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INSTRUCTOR DISCUSSES SEMINAR READINGS AND CLASSROOM STRATEGIES
The reading, “Teaching and Learning in the Age of Anxiety,” was packed with insights. There were so many interesting and relevant articles, and a video or two, that I found myself frequently going down a rabbit hole as I worked through the reading module. The New Statesman article by Sarah Manavis described my life exactly. It IS super difficult to focus these days. Regarding challenges for instructors and students, several articles included discussions of student experiences that resonated for me.
Even before the quarantine I have always struggled to push myself to do the repetitious work of grading student assignments. Once I get rolling with the task, I always discover so many important insights about my students, and specific ways I can offer more support. Then I kick myself for having procrastinated. In this new Zoom environment, I find that after sitting in front of the computer for two to three hours for class meetings, I am mentally exhausted, and overwhelmed with drowsiness. I take a nap, usually longer than intended, then wake up, have a snack, and answer emails, and grade assignments. It’s exactly as Sarah explains in the article. If I struggle so, imagine what my students must be going through. The article was a keen reminder about how these times keep us in a constant state of “fight or flight.” Always hearing frightening news, and wondering if life will ever return to normal, leaves us emotionally and psychically on constant shaky ground.
I loved the Vox article by Constance Grady. Her reminders about our millennial students struggling to hold down two or three jobs in addition to taking classes. She included a link to another great article by Anne Helen Petersen in BuzzFeed.News, “How Millennials Became the burnout Generation.” The story about the student who was so overwhelmed by work, and his ADHD, that he felt he would probably not get around to registering to vote, because that required mailing it in. (This hit home with me because I’ve been putting of renewing my volunteer voter registrar permit. I will get it done!) Our young people are the ones who can really make a difference in the election this year. We need to help them. More importantly, the article points out that Millennials are struggling economically with student debt, and a deteriorating national economy and scarcity of good paying jobs. With all these challenges, how are our students expected to drum up the motivation required to endure the four or more years of college to complete a degree?
I believe the Ascender program has the right idea in fostering a feeling of “familia,” whereby students may enjoy the experience of community in their college classes. How do we build community in this environment? I think this semester was somewhat forgiving in that we started out in the classroom. So, the students had already formed friendships, and were texting each other before the lockdown. After lockdown these are some strategies that I believe helped students stay connected, and kept their motivation from completely tanking:
1) Breakout rooms in Zoom. I limited groups to two or three students, and set a time limit to help them stay on task. Then I used the chat feature to restate their task for the breakout room. Shy students had a chance to bloom with this strategy, and became more comfortable in class discussions.
2) Flexibility with assignment deadlines. Even though I was “herding cats” at the end to get late assignments turned in. This reassured them, and gave them peace of mind that the lockdown wasn’t going to make it impossible to earn a good grade in the course.
3) Communicating with students by phone. A few students were completely overwhelmed with the technology, and required phone calls, and individual Zoom meetings outside the regular class meeting. This took the place of regular office hours on campus. On campus I could always just meet students in the computer lab to help them with technology. So, it was very clunky to help them with technology from home. Even though the college had Zoom rooms for tech. tutoring, students rarely used that resource.
4) Encouraging students to email me, and then responding promptly. This also helped students when they were running behind with assignments. There were several students who might not have managed to pass without constant reminders and instructions from me via email. However, this and number 3 above kept me chained to the computer, and exhausted.
5) Frequent praise and encouragement for getting to the Zoom meetings, and persevering to attend class and submit assignments despite of all the difficulties brought on by the lockdown. I think this was the most important one of all, for all my classes including the Ascender group. Many students opted to take second jobs to help their parents provide for the family. Yet, they hung on to their classes as well. I know it was a real struggle for many students. Seeing their earnest effort and persistence was encouraging to me as well. They motivated me on those days when I was tired from staying up late grading papers the night before.
I wish I could mention all the great technology and innovative strategies I tried this semester. Honestly, I mostly responded to students’ needs in the moment, as they occurred. This summer will be an opportunity to use what I’ve learned, and I’m sure, another opportunity for trial and error. However, I have gained so many good ideas from the Pressbook reading. I plan to show the “Three Most Important Questions” video from Vishen Lakhiani. He speaks the way students think. I think they’ll enjoy it, and be lifted up.