Reflections on teaching online: negatives

I’ve talked about my positive experiences teaching an online summer school class. Twice! Now, let me turn to some negatives.

In my previous post, I shared Sam Kary’s ten item list that is aimed to help teachers teach online. There were three things on his list I didn’t do:

5. Use Personalized Learning and Engagement Platforms
7. Use Creativity Apps for Authentic Learning Experiences
8. Publish Work to Foster Class Community

I’m not sure that I need to do these three things. I’ll be thinking about it. I worry regarding 5 and 7 that introducing yet another app or platform to students will be overwhelming. I don’t know that more and more and more technology is the answer. The GSuite is integrated. It covers all the basics.

As regards 8, well, I could open a Blogger blog, or I could ask them to do more assignments where they respond to questions in the Google Classroom Stream. I’ll be thinking on this.

What are some things that didn’t go well from my experience? Here’s a list:

  1. Students who struggle academically really struggle online: Honestly, my grading is basically A-D, pass or fail, based on effort. I don’t grade heavily on ‘right or wrong’ answers. Some things, like dates or names, are either right or wrong. How one interprets a proverb? Not so much. But those students who would struggle to earn a good grade because, well, they just haven’t developed the necessary organization skills to remember when this or that assignment is due, those students struggle even more with online learning. The key is communication with parents. I feel like I did better with this over the summer than I did in the spring. I’ll need to do even better if/when we go online again.
  2. Predicting all the various assumed interpretation of instructions: One of my approaches was to have students work together on some assignments to create a sense of community when everyone has been social distancing for a while. Some students would ‘work together’ by splitting the assignment up: ‘You do the first half; I’ll do the second.’ That’s not what I meant. This seems obvious to me but students are good at getting a lot done efficiently. This is a legitimate approach if efficiency is the goal but not if learning is the goal. So, some instructions need to be even more detailed.
  3. Monitoring cheating: I caught a few people cheating, or cutting corners like the above paragraph narrates, but this doesn’t mean I feel prepared for all the possible ways students can cheat when doing work from home. One key approach is to make sure the types of questions they’re answering in their work are subjective to the person. If you ask questions with one answer, you’ll have students who abuse their friendships to skip work by finding that one answer. But if the answers have to be in their own words, using their own thoughts, and you have rubric guidelines, you can help your students by making it harder to cheat. Of course, this means more time grading because you can’t just do scantron-style checks.
  4. Seeing and involving students during synchronous classes: Google Meet will do grid view if there’s 16 people or less. I had 30 students. As I’ve mentioned, I installed GridView by GitHub into Google Chrome. It worked well for a few days but dragged my computer. Eventually, it has more glitches than it was worth. If you have 15 students or less, Google Meet works well. I prefer Google Meet to Zoom for a million reasons…but the lack of visibility isn’t one of them. Please fix this, Google! If you can’t see them, you can still randomly call on students to participate, but it helps to see who is sitting in front of their computer, who has their camera off, and so forth.

If I think of more negatives, I’ll post about them. These are the ones that came to mind this morning. Again, online teaching was fun. I thought my class was a successful effort. I’m glad I had a chance to do a practice run, because as Texas spirals into this ongoing first wave of Covid-19, I’m not optimistic we’ll be in class for long this fall.


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