Thoughts on Teaching, Taking Stock

Since my last post I have been thinking a lot about my students that are finishing up the semester and if how I taught them, or should I say facilitated their learning because I really don’t think of myself as a teacher in a traditional way. You know, the kind that sits in front of a classroom and lectures. I actually abhor that kind of teaching because it makes students lazy and comatose. Most of the times they are so bored that they end up looking at more interesting things on their laptops, tablets, or phones. The way I like to teach is when I am off-center i.e. when I make the students take center stage. As a dear friend and colleague used to say when I was a new professor, the lazier the instructor the more active the students. At the time I didn’t understand what she meant, but almost 20 years later I do because with teaching and experience comes understanding.

Of course, she didn’t mean that I should work, what she meant is that I shouldn’t lecture so much and let them do active work. When I say I don’t lecture I mean I don’t sit in front of a group of students and explain how prepositions work in a sentence (although in some instances I have been known to do that as well). Because part of teaching business communications includes quite a bit of grammar instruction since many of my students are ESL and International students that many have a hard time writing a cohesive sentence.

When I teach on campus I begin the week by laying out what the week is going to be about as well as the type of work they are required to do, but I don’t lecture in the traditional sense and that is why I like hybrid courses because they allow me and my students the flexibility to expand the number of activities and learning because there is so much information that you can squeeze into a 50 minute class period. So, a lot of my lecturing happens online via e-lectures for it allows them to view it as many times as they like or practice with the interactive grammar exercises that I have created.

The other thing that I do during this time of the semester especially after I have posted final grades is trying to see if my students have been able to meet the goals, I set out for them. To that end, I use the backward design model by Wiggins & McTighe which believes that learning experiences should be planned with the final assessment in mind. One starts with the end i.e. the desired results or goals and then designs the curriculum from the evidence of learning called for by the standard and the teaching as well as the material needed to equip students to perform’ (Wiggins and McTighe, 2000, page 8)

So finally, as the semester winds down I take time to think about everything that happened and look at my notes and see what worked and didn’t work this time around. How do you end the semester or year?

Katherine

Are we meeting student expectations?

This morning I was reading the morning news and saw an article on how Northeastern is being sued by students for inferior online teaching. I am not going to take a position on what Northeastern is doing as far as teaching online goes and how prepared or not their faculty were when they asked them to transfer their courses to online because I am not familiar with the university’s online platform. From what I understand, Northeastern is one of the many universities being sued by their students.

The question is why? Why are students suing their universities? What are their expectations? Are faculty not working up to their usual standards?

I have no doubt that the majority of faculty if not all of them have been working a lot more than they usually do to compensate for having to transfer and teach online in order to assist students in successfully completing the semester because as educators this is what we do help, educate, and guide students. So, have their teaching standards dropped? No, it has not dropped, it changed to accommodate the online modality. You cannot go from a high standard of teaching on campus to a low one because you are teaching online.

So, what is wrong? Why do students feel that they are not getting what they paid for? The article I read did not say. I think that many students like faculty and administration do not understand that teaching online versus on campus is not the same thing.

As far as the faculty are concerned, I believe that when they transferred their courses online, they did a great job and all of the material is there that they were going to teach in class. But in what format? You cannot use the same teaching tools online that you used in-class. It doesn’t work trust me I have tried. In the early years of online teaching despite my best efforts, I did have a few teaching fails and learned from them but unlike my colleagues, throughout the US I had time to hone my online teaching skills.

Also, you cannot just use zoom and lecture non-stop until the end of the semester as the students will be exhausted from all the live online lectures.  There must be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities such as zoom lectures with online activities and e-learning lectures. Something that most faculty did not have time to create as you need to search to find the software you think might work, learn how to use it, and then design and create the material. Time instructors did not have.

That is where the administration comes in. As they didn’t understand the amount of work it takes to create and set up an online course. Two weeks is not a realistic amount of time for faculty that are starting from scratch to be able to design and create an online course let alone several. At this point, I think that the majority of admins are finally understanding what it takes for faculty to go online as I am sure they have heard back from their faculty about the challenges they are facing.

