While I am happy to note that I include most of the critical elements listed in my teaching, I know that I can improve in Element 3: Flexible Methods and Materials. Dr. Luke Wood’s statement: “We teach how we were taught,” rings true to me. I was taught by lecturers (including priests & nuns), and my way is not to lecture as they did, but to hold socratic discussions. One of my challenges is to hold onto the students who learn best by methods other than discussion. With technology, however, it’s getting better. For example, links to YouTube videos of poets and authors reading their works have enhanced the learning experiences of my students with visual impairments.
Our school’s tips for an accessible online class is exactly the detailed, concise resource for a budding online teacher with some anxiety about the transition. What from the list would I not employ? However, Moore’s suggestion to view the course as an ebook is the first thing I would adopt in a new online class, and I am glad that Canvas makes it easy for us to do so. For my f2f classes, I keep all of the information on the home page, where students can access the course calendar with links to assignments, handouts, images, and embedded videos, without having to go through layers of folders. Additionally, Moore’s list of online pedagogical strategies is valuable for f2f teaching, too.
I appreciate Wood’s straightforward explanation of the “Five Bes.” To me, this was a checklist that showed me what I am doing right and what I could do better. I learned that while I do work at being all five things, I can go further in some. For instance, I should add mandatory interactions in f2f, but will absolutely employ this and the rest of the list for my future online classes.
Wood’s recommendations for being relevant got me thinking of the constitution of today’s community college classes. At least the classes I’ve taught.
In many classes, I have had students from backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented, and students from backgrounds that have been both well represented and relatively safe from social as well as institutional discrimination. Sometimes, the “safer” students feel underrepresented and even under attack. You would recognize this faction as they condemn “political correctness” (although they are often unable to define it when asked), affirmative action, feminist arguments, etc. Using Wood’s terms, one reading can be taken as a window looking in by some and as a window looking out by others. The challenge for me has been to make both kinds of students feel included, as well as the large, apparently indifferent, group in between.
One solution I have tried is to include works by ancient figures, such as Lao-Tzu, the Greeks, Machiavelli, etc. and to frame discussions and assignments to emphasize universal themes, generalizations, and their relevance in our time (and place). The response has generally been positive from all sides — except maybe those whose only response was that the text was boring. [By the way, I do understand that students’ reading and thinking paradigms change over the centuries, but sometimes my eyes still want to roll back far enough to see my pituitary. I’m only human.]
However, I still need to balance ancient and modern. When teaching introductory literature, LIT 120, I often use something by Toni Morrison as an example of contemporary American works. A novel such as The Bluest Eye gets a lot of attention from students because of its themes and issues of multicultural relevance. Still, there is the tendency by non-African-American students to otherize the characters, expressing sadness that “they” have so many problems in “their community,” and criticizing the main character for not standing up for herself. Of course, these reactions are always welcomed as teachable moments. My point is, in response to Dr. Wood, that even though it is possible, it is challenging to balance windows looking and those looking out. I would really love for you to share some ideas for texts, activities, assignments that promote a more unified class. Seriously, I would make cookies for you.
Here is another practice I am trying this semester and would like to migrate the practice online. Please tell me what you think:
For the first time, I did not start the semester with a set list of readings, but am selecting as I get to know my students better. They have to be titles that are both relevant to at least some students and appropriate for the writing assignment. In an online class I would get to know them through conversations and informal writings in which they share their biographies, experiences, and aspirations. Once I know *who* is in the class, I can gather titles that not only provide windows, but possibly also mirrors.
I hope you will forgive my long and slightly ranty post. One thing had me thinking of another, and you know how that goes.