A Bit of Pedagogy: between remote emergency learning and online teaching

Quite a few colleges are putting their classes for summer, and many for fall, online. So many faculty who had never taught in the online environment before this term will be doing it again.

What might they do differently?

The hope of many admins and techno-utopians is that the newbies will have time now to take online pedagogy seriously, perhaps learn how to use the LMS more effectively, or read up on online pedagogy. But the hope of many newbies is that they can just do what they did again, while reducing their cognitive load.

There is a middle ground.

Emergency remote instruction

What just happened did not, in most cases, cause newbie online faculty to create a pedagogical plan based on their own teaching. There wasn’t time. So it wasn’t normal “online instruction”. It’s been emergency remote instruction, often instituted in the middle of the class. See, for example:

Of course, what one does in an emergency couldn’t be the same as what one would normally do.

Pressure from above

Distance learning is different. It’s an entire field of knowledge. They give PhDs in this stuff. So now there may be a demand (mostly from those PhDs) that all faculty must up their game. Now. In the middle of the pandemic (yup, sorry, I think we’re still in the middle for summer and fall, but that’s only because I know about 1918-19).

And commercial pressure? I’m sure you’ve seen it all ready. Faculty mailboxes have been jammed with “we’re here for you” emails from every conceivable online learning product, textbook, and service. All free! Well, for now, anyway. They advertise like old 50s commercials. Got a problem? We understand! Our product will solve it for you! Try now with no obligation to buy!

We don’t want to do this

Increasing instructor dependence on the LMS, adding various products and materials from publishers, will not turn newbies into online instructors. It’s better to face the fact that those who were not teaching online before the pandemic were resisting because they didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t their thing. They didn’t care for the online environment. They were forced into this, and are still being forced. Maybe now they can use their LMS better. But they’re not happy.

Yes, there’s plenty of training out there, but they don’t want to be doing any of this. I don’t blame them.

A Bit of Pedagogy

What’s the middle ground? A Bit of Pedagogy. Bring ourselves back into our teaching, even though we must do it online. Change things? Sure. Not everything went well this time around. Good faculty will want to make changes. What they won’t want to do is become online teachers. And that’s ok.

A bit of pedagogy would consist of doing some thinking, on ones own or with others, about how we can adapt to work with our strengths. If I fell in love with Zoom, and it was effective for my students, I should use it again. If I wasn’t, I should look at different ways to do things.

Some ideas for the in between, the middle ground, a bit of pedagogy:

1. Work to your strengths.
What did you do this term online that you liked, or seemed to work for both you and your students? That should be the central guiding idea for summer or fall.

2. Decrease areas of weakness.
What didn’t work? Can you get rid of it? For some, synchronous (Zoom) meetings were horrible. Students wouldn’t show their face (why should they?) and you didn’t want to show yours. Are you required to do synchronous sessions? Then think of ways around the worst parts of it. For example, show slides, narrate, and record the session. Require students to view if they don’t attend, and submit questions to a discussion board. During the session, have a student monitor the chat for questions. Make it “present and chat”, not the Brady Bunch. Don’t expect enthusiastic participation if Zoom isn’t your strength. And if you aren’t required to have synchronous sessions, consider how to teach without it.

3. Pull in your pedagogy.
What do you like best about your pedagogy in the classroom? If  you are a lecturer, get better at online lecture. If you like discussion, work more with the discussion board, and do some database searches for how to create good online discussions. If you like student-led inquiry, think about how to do that online. A set of collaborative documents, maybe. If you like creating an environment with rich resources, then leaving students to it, do that.

4. Be kind.
It’s tempting to think that this time around, students will know what they’re getting into. They may, but that doesn’t mean they like it any better than you do. In fact, those students who were hoping to celebrate a big life change (entering or transferring to university) may well be angry about this. So the same advice is as true now as it was for emergency instruction. Don’t expect too much. Lower the bar a little, but keep the challenge. The good students want to do well. Some will depend on your class to be a distraction from the real world. Some will need to feel they can reach out to you, and get that deadline extended. Do it for them. Consider how you’ll answer the question, “how did you help students get through the plague year?”

For more than bits

For those who want to get group-y about this and work together, or follow a more structured path, you’re welcome to use or steal my open access Canvas course in Practical Online Pedagogy. It’s more than a Bit of Pedagogy, but it’s not a full course, nor is it LMS training. Rather it’s an expansion of the first three points above, and has some useful handouts, worksheets and reflection exercises. It’s available to all (the download link is on the main page) for free use only — no one may be charged for using it, no matter who’s leading the group.




4 thoughts to “A Bit of Pedagogy: between remote emergency learning and online teaching”

  1. Thanks Lisa,
    I was wondering how everyone managed. It was tough even for us veterans. My in person transition went better than my existing online. This is mainly because I did not know what they had on their plates. Many did not tell me. I asked for feedback and none came. I ended up calling most and it was an excellent idea. Many felt that Miracosta and I had their backs.

    Like I said my in person class ended up with excellent feedback. They were so afraid. But we worked. I say we because we talked every meeting about how the session went. Funny thing is they won’t take another class that does not require zoom. Haha.

    I am still waffling on requiring scheduled online or purely online.

    Thanks again


    1. Thanks, Christine. I saw you posted this in Facebook first, so replied there.

  2. Thanks (again! and again!) for everything you’ve posted about this miserable situation. You’ve been a huge help to me, and by extension to my students.

    Zoom is problematic–I don’t really have the bandwidth for a glitchless, freezeless, ungarbled experience, and my brain freaks out because it knows, deep in its primordial synapses, that Those Are Not People. I’m in the slow process of overcoming that, like an astronaut learning to respond calmly to her capsule filling with smoke, but this is not the same thing as enthusiasm.

    I loved ‘techno-utopians.’ That’s it in a nutshell. They are generous with their time and eager as young dogs, but from my perspective they’re delusional. I’m also deeply suspicious of their claims that their students are learning anything by creating memes and two minute videos. Your realism is a green salad to their artificially flavored Popsicles.

    My biggest fear going into fall is how I’m going to teach the bottom 30%-40%–the ones who read at a 6th-8th grade level and barely manage the course material in a regular class with a ton of support. Some of these students are having their parents or degreed friends post online for them, but others more honest or more earnest are floundering. I’ve decided not to care if some of them cheat–their future employers can deal with their lack of skills–but I worry about the ones who want to improve.

    1. Oh, good, glad it was useful — I hope to have a chance to talk about some of it on the SAFE Topics podcast on Monday.

      Just read an interesting article that helps explain why Zoom is so exhausting.

      My goal for the bottom 30-40% is to have them do some history, think about some history, for awhile. My loyalty is to my discipline, not student learning outcomes or grades. Since some won’t be capable of college-level analysis, I need interesting content and alignment between types of content: pictures that go with the text, video that goes with both. Even text read aloud to them. And then places where they can play with history: finding primary source images online and talking about them. For discussion, I can start the week with a simple “feeling” question (“how do you think slaves felt about the Middle Passage?”) first, then get deeper later in the week for those who can go deeper.

      None of this really allows for “cheating”. The papers are based on the sources they post themselves, so there’s maybe a bit of ownership there, I hope.

      I am a strong believer in scaffolding to help those who want to improve. Here’s the basic stuff, and if you’ve got that you can move up. If you can’t stack the blocks to make something, they’re still pretty blocks and now you know what blocks are.

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