This fall, I’m teaching the same course that I’ve been teaching at NCSU – ENG 101: Academic Writing and Research – but in a new format. As a hybrid course, half of our course meetings are in-class and half are virtual. So, I have one 100-minute session per week with students, and they complete 100 minutes worth of work online to earn credit for the other “class meeting.” I came into this new teaching experience with an open mind and wondering how this format would compare to my previous experience of four 50-minute class meetings in person per week. To corral my thoughts so far…
To start with what I see as a negative aspect – I only see the students once per week! Three weeks into the semester, I feel disconnected from them. Only seeing them on Thursday afternoons makes for a very different interaction with the students. I can’t ask them how their weekend was, or follow up from a conversation we had the previous day, or even bring in as many current events as I’d like. To counter this negative, though, I will point out that I’ve only ever taught one class per semester, so I’ve always had the opportunity to get to know students personally. I won’t always have this luxury and suppose that this problem may not be such a big deal by the time that I’m teaching three lecture courses per semester. But for now – this is a drawback. I feel that I’m at my best as an instructor when I really connect with the kids, and this has yet to happen (and it may still).
On the plus side – the students are doing a lot of writing. Definitely a lot more writing than when I saw them in person four days a week. When we’re in person, I can get recognition of understanding by asking questions, have them do group work, or have them lead a part of the class. But when you have to evaluate a student’s participation and understanding virtually, one of the most obvious options is to have the write and submit their work on the learning management system (we use Moodle at NCSU). The funny part is… it makes perfect sense! I’m teaching a course on academic writing, and my students are practicing writing. Not sure why it seems like such an epiphany, but when you’re in front of students in person, it somehow feels as if you should be speaking to/with them and not watching them think and write. With online class time, I actually feel more free to assign work that gets them practicing the ideas we talk about on the days that I see them in person.
Other things that are positive: attendance is great. Because I only see them once a week, they’re always there for that one day. They see how important it is to be there and do their best to get the most out of the one class session that we have each week. And with very few exceptions, they turn in all of the virtual work in a timely manner, and some have gotten in the habit of doing things well ahead of time, leaving them the opportunity to ask questions if issues arise. Moodle works pretty well for our class setup, giving us a central location for our class online. The students have caught on to the system fairly quickly, and I love not collecting a single piece of paper. The only component of it that I don’t use is the grade book. For some of their class work, I use an Unsatisfactory/Satisfactory/Outstanding grade system, and Moodle translates those designations to grades of 0% / 50% / 100%. To me, satisfactory is a C, and there’s a big difference between completing half of the work and completing it perfectly, so I haven’t used the numbers for student grades as Moodle has calculated them. I’ve translated the grades into my own spreadsheet system, which requires a little extra work on my part, but allows me to use a grading scale that I truly believe in.
As we progress through the semester, I will try to shape my thoughts more cohesively to come up with a proposal for talking about the experience at the North Carolina Symposium for Teaching Writing hosted here at NCSU. In the meantime, if you have experiences with hybrid or distance ed. teaching, I’d love to hear ideas and suggestions for fostering a greater sense of community among the students for the one day per week that we are in class. How did you do it?