Are We Working Hard Enough?

We’ve now had two meetings of my little online-English-professors’ fellowship-and-support group. [That’s a lot of hyphens, but I’m saddened by the impending extinction of the hyphen, so I’m trying to breed more and release them into the wild.] In our second meeting, we covered a lot of important topics, and I’d like to share them here. Please feel free to respond with your own experiences on these points, and you are invited to join again this afternoon:

Friday, May 1, 2020 02:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 938 4251 0311
Password: 656151

We began by taking about final exams. There are lots of different approaches to giving end-of-course assessments in this strange new environment. My Director of First-Year Writing decided that we would replace final exams in freshman writing classes with 500-word reflection essays, in which the students think back over what they have learned this term. The University as a whole has suggested a wide variety of ways to give finals. If we want to have a traditional test, we can post it on the LMS with a 24-hour completion window. Or we can have the students create a course map, multimedia assignment, pop culture analysis, “passion project,” or game that reflects the main concepts of the course.

In British Lit, I’m giving oral exams. The students pair up, and each pair signs up for a 15-minute time slot with me. I’ve given them a list of themes from the course, and they are asked to prepare a 5-minute talk on one theme in which they discuss how a few works of literature from the semester express that theme. Then I will ask them questions about other themes and other works for the remaining 10 minutes. I’ll let you know how it goes!

One attendee gave exams using TopHat, which is a software that (according to its website), allows teachers to “Securely administer quizzes, tests and exams on students’ computers. Set specific start and end times and verify identities online to ensure that the right students are taking your test. Monitor student activity and generate an easy-to-understand proctor report that flags irregular student behavior.”

How are you doing final exams this year? Please let me know!

We talked about overwork, eyestrain, and migraines. Most of us are spending waaaaay more time on our computers than we used to. Ironically, and I use that in the colloquial sense, I had decided to go digital-tech-free in my Brit Lit class this year (I’m usually totally tech-friendly and tech-integrated). I wanted to have a paper-only class as kind of a breath of fresh air, a screen-free space for a change. Yeah. Well. The universe had other ideas. Anyway, have you all been suffering from eyestrain and migraines? I have. And tired eyes are an anxiety-trigger for me. (I had a minor eye injury a few years ago that occurred in a really bad mental health season and totally freaked me out, so anything even slightly wrong with my eyes terrifies me and sets the anxiety going. Alas.) In my case, this is exacerbated by my hardware troubles: My glorious Surface Pro died right at the beginning of all this (graphics card couldn’t handle all the video, and having all the guts in the screen leads to easier overheating), and I haven’t yet replaced it. I’m working on a fairly lousy laptop loan from school, for which I’m grateful, but I need to invest in new tech. I’m planning to get a desktop gaming computer that can handle all the webinars in the world, then replace my Surface for portable work. Waiting for that government relief check, tho…… Anyway.

So we talked about strategies for reducing eyestrain. Taking breaks, setting the brightness lower, changing the background/text colors, working on one’s phone instead, working in intervals with time outside in between, creating a playlist with study music punctuated by break songs [dance recess!]…. Those are all good ideas. The one day when I did audio-only WebEx office hours outside in my catio was nice. 🙂

What solutions have you found for eyestrain?

The most astonishing moment was when one colleague said that a grad student of hers (a GRAD student, no less!) complained that the faculty aren’t working much at all right now. Um. Wut. Dude. I’m working waaaaay more than usual, and I’m sure you’re the same. Hours and hours of personal conversations over WebEx or Zoom, talking to students about their lack of space to work in, their difficult family situations, their mental health crises, their pregnancy scares, the long hours they have to work at a new job they’ve taken on to help their families, their health worries and COVID-like symptoms, their fears for parents or grandparents, their challenges with figuring out how to travel home safely….. Hours and hours of hunting down digital texts to post online because the textbooks are back in the dorms while the students are living with their parents. Hours and hours recording encouraging little videos to explain upcoming assignments or alleviate exam anxiety. Hours and hours learning new software, googling how to do something on the LMS, editing video clips, troubleshooting technical problems….. Yeah. Working a whole lot more than usual, y’all. And getting paid the same. Ah, well.

How much more do you think you’re working right now? Do you track hours? Does online teaching take more or less time than on-campus teaching for you? How much extra time did the sudden transition to online cost you?

So those were the main conversations. We also talked about accommodations, extended time, captioning, ESL issues, intellectual property rights for recorded lectures…

Oh, one more thing. I tried out a new method this week that I like and think I’ll do in online courses in future. Because we lost an instructional week, Chaucer got cheated of his two classes (sorry, Geoffrey!). Instead, I posted some great intro lectures and also recorded my own lecture about the selections we were reading. Throughout this lecture, I embedded five quiz questions. Then I posted a quiz on Canvas with blank questions, so that they had to listen to/watch the lecture in order to find out what the questions were. In this particular case, I made it optional (I have a 25-point “optional work bucket” into which they can put points by doing extra work of various kinds); in future, I’d probably make it required. So only a few have taken it, but for those folks, it certainly helped to get them to dig into my lecture and the text.

Okay, this afternoon I plan to talk about course evaluations and end-of-course surveys, then either today or in future to dig into the big topic of Why have on-campus college at all? Is it necessary for “life-formation” or other extra-curricular goals of your institution?

Hope you can join us!

2 thoughts on “Are We Working Hard Enough?

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