I’ve been thinking my way through Kerry’s post — particularly the challenge of “What do I want to do and why do I want to do that?”
So there are two things I’m struggling with and they both relate to transitioning from 302 to 101. I’ve spoken about some of these issues before, but the closer I examine my teaching methods, which I’m finding is the #1 consequence of building a class like this from scratch, the more I’m questioning how to best support my students. The two related issues: How do I fulfill my role in the 101 digital classroom? And how do best I deliver my course within that role?
Back when I first received an MA TA-ship, and had “graduated” from the Writing Center and into the Classroom (teaching a 7:30 am MWF course), I was newly 23 years-old, teaching 18-19 year olds and not only did I have no real idea what I was doing, I was terrified my students would “find me out” as a fraud. So, I did the only logical thing (I thought) and presented myself as a no-nonsense kinda guy. “Here’s the schedule, do this, read that, come prepared, you’re adults, no excuses.” That lasted about 3 weeks, until our first major assignment was due. I asked the class how the paper had gone (a little debriefing to blow off steam) and then carried on with a new lesson. Later I wrapped up class and bid them goodbye when I noticed a student had stayed behind in their seat to talk to me. I approached them and as they lifted their head I could see the hint of tears in their eyes — “I think I did the wrong assignment and I know how important it is and now I’m going to do bad and I don’t know what to do…” Seeing this terrified student, my wanna-be-business-man affect was gone as I went from “College Instructor” to similarly terrified recent graduate, watching a young student just be scared about school — something very familiar to me.
Since then, I’ve always sort of seen my job when teaching 101 as two-fold: I teach writing and I teach “college-arts.” They both require certain kinds of support.
So, here’s where I’m struggling now, as I attempt to build a 101 DE course from the ground up — how much “support” is enough/too much and how do I enact it remotely?
The last 101 I taught was (horrendously) 3 hours long, once per week. It was rough. It had been a while (4+ years?) since I’d taught the course — I tried too many new things, I was rusty, I was expecting, unconsciously, 302-level students and it was rough. Seeing them only once per week required a different approach to logistics that I didn’t totally possess or understand. And I’m not just talking a clear and organized schedule. I mostly had that, but what I didn’t have was, at least starting out, the ability to recognize that I was asking a lot (too much?) of brand new students, moving too fast, and expecting each of my 20 students to keep up without issue. It’s a lot easier to help your students stay “on the path” when you see them 3 times a week. Once was tough and zero frightens me a bit.
After a few weeks, in my once a week section, I noticed that while attendance was mostly steady, engagement was down. The class, save a few overachievers, was lost, and it was clearly my fault. I made a few changes — started saying the same things in different ways, repeating instructions as I made my way around the room, trying to reinforce things visually and verbally, started making “how-to” models on Bb, started structuring the physical classes to match previous ones, and opened up an Open QandA forum that we could use between our too-few F2F meetings that, unlike email, everyone could see. Things got better, mostly, and when students struggled, it wasn’t because they were lost, at least not administratively.
How can the design allow easy steps-tracing, back to important moments, comments, files, etc without going through the main path I create in a lesson or unit. Some of it means re-learning Bb (or learning it for real for the first time) but the rest is thinking like a new student. Not assuming every module is completed start to finish in one sitting, or that every step is done in the order I set up, or that every (or any) student thinks or learns like I do. I’ll likely be spending more energy on “teaching” Bb itself and “teaching” college-arts, as well as teaching “taking an online class in the university.” So our task becomes 3 or 4 fold. The “stuff” I can recognize in F2F sessions, when my schedule or scaffolding or lesson-plan doesn’t logistically click (or they ignore me or forget or just have a tough week) doesn’t show up the same ways in DE, so I have to be proactive and maybe even assume that that “stuff” is just there for some.
The conceptual and the practical, can sometimes, in my best and sharpest teaching moments, come together nicely– using the rhetorical and conceptual, Visual Analysis, as an entry point into the technical, Citation or Cohesion or Paragraphing, works and everything links together smoothly — but only sometimes. There are moments where I need to deviate from the conceptual and step out into “Now we just talk about syntax” or “Stop! Grammar-time” (sorry). So how do I reconcile these competing impulses to have a seamless unit-to-unit, lesson-to-lesson scaffold (so that my students can navigate what I want them to do and where I want them to go with minimal effort), with the need to fully teach 101 and have lessons and skills integrated that just don’t want to fit uniformly into the puzzle? I worry about sending students outside the nice and neat module to something that, perhaps to them, feels distinct, unrelated.
Anyway, this all brings up a ton re: workload, but I’ve already gone on far too long, so I’ll save that for next time.