Finally, let me talk about the students, most have no idea what it means to be taking a full load of courses online. Sure, they have taken an online course a few times. That’s different. So that is why they probably feel that the work their professors are doing is an inferior job. Taking a full load of courses online means that the students need to step up and be responsible for a lot more than they ever had to. Why? because now they need to log in and find things as there is no professor at the front of the class to answer questions as they are looking at their phones checking their social media status and how many likes they got on Tik Tok. They need to remember to get on zoom, make sure they have a good working computer, fast internet connection, and actually take notes. When they have a question, they need to log in to their online platform to post a question that might take their professor more than twenty-four hours to respond. This creates stress and tension for students because they think that they should get a response immediately, they don’t realize that their instructor might also be overwhelmed by the fact that s/he was not planning on teaching online for half a semester and is now trying to figure out how to teach in this new platform while teaching. So, suddenly life became a lot more complicated than it was before the quarantine.

The bottom line is that students have to take charge of their own learning and work independently and figure things out on their own. Of course, that is easier said than done. It is difficult for them because they are not ready. This is not how they were taught in K-12. I say this because as a mother of a nine-year-old boy 4th grade has been a difficult year for him long before COVID-19. The teachers realized that children are not able to be more in charge of their own learning and day as a result for the last few years they have begun asking students to use agendas to write down their schedules. So, since September I watched my son struggle to figure out how to remember to write things down in his agenda and to also make sure to look at his agenda. This has been painful for me and him, but I had to let him fall on his face several times in the hope that he will learn and become more responsible for his own learning. These are life skills that many of my students do not have. One reason for this could be that they came from a different country or their school system just didn’t think it was important enough at the time. But like everything else education and curricula evolves and changes to reflect the needs of the students to help them succeed hence the change in my son’s school.

The other problem most college students are facing is that it is hard to have to go from an in-class learning experience to an on-line learning one and be expected to perform the same. Which are my grading standards have eased and it is easier to get a pass/fail this semester.

Let’s not forget that students are locked up in a house with their parents which cannot be easy nor stress-free for them as they also had to leave their dorms or apartments and their friends behind. Physiologically they are stress out and tired of this new way of living and going to school. Their lives have changed, and they don’t know when they are going back to school. For now, everyone in higher ed will stay online for the foreseeable future and that is not easy for college students to accept. Eventually and hopefully by the fall semester, we will all be on-campus teaching and learning, but it won’t be the same. I don’t think that we can ever go back to the pre-quarantine time.  I see education evolving and changing in ways we never thought it would.

What do you think?

 

Katherine

New Normal? What has my life become?

I know that you might think that my title sounds a little dramatic, but our lives have changed to such a degree that I am not sure if we could ever go back to where we were before the quarantine. So, everyone is talking about a new normal without actually defining what that means for us.

Workwise for educators especially those teaching at the university level our working hours have increased dramatically. For one thing, we were asked to transfer our courses online within 10 days. The other issue that came up was that the majority of instructors and professors besides transferring their courses online had to learn all these new tools while teaching in a new environment. In addition to trying to calm down their students who are having an ever-harder time going online to finish up the semester.

The other issue is the endless zoom meetings. Studies and many news articles claim that it is good for us to meet online with colleagues as it makes us feel more connected. At this point, I am so zoomed out that I would like to disconnect, and the majority of my students feel the same way.

To add insult to injury many of us have to homeschool our children while working. You would think that as college professors we would know how to do that, but we don’t, not because we can’t teach but because the curricula and tools, we use in our courses are different from what K-12 teachers use in their classrooms with our children. Which in my book means more work for me because now I need to figure out what and how to teach my child ELA and Math while he would rather be online talking and playing Fortnite with his friends.

