Classically Inclined

October 3, 2020

One week down…

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 4:02 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve just finished my first week of teaching completely on-line in the new exciting world of COVID-proofed education. Most of my colleagues have been experimenting with the exciting world of HyFlex delivery, where half the class attend in person and half beam in through MS Teams; while there are a couple of rooms where the technology isn’t working at all well, most colleagues seem to have found that it’s all worked a lot better than we feared. For reasons which were entirely predictable, I’m teaching entirely on-line for at least the first half of this term, and I anticipate that being extended to the second half at the very least; as such I’ve been doing a lot of reading and training on the best way to run a fully on-line class. Someone over the summer asked me how much time I thought I’d spent on this; I then guesstimated I’d spent about 40 hours on professional development stuff, and that’s only gone up. (My employer has been running a considerable amount of training, some of which has been catching up with things by the skin of their teeth as IT functionality is implemented, but there’s been a sincere and coordinated effort to provide something. Plus I’ve been spending a lot of time on Futurelearn.)

So this week, reality hit – the first week of teaching. Was it all going to work?

Do you know, it actually wasn’t bad. There were bumps and lumps, of course. Neville Morley has been documenting his particular set of trials and challenges over on his blog, which I’d been watching with some trepidation since one of the things he had noticed was that students were being reluctant to get stuck into the bulletin board aspects of the course. My experience has been very different, but I think I have a very different group of students which also makes a difference to the kind of engagement they’re willing to have. My advanced language course is full of second and third years who came up together from Latin Language & Reading last year, and so are well over the ‘but what if I make a mistake in front of these people?’ stage; some students hadn’t engaged at the time of writing, but there was enough of a lively debate for me to feel they were cracking on.

My other course, Contemporary Approaches in Latin Literature, was a bit more of a worry. Nothing. Crickets on the bulletin board. Why, I wondered, why are they being so quiet when I know from correspondence they’re keen and they’ve introduced themselves on the student introduction forum? All became clear when I got an e-mail on Friday asking why it wasn’t possible to post to the forum. Here’s a picture with the link to press! I blithely replied. We don’t have that link, they counted. Bother and blast, I said, undoing the setting which was meant to stop my colleagues’ inboxes being inundated with thousands of Moodle notifications. We’ll try again next week, but at least it’s a technical hitch which we know about now and the students will let me know if it repeats itself.

On Friday, I had three face-to-face seminars over Teams. Would it work? Would the students turn up? Would they end up in the right meeting? Would anyone press The Forbidden Button and start a parallel meeting? Would I manage to beam in the intercollegiate students who haven’t yet got registered on college systems for the MA seminar? Well, I guess it helps that I’m dealing with a small number of students, because not only did they all end up in the right place, they all managed splendidly. I had three hours of really good discussion-based teaching, including getting my Contemporary Approaches students to separate out into six separate break-out groups without getting lost there or on the way back. I know that coming on Friday, I may have benefited from mistakes earlier in the week – but, do you know, we had a great set of conversations, some really good insight building on the work earlier in the week, and it was as good as being back in the classroom. Yes, there’s work to be done on getting used to the asynchronous work they have to do and I want to do some tweaking for some tools – but, actually, I’m really pleased.

I also met all my dissertation students this week, and they’re as bubbly as ever, full of excitement and enthusiasm for the eclectic area of the subject they’ve identified as their focus for the next six months. The glory of the dissertation supervision is that I can give each student full focus just as well on a virtual meeting as I can in a classroom, and indeed the year before I started going on sabbatical I’d started doing Skype supervisions to make use of my non-campus days rather than cram everything into three days already overfull as it was. I love starting them off, and this year was no exception.

I know that not everywhere is having such a smooth ride. I know that the level of support being provided to colleagues across the sector is wildly variable (and that’s putting it mildly). I know professional service colleagues who are being required to be on campus are having a completely different experience. But for this very small corner of the world, and my contribution to the degrees of a small number of students – actually, it’s going alright. Thank goodness something is.

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