One element that excited me about my current job was the opportunity to teach credit-bearing courses in our Library Informatics bachelor’s degree program. In my role as department head, I not only get the chance to teach and but also lead the program. For my first year, I mostly did the administrative work of leading a program. I worked with our advisor (one of our librarians in our department) to resolve student issues, coordinated our program assessment, set up our course rotation each semester, and assigned classes to the folks that report to me. My first year was really a chance to dive into the program, learn about its creation and context, and lead conversations with the department about the program’s future. It seems that my second year here has focused more on actually teaching the classes, something that excites me and also gives me a lot to think about.
My first chance to teach happened this past summer, where I co-taught LIN 175: Information Literacy, our general education course that covers the research process and gives students a look at research through an IL lens. We taught in a five-week, five days a week, two hours a day, synchronous format. I was able to learn the content, teach about ? of the class sessions, and work closely with the students enrolled. Their final project was a group poster (inspired by the better poster template introduced by Mike Morrison) on an IL related topic of their choice. This version of the class was also a heavy revision from ways the class had been taught previously; our team got together in May and reimagined how the content was introduced and created the final poster project. In many ways, our revisions worked well and the new structure kickstarted a lot of good discussion within the department about how we want this class to work.
This fall, I had to pinch hit and teach a seven week, asynchronous version of LIN 175. I had never taught a credit course asynchronously before and relied on my department colleagues who let me look at their past syllabi and lurk in their Canvas shells. Teaching a seven week course was definitely eye opening. It was fast paced and pushed me to juggle my day-to-day job, creating content, and evaluating student work. Particularly, I ran into the following challenges and opportunities:
- Out of sight, out of mind. At first, I sort of forgot I was teaching an online class. I was involved in so many other projects and in-person activities that I had to actively remind myself there were students, online, waiting for my instruction and feedback. Like any other project, I had to find ways to build it into my to-do lists and my calendar.
- Developing weekly content aka building the airplane while I was flying it. In general, I roll my eyes at the “building the airplane while we’re flying it” phrase, but it definitely was my experience this fall. Especially at the beginning of the course, I felt that the day before I “dropped” a new module, I was frantically recording lectures, organizing learning materials, and double checking the assignments were set up correctly. While I had a lot of the content from the summer class, there are vast differences between working with students daily, in-person, and having a student work online asynchronously. It’s not an easy transfer! It did get a little easier in terms of setting up modules as time went on, but it was anxiety inducing to start.
- How much content is too much content? With the in-person, five-week class, we had two hours each day to go through context, do activities, and learn the materials. I feel comfortable with lesson planning for two hours. I did not feel as confident designing asynchronous content. I still am learning what is reasonable/doable for a week’s worth of learning materials. I want to pick things that are relevant, engaging, and applicable to the students. I also want content that connects to each other and sets the stage for application assignments. Those assignments are really my only way to know if students have absorbed and learned the material, I don’t have the same in-person cues. I ended up with some good modules and I also made plenty of notes of how to improve content for future iterations of this class.
- Building connections with students. Something I’ve heard from both faculty who teach online courses and students who have taken online courses is that connecting with each other is tough. Just because I have students complete a reflection over VoiceThread doesn’t mean they connect with their peers or feel connected to me as their professor. I know there’s learning I need to do to better understand how to cultivate community in this time frame and virtual environment. In many ways, I feel like I’m VERY behind on this conversation after the pandemic (but look forward to reviewing all the content created in this time).
When I submitted my grades on Monday afternoon, I felt a sense of relief. I did it! I don’t think I’ll teach this class, in this format, until the fall, so I have time to make some tweaks and build off what I learned the past seven weeks. For now, I’ll make a transition to preparing for a different seven-week class that starts in January. Wish me luck!
Featured image by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash