The first week of the summer session is last tonight. There is so much to do during the first week, so many worried stressed-out students. Posting all sorts of questions. Such as: How do I upload my profile photo, to how is the participation grade counted, to but I don’t understand what a podcast is? Meanwhile, all of this information is in the syllabus.
Last night as I was reading their blog reflections for the week and listening to their podcast introductions I couldn’t help but think that it feels like any other summer session Trying to squeeze a 15-week course in a little over 6 weeks and the students realizing that taking a summer course might not have been such a great idea because although I will finish the course quicker it is going to kill me while I am doing this. Yet it isn’t the same summer course as last year because now the students are not just talking about just how worried they are about the amount of work they have to do they are talking about being worried of COVID-19 and how grateful they are having the opportunity to take the course online. As well as missing being on campus and interacting with their friends and classmates.
They were also super relieved that I wasn’t going to make them be on zoom for 3 hours every day for the next 6 weeks. When I teach my online courses, I don’t include zoom or Blackboard Collaborative Ultra. I actually use the tools that Blackboard offers me to a create a very active, but asynchronous course. The only time I use live video is for office hours. So, students feel like they can find me and pop in and out of the live meeting, and their questions answered.
Long ago when I began teaching online and before the era of Zoom and live video streaming that now is so easy to use, we used a program called Wimba that offered an asynchronous environment, but it was very problematic and super frustrating. It offered live video, but it did not work well most of the time it was super glitchy, so whenever I attempted to use it, I would use just the audio portion of it. In all fairness to the company that offered this software we were at the beginning stages and it was more than 10 years ago when online teaching was still in its infancy. I have no doubt that Wimba is currently offering a much better product than the one I used from 12 years ago. As I result of all of the technical problems, I gave up on it and began searching for solutions to my problem since my students were also supposed to practice their oral skills. How could I offer an online course and only teach them part of the material I would teach in class? At the time it was difficult to persuade the dean to approve online courses as people thought it was not possible to create a course online that was just as good if not better than the on-campus course equivalent.
After researching for weeks and looking at my options (the good old days when I did not have a child or homeschooling) I found the podcast. I tested all sorts of software and landed on a program called Audacity. The reason I chose Audacity was that it had a user-friendly interface and it was free so the students would not have to pay for the software or spend hours trying to learn something new. To my surprise, it worked the students were able to improve their oral skills and I got to listen to them without making all of them get online at the same time and place. I still remember my excitement because it was a time that I was new at teaching online and I had literally no idea if what I was doing was going to actually work. One reason for this was that at the time the university offered very few workshops for online teaching and I hadn’t gotten my Master’s degree in Instructional Design so I did not have a background on how to envision, design, create, or teach online. Sure, I had a certificate in Principles and Practices of Online Teaching from Tesol but as I found out that was not nearly enough knowledge to create an online course in anything.
So since I went with having students create podcasts I realized that not only did I alleviate my stress and frustration of trying to make software program work, but I also helped my students practice their oral skills by recording and rerecording their podcasts until they were happy with the results. This worked well especially with ESL students who are hesitant to present in the classroom because it allowed them to do the work at home on their own time without being put on the spot. As a result, I get a lot of positive feedback from my student.
When teaching online what kinds of solutions have you come up with when trying to teach oral communication?
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