Bob is a part-time faculty member (who moved to a Continuing position on April 26, 2021) in the School of Business who teaches Business 150 (Introduction to Management). Last March/April, he was one of the instructors who suddenly moved from being fully face-to-face to fully online, choosing an asynchronous mode for the last five weeks of his course. Bob says that “moving to asynchronous was easy for me because I already had my materials prepared, although I didn’t have any videos which would have been helpful. But while it worked out well for me, students missed that regular class time.” In addition, he had already prepared online exams so the final assessment piece last April was not a problem for him.
For summer of 2020, Bob stuck to an asynchronous model, but as he moved towards teaching in the fall, he decided to do a blend of synchronous and asynchronous, which he found worked much better for the students because of the scheduled synchronous sessions. “The summer term was much more engaging for both me and the students compared to the end of the Winter term. There were some challenges getting things set up, but I worked with instructional designers in eLearning and I think without that, the whole thing would have been a colossal fail.” Bob found a lot of support from his colleagues as well. “We were sharing our experiences with each other, so we were learning from that as well.”
Bob feels that students should have confidence in their instructors to deliver their courses effectively no matter what the teaching environment, even if instructors don’t feel confident themselves, and he admits that sometimes the technology gets in the way of doing things like group work. “We need be transparent about how the online classroom is going to work. And so that’s the approach I took, saying to the students, look, this is all new to us. We’re going to try this out. If it doesn’t work, the sky’s not going to fall, and we’re going to learn something new together. And so with that approach, and if you can laugh at yourself, the failures are a little easier to bear. But, when you come back to the next class have it figured out so students can have confidence in the technology.” Another challenge Bob faced was time. From developing the course, to giving feedback to students, “that’s all layers and layers and layers of extra time we put in. But that extra time isn’t really factored into what you would normally do for your class, especially when doing a combination of synchronous and asynchronous. So for me, finding extra time was the most significant challenge to moving online.”
One of the positives of online learning Bob mentioned to me several times is that “although it takes more time to manage things, you’re giving an opportunity for every student to have a voice in the conversation that they wouldn’t have had in face-to-face classroom. I think there’s some magic to that because they’re contributing in a meaningful way.” And with those voices comes a new depth of discussion. “I saw that enhanced opportunity for students in the depth of the writing and the feedback they give to each other. For example, when they say, ‘I hadn’t thought of that – you brought up some points here that have made me rethink this whole thing,’ I have to ask if that would have happened without this opportunity.”
Bob had some good advice for faculty moving their courses online. “Do your homework, learn the environment especially if you will be teaching synchronously. Contact eLearning for help, and figure out what you want to do in your classroom and make sure that you can actually do it!” He also cautions to consider how much material to give students, and how much they should be able to access all at once. “Understand what content students need and make sure it’s available to them when they need it, then articulate that clearly to students. Make sure there’s a shared expectation about what’s going to happen so there is no confusion.”
Moving forward, Bob says the past year has presented “opportunities for us to think about things differently and to integrate some of what we used and learned when we get back into the classroom,” for example, creating space and time for students to process information so they can come into the classroom more prepared. “I’m going to be much more insistent on students doing the prep before they come to class and structure my classes so they are more about the application of the materials that have already been shared.” This kind of flipping is not a new concept to Bob, but the online experience has highlighted the benefits of it.
Bob will continue using videos to support his classes. “Videos allow for an extension of class work into the online space, as well as provide a resource to help students make sense of things, to reaffirm a point, or allow them to review specific topics. I don’t think that’s something I would have done had we not had this transition.” And he will also continue to use the discussion forums to support every student’s voice being heard, “allowing them, especially if they’re struggling with English, to formulate their thoughts, to think about what they want to say, and to be able to better express themselves.”
Some final thoughts from Bob which echo some of my own thoughts these days: “I think the transition back to the classroom in September is going to be as interesting as leaving the classroom was because there are things that we’re going to want to do that we won’t be able to do right away. Then the question becomes, do we have the space and means to have that conversation so we can work towards making the classroom experience different than it was pre-COVID? I’m confident that we’ll be able to take a lot of what we’ve done, hang onto it, and start rethinking how we approach things. We had the tools before, but now I’m able to use them in a way that will enhance my ability in the classroom. I’m kind of excited by it all!”