Is that our new normal? For me yes, because even if the state reopens for business, my child will be home until September since schools in Massachusetts closed for the rest of the year. Our district says that the buildings are closed not the school and this is a great motto, but the reality is that 1 hour a day for a morning meeting does not keep schools open. This means that if I want the school to be open, I need to do the work.

How do I adapt to this new normal?

For one thing, I rearranged my study to allow my child room to work with me. So, while I am grading student papers, responding to questions, emails, and so on, he has to log into his iPad and work on his homework. This set up helps with me being able to keep track of what he is doing as well as being available to answer any questions he might have.

The other thing I am trying to negotiate is time for myself and away from work, so I don’t burn out. This has happened to me in the past because as a professor I work a lot from home, and I have a hard time separating work and home life. So, I am making a conscious effort to do that. Which for me means that I need to wake up at 6 am to work out. Take time to make and have lunch with my child. Go for a walk or a bike ride with my child, whenever the weather permits, because he is also going stir crazy from being home all the time.  Writing my blog every week. Which I am currently doing wearing my headphones and listening to ocean sounds on my Alexa device to block out the noise my family is making so I can be able to concentrate. I also take breaks throughout the day to talk to my friends and family on the phone or to do a quick chat on facetime.

What is your new normal?

Katherine

Google Classroom? Yay or Nay?

Today I want to talk about Google Classroom. Let me start by saying that I am not a huge fan of Google so please don’t think that I am advertising Google products. Also, this is not a product I have used for teaching at the university as we use Blackboard. I like Blackboard, but it took me a long time to get comfortable using it. Something that did not occur with this product.  I had also heard from several colleagues that have used Google Classroom instead of Blackboard that it was such a wonderful product to use and there is no learning curve.

So when my son’s Greek schoolteacher needed assistance with setting up a virtual classroom due to the COVID-19 quarantine I chose to use Google Classroom because I wanted to take a look and see how user-friendly it was. Also, it is a small school with a couple of sections and with no real budget for online teaching so since this tool is free it was a no brainer.

I found Google Classroom to be straightforward and intuitive to use. It took me a few minutes to create the course shell for each section. Then I told each teacher to go into their course and upload their information as well as personalize it as I did not know what their vision for their course was. When I checked in on them, the instructors told me that it took them a few minutes to start to personalize and upload their course material.

Here is how one of the instructors chose to personalize her page:

 

Google classroom image.jpg

 

Since it is free it gives one the opportunity to experiment and try new things out without worrying about the cost especially since most LMS can be expensive. The thing that I noticed about Google Classroom is that you can make your course as simple or as intricate as you want depending on your needs and what you are teaching.

From this brief experience with Google Classroom, I am certainly planning on giving it a try for one of my courses so I can really see how it feels from the perspective of a teacher as well as figure out if it is possible to replace Blackboard.

If you have tried it let me know what your experience has been with it.

 

Katherine

How are you feeling today?

Today marks a month of our quarantine in Massachusetts at least for higher ed and K-12 as there are still people that are working in health care, supermarket, and construction industries.

As I have settled in homeschooling my son and weekly zoom meetings with my students, grading, cooking, and cleaning. By the way, my house has never been so clean or organized! Slightly_Smiling_Face_Emoji_87fdae9b-b2af-4619-a37f-e484c5e2e7a4_large.png

One thing that CONVID-19 has done is make us do is to slow down and check-in with people. Whether that is my students, friends, or family everybody is calling, texting, and video chatting with everyone. I am receiving messages from friends I haven’t heard from in a long time. We are also taking time for ourselves by exercising, reading a book, watching a movie with a child and/or spouse in the middle of the day just because.

When I get on zoom I find myself asking students: How are you feeling today? Some students are saying fine because I think that is an easy answer. But some are opening up and saying that they are feeling overwhelmed, tired, uncertain about the future, and worried. Never in the last twenty-five years of teaching have I intentionally done a mental or emotional check-in with my students like I do now. As I am thinking about it, I wonder why? It isn’t that I don’t care about my students because I do, but there seems that there is never enough time to really check in with everybody.

