I hope this finds you well, and that, despite everything, the prospect of returning to the classroom (virtual, or otherwise) is giving you energy and hope. It’s been a long summer, with lots of workshops and lots of reading and lots of worry. Fair enough. But now it begins: those amazing conversations with students about ideas, about their futures, about the life of the mind, about problems and solutions and the role that they can play in making a better world. Now, in other words? Now comes the fun part. Whatever else you’re feeling, whatever else you’re thinking about, remember that: now is when lives change–students’ lives, but also ours. Enjoy that.
Take care, and let me know if I can help in any way.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Student resource information for your syllabus.
- A reminder about faculty resources on the CARPE website
- What does Anti-Racism look like in Mathematics?
- Should we require our students to keep their video on?
- How to be a trauma-informed Department Chair
- A letter to my students
- Giving credit where credit is due
- Final tips
1) Student resource information for your syllabus.
We’ve attempted to consolidate student academic resources, including peer tutoring, the writing center, subject tutoring, academic coaching, and much much more, on the CARPE website. Though this page (like the site as a whole) is still under construction, please feel free to include the following link for student resources in your syllabus: https://carpe.academic.wlu.edu/student-resources/
Bill Oliver asked me to pass along the following information about the Writing Center:
We are going all virtual for Fall 2020. Our tutors will be available to help with writing projects and presentations via Zoom beginning Sunday, September 6th. Our expanded hours are 2-4 PM and 8-10 PM, Sunday through Thursday. We hope that you will encourage your students to take advantage of our services. In the attached video, our Head Tutor, Seren McClain, briefly describes the kind of help we offer and the process by which students can sign up for a conference. You may wish to share the video with your students or you can refer them to our website, https://my.wlu.edu/writing-program/writing-center.
2) A reminder about faculty resources on the CARPE website:
Just a reminder that there are resources available on the revamped CARPE website that may be of use as you put the finishing touches on your syllabi. More particularly, be sure to give the Virtual Instruction and the Anti-Racist Pedagogies pages a glance.
The construction of this website continues daily, thanks to the tireless efforts of Helen MacDermott. Be sure to give it a look!
3) What does Anti-Racism Look Like in Mathematics?
Passed along to me by Aaron Abrams in mathematics, this piece is well worth a read for anyone in any field.
4) Should we require our students to keep their video on?
I’m including this blog post, knowing that it may get under the skin of some of us. In part, this is because the tone of the piece is a little clunky, particularly with the use of “you,” which can feel a little accusatory. Beyond that, I know there are strong and divided opinions about this question across campus. In the end, agree or disagree, this piece is worth a read and some thought. Indeed, the author’s blog as a whole has many thoughtful pieces that deserve our attention.
The title pretty much says it all. Except, honestly? I think this essay is relevant for everyone on campus, not just department chairs and other folks in positions of leadership. What I like about this piece is it helps us find ways to negotiate daily interactions under very stressful conditions.
Full disclosure: I went to grad school with Steve Snyder, the guy who wrote this. I was always impressed with Steve: he was smart, but always worked hard to make sure he wasn’t the only voice in the room. I found that–the second part, not the first–to be a rare quality in grad school. I know several other faculty on campus who are including something like this in their syllabus or elsewhere in the course (Mikki Brock, for instance, as well as Melissa Kerin). A message like this to our students isn’t a requirement, of course, but it certainly is something worth considering. These are strange times. Addressing that directly might be wise.
7) Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
A nice piece from The Columns describing the incredible efforts of the University Facilities staff to get the campus ready for the return of students. Too often, it’s too easy for those of us in the classroom to forget how much effort goes into making our facilities some of the best in the country. This piece is a valuable reminder.
8) Final Tips
So what, finally, are the most important things to keep in mind as we teach our courses this fall, be they face-to-face, virtual, or blended? The answer, to some degree, depends upon who we are individually as instructors, what our goals are in the classroom, our course topics, and so on. That said, looking back over the summer, at all the workshops, all the essays and articles, all the websites and links and videos, here are four ideas that, for me at least, stand out:
- Be deliberate about creating a sense of community. Allow students to show up early to your zoom room, so that they can chat. Show up early yourself. Engage in small talk. Find out how students are doing. Use breakout rooms and small groups. Add a personal component to the small group assignments. Require students to come to office hours every once in a while, just that you can see how they’re doing, both academically and personally. Know students’ names. Use those names.
- Be deliberate about laying out the terms of engagement. Be clear from the start about what functions of Zoom you’ll ask students to use: the raise hand feature, chat, and so on. Should mics be on all the time? Not every student will be comfortable having their video on, but encourage them to do so when they can. And ask that, regardless, all students demonstrate a degree of engagement by using the chat, the clap hands response, or by asking questions or offering feedback–or just by e-mailing you occasionally with questions and ideas. All students can/should be expected to engage, but as is always the case, students will engage in different ways.
- Whenever possible, hand over some degree of agency to your students. We’re going through a disruptive moment in our history. One way to counter the traumatic impact of everything going on is to allow students some agency in the design and implementation of the course. Perhaps, as we’re trotting out the course goals, we could ask what their goals are for the course? Perhaps even write some goals collaboratively? Perhaps, as we discuss terms of engagement, we ask them for suggestions about how to negotiate these strange new spaces? Perhaps we can ask their thoughts on assignment design, or, as mathematician Patrick Bahls does, work with them to co-write exam questions. Allowing greater student agency means a greater student understanding of the reasoning behind our courses, which, in turn, can lead to more effective and lasting learning.
- Begin with a beautiful problem. My guess is that most if not all of us love our fields because of the problems we find there, the questions and paradoxes and contradictions that don’t quite make sense, that go against current thinking or our own assumptions. Okay. If that’s what causes us to engage with our fields, and we want our students to also engage, then we begin with that: here’s a problem. Here’s a challenge. Here’s a riddle. What do you think? Why? How do you know? How do we find out? Yes, eventually we need to cover the syllabus, but why not set the tone for your course by beginning with intense intellectual engagement?