, very loosely organized and lightly edited. Please add other ideas you have found useful in comments!

Covid Thinking

  • Beginning of the term
    • Divide discussion boards? (Gernsbacher suggests 6 to 9 in each discussion board group)
  • Weekly schedule
    • Weekly newsletter to each class previewing the content and tasks of the week
    • But casual short videos as in Flower Darby article
    • Weekly checklist of graded assignments: by day, with points, making sure to build in points for interaction, follow-through, and self-assessment
    • Karen Costa on writing groups
    • End-of-week shout-outs to classmates (either direct or back-channel and shared by me later)
  • General resources
  • Resilient Pedagogy
    • Andrea Kaston Tange on Resilient Design for fall teaching and subsequent Twitter thread about principles. Key question: “How can I design a class that could function wholly online if it needed to, but that has assignments and modes that could work in person if we have the ability to meet that way?
      • Examples: group notes that get distilled for key points to share; rotating responsibilities on discussion boards; short teacher videos that set up the readings and such
      • Reducing complexity with exceptional, step-by-step clarity of instructions
      • Face-to-face discussion as precious and focused, used only for purposes that can’t be achieved asynchronously
      • Redundancies: discussion assignments that use the same prompt for message board or in-person discussion
      • Note the links to related resources at the bottom
    • Aimée Morrison on Resilient Pedagogy (series of blog posts)
      • Stable, semester-long groups (with the introduction to the series)
        • Groups of 3-5 are the key to everything else
        • Groups rotate through assignment responsibilities, such as choosing or summarizing readings for the class or making lecture notes
      • Collaborative class notes
        • “This assignment is a classic win-win-win-win: it produces a classroom where disability accommodations do not need to be asked for, it makes my life as a teacher a lot easier, it calls forth a sense of ownership and responsibility among students, it allows for a greater number of resources to be shared and documented. And if the main teacher has to disappear for four weeks, and then the whole shit show has to suddenly move online? Well, most of the record of the course is already there, waiting, ready to be picked up by whomever is able, as they can.”
      • Other posts to come, according to the first installment:
        • One-page reading summaries
        • Short assignments, different modalities
        • Short assignments, not sequence
        • Flipped classroom: pedagogy of gentle provocation
        • Meta-cognitive classroom: teaching the teaching
    • Joshua Eyler Twitter thread
      • Key point: “As opposed to other contingency plan models, which require faculty to do lots and lots of extra work (what does X activity or assignment look like in f2f? in online synch? in online asynch?), the resilient model advocates for designing 1 time & using regardless of modality.
    • Bill Hart-Davidson on Resilient Pedagogy
      • “A resilient pedagogy requires planning for the important interactions that facilitate learning.”
      • “Ultimately, I think the work of building a resilient approach to teaching and learning should be work to preserve and celebrate the best ways to be together, face-to-face or online, so that we make the most of the time we have set aside for learning. When I select a suite of tools to enable learning in my own classes — online, face-to-face, or a hybrid of both — I try to build a studio. I ask questions like, how will students see and learn from one another? How will they be able to reflect on their own progress? ?How, when I am demonstrating, will students be able to shift perspectives in order to answer their own questions?”
  • Peer learning, groups, engagement
    • Ideas from Andrea Kaston Tange, Borrow These Ideas:
      • Start class in breakout sessions for conversation
      • Have students write the check-in questions to ask each other at the beginning of class
      • “Ask students to write about what an article, the first chapter of a novel, a recipe, an economic theory, or anything else they are reading assumes they already know.”
      • “Assign roles in small groups: synthesizer, skeptic, note-taker, reporter. This is particularly helpful if you have some remote students and some in-person ones, as the remote student could have the role of skeptic or synthesizer and produce starting points for conversation that might happen in class (which they might miss), and the note-takers will then have produced notes that those who miss the synchronous discussion can use.”
      • “Flexible Synchronous: Assign students to working groups based on their own schedule and availability. Give each group different questions about the reading to work through, and ask them to make notes in a shared document.”
      • “Wholly Asynchronous: post a question in a Q&A style forum, where students have to post some kind of response before they can see anyone else’s. Have a follow-up assignment where they have to read through the threads and each come up with one synthesis statement that draws together two or more observations made by others, and post that to a shared google doc.”
    • Asynchronous discussion on Piazza (with help from Laura Sinnett). Advantages:
      • Ability for students to ask questions and get answers in public–and questions can be anonymous
      • Ability to set up stable groups (as in Morrison essay linked above)
      • Standard discussion formats or Wiki-style collective composition
      • Also allows posting of resources, so can replace Blackboard completely for my purposes
    • Georgetown site on peer learning
    • Melissa Wheler, Building community (also see the next section here)
    • Tips for online discussion, Edwige Simon
    • Short video responses!
    • Ali Briggs, “Ten Ways to Overcome Barriers to Student Engagement Online” 
      • Among other things, make contact before the course begins (with welcome video as well as text), use reminders and checklists for helping students stay on track
    • Morton Ann Gernsbacher “Five Tips for Improving Online Discussion Boards” (PDF download)
      • Divide into groups of six to nine students–separate, parallel discussions 
      • Direct traffic: make initial posts and subsequent discussions into separate assignments with their own deadlines, and use further direction such as respond to someone who doesn’t have a response yet, or different from whom you’ve responded to before
      • Assign actions for the responses: “Find three quotations that interested/surprised/annoyed you and explain why”; use verbs such as find, compare, explain, describe, identify–they imply work getting done, not shooting the breeze.
      • Incorporate student interactivity: jigsaw prompts (find an X that nobody else has found), snowball prompts (build on something a previous student provided). Or 3C+Q: response to another student must include at least two of compliment, comment, connection, and question.
      • Deter parachuting (which is doing the discussion post without doing the underlying assignment)
  • Videos
  • S3 UDL (Universal Design for Learning) hacks from Britt Abel in ACM Workshop
    • Add modalities: could video or audio be an alternative to writing? Even for first steps in a scaffolded assignment? (Essay by Karen Costa on [not] requiring camera presence)
    • Scaffolding with cognitive support (providing outlines, summaries, graphic organizers)
    • Align assessment criteria align with goals of assignment
  • Grading and self-assessment
    • Beloit Student Feedback Strategies (in Documents as PDF)
      • Such as Three things that have engaged you, 2 things you will use in the future, 1 thing you still have questions about

    • Each assignment: task, purpose (long-term as well as immediate), criteria (including examples of successful practice)
    • Make self-assessment/check-in regular and graded!
    • Linda B. Nilson, Specs grading and assignment bundling
    • Abby Mullen, Contract grading (and Miriam Posner version)
    • Cia Verschelden on bandwidth replenishment
    • Attendance: “we miss you when you’re gone” approach, with follow-up conversation, rather than docking grades
  • Evidence-based learning in general (partly from GalaxyKate thread)
    • Brown et al., Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
    • Bruning et al., Cognitive Psychology and Instruction
    • Clark and Mayer, e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning
    • Mazur, Peer Instruction (short video)
    • Sarah M. Leupen, Evidence-Based Instruction (lecture)
  • Two contrary insights to hold onto about learning in a traumatic world:
    • James Baldwin “It’s very hard to look at a typewriter, and concentrate on that, if you’re afraid of the world around you.”
    • Toni Morrison: “I get angry about things, then go on and work.”

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