The other type of discussion I keep having with my students is about exercise. So who is exercising and what type of exercising are you doing?  One student told me jokingly that she will have a six-pack by the time she gets back to school. Personally, I am spending a half an hour on my yoga mat every day for the last twenty days and I have to say that I am seeing a difference in how I am feeling throughout the day.

The other conversation I am having with them about self-care as well as the fact that they need to turn off their computers and phones because many of them are spending a lot of time video conferencing with their professors and classmates, which can be overwhelming and stressful for them.

Are you having these discussions with your students? Even if it is a few minutes before class starts it is really worth the time. I see my students smiling more and they are more talkative.

The lesson that I have learned so far during the quarantine is that I want to continue to make time and check in with my students and people I care as well as continue to take better care of myself.

How about you? How are you feeling today?

 

Katherine

Should I have a live class?

Is it worth going live with your students? The short answer is yes. Whether you use Google Hangouts, Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate or a different video communication tool it doesn’t really matter. Going live is an extremely powerful way to communicate with students.

I used Blackboard Collaborate with my students because my university uses Blackboard for our LMS platform. The other reason was that it was very easy to use Blackboard Collaborate since I did not have to do anything but let them know that we were going to meet online. The energy that came through the screen was incredible. The students were happy to see me and were asking all sorts of questions. They felt connected and happy to chat and listen to me talk about their upcoming homework.

I noticed the same thing when my son was on google hangouts with his homeroom teacher and his classmates. On the first day they met, the children were so excited that they were all speaking simultaneously. Five days later they have all become well-mannered and waited their turn while their teacher was online with them. But because they miss each other they login about 10 minutes before their morning meeting begins just to chat and be with each other. These kids are learning a different way to interact with each other.

It is interesting to watch this going on because I don’t think they are realizing that the way they learn is changing. It is incredible to see how quickly humans are adapting to this new reality. From the perspective of an educator that enjoys teaching online, I am really curious to see how online education is going to evolve and develop in the future.

So even if you feel overwhelmed try it with your students and you will be amazed at the results a half an hour will have on you and your students.

Katherine

 

Teaching Online… our new reality

This week has been so surreal as I watched the world come to a screeching halt in order to control this virus as my UMass Boston colleagues raced to get ready during our spring break to put their material online.

Luckily all institutions and school districts have great e-learning teams that are helping. Those people are also working hard and a lot of hours to help educators upload their material and are getting slammed because there more teachers than instructional designers.

So, since I have been teaching online for over 10 years at this point and feel at home on Blackboard, I am ready to transition to online teaching and had very little to do this week to get ready for when our courses start up again. As a result, I offered my assistance to colleagues and my son’s teachers in case they needed anything. Such as talk through their ideas and answer any questions they might have as teaching online can be overwhelming and a huge amount of working when you have never taken on such an endeavor before. Also, having someone to talk to when trying to change the way you work can be comforting and as well as a lot of help when brainstorming ideas.

Then I was thinking what advice can I give people I can’t talk to via zoom, skype, and facetime? So here are my suggestions:

For starters, educators that are new to online teaching, please know that there is no way you can upload all of your material for the rest of the semester or year online within one week. At least not the correct way. The reason I say this is because uploading the material you were supposed to use on campus or in a classroom will not necessarily be the best way to teach online. Teaching online is a whole different animal and it is taught very differently. A lot of planning and thought goes into designing an online course and one week is not enough time to do everything.

Second, the other reason you should not upload all of your material at once is you need to wait to see how students are going to react to the way you designed the course. You don’t want to have done all of this work only to have to rearrange or delete materials as you begin to receive angry and frustrated emails from your students.

Third, work in chucks: Put up material for a few days. Then upload material for the whole week and so on.

Fourth, make it user or student-friendly i.e. listen to your students and their needs. I say this because students of all ages get easily frustrated and upset, then they shut down and don’t want to do the work.

