"Prediction is difficult, especially about the future." -- Yogi Berra
Question #93422 posted on 01/19/2021 4:20 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

So... how is the remote part of remote learning going? (I'm not completely familiar with BYU's policy on in-person vs. remote learning, but I'm pretty sure that all students are doing some kind of online class).

The reason I'm asking is that I'm a high school teacher and my district just went to a full-remote protocol (no in-person meetings ever). My students aren't the best at giving me feedback, so I thought I'd ask here.

1) What's working really well in your remote classes?
2) What is not working well?
3) What do you wish your online classes looked like?

-The Man with a Mustache

A:

Dear friend,

I hate Zoom. I hate online classes. But I'm surviving, and I managed to get all A's last semester so clearly the world isn't ending quite yet. 

What's working well?

  • The chat function is awesome. If you can keep your eye on chat, it helps people who maybe don't want to speak up still participate, which is better than a traditional classroom. 
  • Participation, in general, is better in smaller class sizes. It helps if the students have time to get to know each other and feel comfortable making comments. I think classes of ~15 are ideal from what I had last semester. If you have more than 20-30 students, I wouldn't expect a lot of feedback. 
  • If you're going to share Powerpoints, make sure these are accessible outside of class too. Sometimes professors move too fast, so it's nice to be able to refer back later. 
  • Professors do a good job of giving extra time for questions and comments - people need to think, unmute, and get your attention - most of my best teachers give 10 "awkward" seconds of silence waiting for feedback. 
  • Several of my classes have really upped their organization and clarity of expectations. Doing everything online leaves a lot of room to get confused, so I've really appreciated having VERY clear and consistent communication from my teachers. At times I've felt a bit swamped in emails, but generally, I appreciate frequent clarification and reminders.
  • Compassion. I'm probably super lucky in the Sociology department, but my favorite part about this semester is that my professors acknowledge that everything is just a dumpster fire right now. If you are vulnerable with your students and talk about how you *know* it's difficult to pay attention, and that you're struggling and confused too... it just makes it so much better. It makes me feel understood and cared for. Give kids the benefit of the doubt with assignments turned in late. Everything is chaotic and even a little compassion goes a really long way. 
  • Some of my professors are really good at using the raised hands to monitor discussions and keep things on task. This is way better than expecting people to speak up on their own because then you don't have multiple people talking over each other. The best way to encourage participation is to monitor questions in chat AND the raised hands, and try to intersperse questions from chat and comments from students. 
  • Discussion-based classes are WAY better than listening to a lecture with PowerPoint. See below. 

What's not working well? 

  • I feel like we waste a lot more time than in-class. Between tech issues, unmuting, awkward silence, and decreased participation, I've felt a bit like this semester has been a bit of a wash compared to what I've been able to learn and grow from in the past. 
  • It is SO HARD to pay attention to a computer screen. As a college student, I already do so much of my reading and assignments on a computer. Being forced to do class on a computer means I'm spending upwards of 8-10 hours of screen time in a day. It is NOT HEALTHY. I get headaches, I can't pay attention, and the hours feel muddled together. My religion professor didn't seem to understand this and talked at the speed of light. Remember that you might need to reiterate things more than once because comprehension is decreasing. Our brains are so tired. Try to avoid just doing straight lecturing for over an hour. 
  • Breakout rooms. Oh, breakout rooms. They're awkward, no one feels compelled to actually talk, sometimes you get stuck in a room with someone who clearly is playing Minecraft or taking a nap instead of coming to class... I just can't stand breakout rooms. I don't think they contribute to effective learning. They just promote social loafing. 
  • There are a lot of things that are not working. This whole thing is less than ideal... but i think complaining about the non-changeable aspects of online learning is probably not what you're looking for, and that's what most of my complaints are about. So I'll pause here. 

What do I wish my online classes looked like? 

Really, I wish they were in person. I don't know what a "great" Zoom class is like, besides the ones that are just mostly discussion based. I know I prefer courses that maintain communication through email and send lots of reminders. I really like the ones that have online schedules so I can see when I need to be working on assignments. I prefer classes with consistent routines (like having a repeated type of assignment every week) so I can at least anticipate SOMETHING. 

I think it's most important to recognize and discuss how crappy everything is. High schoolers are *rough* to get to talk sometimes, but I think if you sympathize a lot with them and let them complain for a whole class period (literally just give them space to talk about how they're tired and overwhelmed), they might be able to give you some insight into how to help them succeed. 

Good luck. You're a brave soul, out here in the pandemic online school world. 

Cheers, 

Guesthouse