Last week I finished teaching my first online class where about half of the time was synchronous learning. Normally, summer school classes begin at 8 AM and end at 12 noon for three weeks (60 hours + nightly homework). We weren’t going to ask students to sit in a Google Meet for four straight hours every day, so most days we went from 9-11 AM. A couple of days we went from 8-11 AM (the first and last days). ‘Class’ could end at 11:30 AM if I had them doing a review or breaking out into discussion groups (‘Cohorts’ in my classes).
Where I live—San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas—we’re experiencing a spike on Covid-19 cases. Not only will this impact summer break but I think we need to be ready for the possibility that it will wreck the normality of school not only for the spring semester but even the fall semester. In fact, I worry, but also anticipate, that the academic year will have barely begun when we’re already having to adjust to some form of online learning. That said, I don’t speak in any official capacity. Just my educated guess here.
So, with this in mind, learning from what went well and what didn’t will help me in the fall. And for those of you who are preparing for the wild ride that could be this next school year, I hope some of this insights help.
- Guided notes were essential: I use guided notes in class anyway, but guided notes that had to be submitted soon after class, especially using Google Docs, allowed me to check the Doc history to make sure they were working on the assignment in real time and not just asking friends for answers later in the day. Also, the guided notes were extremely scripted. Things I would know to say while teaching in person don’t need to be written down, but when everyone is following along from home, I felt that scripted notes were important.
- Creating space for Cohorts to meet was a success: I use Google Meet. I don’t like Zoom but I think it might have more capacity in the area I’m about to describe. Nevertheless, Google Meet was sufficient. I wanted students to have some form of ‘community’. I wanted them to have friends with which they could do assignments. So, about a third of the days I had students continue after main session by going to separate Google Meets for discussions. This meant organizing the class by Cohorts and then choosing Cohort leaders. The responsibility of the Cohort leader was to guide the discussion, record it, and share it with me and the Assistant Teacher. I kept time requirements simple: discuss for 6 minutes; discuss for 10 minutes. Then I listened to the recordings to make sure they stayed on topic for the allotted time.
- Collaborative homework assignments were embraced: Usually, I’d show movies/TV in my class so my students can see the Bible-as-visual-art but since we weren’t meeting in person I asked them to buy the films/episodes themselves. In the end, it was cheaper than textbooks. Also, I invited students to participate in ‘watch parties’ where they’d connect on their phones while watching the same movie. The answers to questions about the movies were intended to be very subjective, so I invited them to discuss their answers together, which hopefully got them talking about the movie/TV episode, and furthered their learning.
- Not all assignments were traditional: Sure, I had them do a lot of reading/writing during the non-synchronous parts of class, but as mentioned I also had them watch movies/TV and record their observations. I had them build Solomon’s Temple out of items they could find around their house. I had them meet in a Google Meet to record a dramatic reading of the Book of Jonah. Some of the parents who wrote me mentioned this as one of the things about the class they really appreciated. Some families watched the movies/TV together, so that added a new element that could only be done in this format.
- Record responses to homework: My students spend a lot of time on YouTube, Tik Tok, and other video-centric websites and apps. So, it’s natural for them to record things. I tried to use this to my advantage. As I mentioned, they recorded their Cohort discussions. They recorded their dramatic reading of Jonah. I had them ‘review’ The Prince of Egypt by doing a video recording and pretending that they were a famous YouTube movie reviewer.
That’s the first list of positives. As I think of more, I’ll share. Also, I’ll share some of the negatives.