Fifth, use interactive material to keep students engaged you can’t have them read a chapter from the textbook or a long article at home and expect them to feel engaged. Remember you are not with them in the classroom so there is no in-class or small group discussion.

Sixth, use as much material as you can that someone else has created because at this point there is no time to learn new software on how to create e-learning videos or interactive exercises.

Sixth, include material that will keep your students engaged. Such as videos, interactive exercises, podcasts, audiobooks, interactive books especially for younger children as well as utilizing the discussion threads, blogs that are available in LMS’s such as Blackboard, Moodle, and, google classroom.

Seventh, make sure to start the week on the same day and all of the homework must be due on the same day every week as it is difficult for students that are taking multiple classes/courses to keep track of constantly changing deadlines. For example, my students know that all homework is due on Friday and it will not for the whole semester, so they never forget to submit their homework.

Eight, remember to be patient and that almost all of the students especially K-12 are not used to being online taking classes so they will also be having a difficult time adjusting to not going to school having to go to an iPad or a computer to keep up with their classwork.

I will also create a page on my blog with resources with links and books I think can be helpful as we move forward.

If you do have questions for me feel free to post them here.

 

Katherine

Ithaca Educational Solutions

I know I have not been blogging for a while, but I have been really busy working on a new project that took up a large part of my time. So, between my new project, teaching, and raising a young child blogging fell to the side along with other fun activities, but now that it is complete I am planning to go back to blogging especially since I will be working from home until the end of the semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic giving me more time to reflect and write about my teaching.

I realize that it is a strange time to be announcing the beginning of my new endeavor since we are all preoccupied with the CONVID-19 pandemic, but I have been working on it for such a long time and it is finally ready so I don’t want to wait. I think that if we all stay positive and focused on life after the pandemic things should get back to normal sooner rather than later. It is also a way to divert my attention from the fact that our lives will forever change and 2020 will be known as the year of the coronavirus pandemic. For me I want 2020 to remind me of the year Ithaca began.

I named my website Ithaca because I wanted people that visit my site to feel they are beginning a learning journey. To quote from Cavafy’s Ithaka poem “As you set out for Ithaka, hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.” And that is what I want people to experience on my site. I know that it is a lofty goal but that is what I am hoping for.

My site’s full name is Ithaca Educational Solutions and it was born from my capstone project i.e. thesis that I wrote 7 years ago while I was completing my master’s degree in Instructional Design at the University of Massachusetts Boston. At the time I did not know that I would create a site that would house so much more than the material that I used in my project. The reason this project began was that I uploaded my capstone project to academia.edu and many would come and follow me and ask me to create a course so they can learn the material I had designed. So, after a lot of requests, I decided to create a course but then it became apparent that it could not be taught at the university, as a result, I come up with something more than just a course and just like that the journey of creating Ithaca began.

Now that I have completed it, I am ready to share Ithaca with you and the world. Ithaca Educational Solutions is me and all of the knowledge and experience I have gained throughout the last 25 years of my teaching journey. It is dedicated to all things business writing and business English.

I hope you go visit Ithaca Educational Solutions and take a look around: https://www.ithacaedu.net/

 

Ithaca New Logo 2020.png

Katherine

Going Back to Campus!

So last spring the unexpected happened I was asked by my director to come back and teach one of my courses on campus. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure how to feel about that because after all I had been teaching online for last 7 years and my schedule, as well as the commute, were perfect. I started thinking and I realized that I hadn’t actually been in a classroom for 7 years and felt a bit overwhelmed as if I had never taught before. Strange right? Especially since I had been teaching in a classroom for almost 20 years before transitioning to online.

So, I got to thinking how did I teach 7 years ago? I decided that in order to redesign an on-campus course I would have to look at my material from the last semester I taught on campus Once I read through the materials i.e. syllabi, classroom notes, assignments, in-class activities etc. Then I thought the old material would not fit as my courses had evolved, but could the online material be used/transitioned into an on-campus course? Maybe.

