Many thanks to all who sent encouragement in response to last week’s post (here) about my harrowing experience with creating my first video for my students. I’m happy to report that my first-ever week of remote teaching went well. I promise not to turn this blog into a personal diary, but I’d like to share some reflections based on this past week.
I woke up last Monday excited and nervous for the first day of the school year. That was a good and familiar, even comforting, feeling. Some unfamiliar feelings followed for the rest of the day. It was very strange not to leave my house for the first day of school, and it was also weird to realize at the end of the day that I had not changed out of my sweat pants.
I was very glad that many students showed up for my first live zoom session at 8am on Monday. I also appreciated that many of them turned their cameras on, so I could see their faces on the screen. A large majority of my students are beginning their first term at Cal Poly, and they seemed eager to get started. I was excited that these students were beginning the academic coursework of their college experience with me.
One fun thing is that the very first student to join the zoom session turned out to have her birthday on that day. I know this because we worked through the infamous draft lottery example (see post #9, here), so I asked students to find their own birthday’s draft number, and it turned out that this student’s birthday had draft number 1, which meant that she was born on September 14, last Monday.
I have used three different zoom tools to interact with students:
- Breakout rooms provide an opportunity for students to discuss questions with each other. For example, we used breakout rooms at the beginning of the first session for groups of 5-6 students to introduce themselves to each other. Then we used the same breakout rooms later for students to discuss possible explanations for the apparent paradox with the famous Berkeley graduate admissions data (see post #3 here).
- Polls provide immediate feedback on students’ understanding (see Roxy Peck’s guest post #55 about clicker questions here). For example, I used polls to ask students to identify variables as categorical or numerical and to indicate whether a number was a parameter or a statistic.
- Chat allows students to ask questions of me, and I’ve also asked them to type in responses to some questions in the chat window. For example, students determined the median draft number for their birth month and typed their finding into the chat.
During Friday’s live zoom session, we studied ideas related to sampling, and we worked through the Gettysburg Address activity (see post #19, Lincoln and Mandela, part 1, here). I was apprehensive about how this activity would work remotely, but I was pleasantly surprised that it went smoothly. I prepared a google form in advance and pasted a link in the chat window, through which students entered the average word length in their self-selected sample of ten words from the speech. This allowed me to see their responses in real time and paste the results into an applet (here), so we could examine a dotplot of the distribution of their sample averages. Because a large majority of the students’ sample averages exceeded the population average of 4.3 letters per word, the resulting graph illustrated sampling bias:
I also created videos for students who could not attend the optional live sessions. I’m even getting slightly more comfortable with making videos. But making corrections to the auto-captioning takes a while, perhaps because the software has trouble translating words from my peculiar voice. Some unfortunate mis-translations of what I have said include:
- “grandmother” for “parameter”
- “in America” for “a numerical variable”
- “selected a tree” for “selected at random”
- “once upon a time” for “one sample at a time”
- “sample beans” for “sample means”
I have already given many quizzes to my students, even after just one week. I give a quiz based on each handout, just to make sure that they were paying attention as they worked through the examples, either in a live session with me or on their own or by watching a video. I also assign an application quiz for each handout, in which students apply what they have learned to a new context. I have also asked students to complete several miscellaneous quizzes, for example by answering questions about a Hans Rosling video on visualizing human progress (here) that I asked them to watch. I regard these quizzes as low-stakes assessments, and I encourage students to work together on them.
I conclude this brief post by offering five take-aways from my first week of remote teaching. I realize that none of these is the least bit original, and I suspect that none will provide any insights for those who taught remotely in the spring or started remote teaching in the fall earlier than I did.
- Remote teaching can be gratifying. Rather than thinking about how much I would prefer to be in a classroom with my students and down the hall from my colleagues, I hope to concentrate on my happy discovery that interacting with students virtually can be fun.
- Remote teaching can be engaging. I greatly appreciate my students’ being such good sports about answering my questions and participating in activities. (See Kelly Spoon’s guest post #60, here, for several ideas about connecting with students online.)
- Asking good questions is central to helping students learn*, remotely as well as in-person.
- Remote teaching requires considerable preparation**. For me, some of this preparation has involved planning when to use breakout rooms and polls and chat. Collecting data from students also requires more preparation than simply asking students to put their result on the board. Writing quizzes also requires entering the questions into the learning management system after crafting the questions in the first place.
- Remote teaching is very tiring.*** I have found the combination of having to prepare so extensively, integrate different technologies at the same time, and stare at a screen for many hours per day to be exhausting!
* You did not see this one coming, did you?
** But on the positive side of the ledger, my commute time has been reduced by nearly 100%.
*** Of course, perhaps age is a confounding variable that explain my fatigue. Never before have I been as old to start a new school year as I am now.
Here’s one more takeaway, one that I regret: I have much less time and thought to devote to this blog than I had last year. That’s why this post is so brief and perhaps unhelpful. As always, thanks for reading and bearing with me.