I teach painting, a very hands-on experience. Students need to clearly see me demonstrate various techniques and procedures. In the past, this meant students gathering around my worktable (pictured below). While this generally worked, such crowding around the table was not a socially distanced experience. Moreover, even during “normal times” with 18 students, there were always a few on the fringe of the group who couldn’t quite see what was going on.
My courses involve a lot of give and take with the students, me asking probing questions about the reading, helping students develop their responses. Often 100-level students find it challenging to take notes during these organic discussions. Also, if a student misses class or happens to be an English Language Learner or a student with a reading or hearing disability, taking useful notes gets even more challenging.
Board writing is a central part of my teaching style. I use the chalkboard or whiteboard to develop notes on readings, present topics and prompts to focus our sessions, and record students’ responses to further develop and organize the discussion.
This approach quickly became problematic in my hybrid classes this semester because my remote students struggled to see the board.
With the challenges of the hybrid model this semester, I was concerned about how to assess my students. Typical timed tests would be a challenge to deliver in a remote setting. Not only would such tests add considerable stress to my students lives (Is my connection stable? Do I have enough time? How do I ask questions?),
As a cognitive psychologist, I appreciate that the mind likes structure. It helps us make sense of novel input, guides predictive inferences as we learn, and allows for more successful retention of information. In the classroom, the structure is reflected in how the material is organized as well as how we work with that material. In pre-COVID classes, I would provide a mixture of active lectures, activities, and discussions most every day.
In the spring, I team-taught a Denison Seminar course, STEM Ed, Democracy and Poverty in South Africa with Dr. Sarah Wolff from the Mathematics Department. To engage students in the reading and build community, we expanded on our discussion boards. We organized students in groups of five or six – their discussion pod – using NoteBowl.
In a typical class I assign primary readings for my students. Although I try to pick accessible readings, the students can still find the readings challenging, so I provide a good deal of support and discussion in the classroom to help my students understand this material.
With the shift to remote learning in the spring, I knew this practice would be a challenge.
During our shift to remote learning this spring, like everyone, I had to quickly adapt my course to make a range of content – schedule, videos, PDFs, Google Meet links, etc. – available to my students. While I was using Notebowl, I was looking for something with more flexibility in the way I organized and presented material.
While many of us provide a research methods course for our majors, it seems students do not always enter such courses with zeal and enthusiasm. To help my students better relate to the material, when I remotely teach our research methods course this fall, our first assignment will focus on researching the self: a preliminary investigation.
Teaching a class that deals with racial inequality, voter suppression, or environmental justice? How about wealth distribution, gross domestic product, or energy consumption? Last spring, I found some easy-to-use online resources that allow students to create meaningful maps that help provide a spatial context to their work.
For example, you can produce spatial visualizations that compare:
Socioeconomic census data and Cancer incidence
National GDP and Immigration/Emigration data
Minority populations and Schools, Parks, and Public housing
If you are teaching data presentation techniques, some of these sites allow you to manipulate the display and/or download the data.