Finally, to get my feet wet I decided to meet myself halfway and create a hybrid course for the Fall semester. The other thing I did to help me get comfortable with going back to campus and reconnect was to apply to the TEAL fellowship and the CIT forum for NTT faculty. Interesting enough I got accepted to both which made me happy and worried at the same time because it is now not only did I have to rework my syllabus, curriculum, activities, and assignments I also had to get to campus for meetings all year long! And just like that my perfect schedule and commute went out the window. What was I thinking?

However as the school year winds down I am so glad and grateful for the opportunities that I have been given to me this year from teaching on campus to learning new ways of thinking about teaching, and meeting as well as connecting to faculty from all of the university.

Katherine

Can VoiceThread be ADA Compliant?

It sure can!  One of the things I have been working on this semester is making my VoiceThread videos ADA compliant. As I began exploring this topic I realized that there was no easy way to get it done. You would think that in this day and age including subtitles for the hearing impaired would be an automatic thing in e-learning software such as VoiceThread, Adobe Captivate or Techsmith’s Camtasia etc., and with the click of a mouse they would be included, but they are not…

One of the things I have been working on this semester is making my VoiceThread weekly overviews ADA compliant. As I began exploring this topic I realized that there was no easy way to get it done. You would think that in this day and age including subtitles for the hearing impaired would be an automatic thing in e-learning software such as VoiceThread, Adobe Captivate or Techsmith’s Camtasia etc., and with the click of a mouse they would be included, but they are not…

Don’t get me wrong they all include a way to do it, but it is not easy nor is it fast. As you need to watch how-to online videos created by the software company and go to different online forums to learn how to do it.

Recently, Voicethread began offering a way to this, but it is not as user-friendly as the VoiceThread Standard site. You need to go to a different area that VoiceThread has created called VoiceThead Universal.  Besides the very different look that this page has, it does not do what you think it should do or at least it did not fulfill my expectations of what subtitles should look like. Interestingly enough the subtitles are added to the side of the screen as side notes instead of as subtitles. When I tried it I didn’t like the subtitles were positioned to the left side of the screen because it looked like an afterthought.

Recently, Voicethread began offering a way to this, but it is not as user-friendly as the VoiceThread Standard site. You need to go to a different area that VoiceThread has created called VoiceThead Universal.  Besides the very different look that this page has, it does not do what you think it should do or at least it did not fulfill my expectations of what subtitles should look like. Interestingly enough the subtitles are added to the side of the screen as side notes instead of as subtitles. When I tried it I didn’t like the subtitles were positioned to the left side of the screen because it looked like an afterthought.

So I spent the better part of a week working on figuring out how to do it so the subtitles can be included in the video. The first video which was about 2 minutes long took me about two hours to complete because I wasn’t sure if what I was doing would work and there was a lot of trial and error. Once I figured out the process I was able to complete each video in about an hour.

To get it to work the way I wanted it to, I had to use MS PowerPoint, Camtasia, Youtube, and VoiceThread. Which means that not only is it time-consuming but it is also costly, as you need to buy Camtasia, learn how to use it, and then figure out the rest of the steps. For me, that was not a big deal as I have been using Camtasia for a long time thus I have access to the program and I know how to use it.

Having said that not all online instructors are also Instructional designers, like me, and have access to different e-learning software.  Online educators are there to teach their subject matter, not to create instructional videos let alone know how to make them ADA compliant.  Teaching online takes is a lot of work as the educator needs to do everything an on-campus instructor does and also learn how to use the course management system their institution is using as well as other technical skills that they need to acquire. That is a lot of work! So adding another hour to the workload every week, is in my opinion, a lot of time just to include subtitles to a VoiceThread video.

Despite the fact that it was a time-consuming process, for me learning how to do this was worth it in the end because I made my student feel included in my online course. That to me was more important than my time. After all helping my students learn in any way I can is the reason I became an educator.

If you want to see what one of my VoiceThread videos looks like with the subtitles, here is a link to one of them: https://youtu.be/5yXZiDW_N2I

Happy Teaching,

Katherine