Something I’ve been grappling with for a couple weeks now is how to interpret the feedback I received from students on how I handled the transition to remote learning/teaching due to Covid19 this past semester. My instinct when we went online was to consult the experts- professors who already teach online courses. I therefore modeled my three classes after a traditionally online class. What I’ve been slowly processing is that, while I think I led a successfully formatted or standard online class, my students hated it! Hate may be a strong word, but through their evaluations, I see that I was less successful in their eyes than how I viewed my pedagogical shift. What I’m coming up with echoes what we’ve been saying all along- this mid-semester shift was unprecedented and unlike anything most of us had been tasked to do before, on this kind of scale.
While I stand by my instincts to “consult an expert”, I see now more of the diverse cracks in the pedagogical mold. Teaching to a population of undergraduate students who explicitly priviledge the close-knit in-person experience at a small liberal arts school is vastly different than the insight I took from a large state school’s online graduate classes, which is where I got my intel from in that first week. The information and insight from the professor I asked were absolutely spot on– for their student population. Just as traditional online classes are a different category in and of themselves in the new spectrum of remote learning/teaching, I needed to incorporate the unique strengths and individualized aspects of a small liberal arts college into my online pedagogy, which is ultimately what was lacking in my planning and execution.
As I reflect on reading through this article by Flower Darby and even attending a similar webinar from Darby weeks ago, I am starting to see some light through my Spring 2020 evaluations to reflect on some shining moments from last semester. Although my online class formatting may have been somewhat of a flop, I found myself taking pleasure in getting to know many of my students in more personal ways- learning more intimately about their interests in the course topics and more closely advising them on final papers and projects and future classes. I felt I was more authentically myself in my weekly emails, lengthy and time consuming individual feedback, and lecture notes as I tried to view my course material from their perspectives while also empathizing that our new situation was a shock for faculty as well as students. What stood out to me from Darby’s article and webinar was that it did not provide a “How to” checklist for online teaching but was more of a way to approach the task and challenge of remote learning/teaching by showing up and being yourself as an educator and individual. Through these humbling tips, a more clear, precise, and transparent student-centered pedagogy can follow. I’m taking this to heart as good practice in any format of teaching.