Teaching Today

Embracing Break-and-Bake Cookies

Christopher R. Marsicano shares lessons learned from the first weeks of Zoom teaching.

April 10, 2020
 
 
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When I took my job at Davidson College, I signed up for close relationships with students in small classes. Same for my students who chose to go to Davidson because of the sense of place and small class setting that liberal arts colleges provide. There are many great educational opportunities for a college education, but my students and I all just happened to choose one where face-to-face, in-person instruction is the primary form of teaching and learning. Until COVID-19 sent us all home into the world of hastily prepared online instruction.

I don’t know about you, but most faculty members I’ve informally polled never took a grad school class on how to teach in college, let alone one called “How to teach online in a global pandemic.” For me, this past week of online instruction has been a challenge. I never realized just how much of my teaching abilities relied on my ability to read the room. Now I have to learn to read the Zoom.

Like my students, I’ve had to learn a few things. Consider this a very unauthoritative list of lessons learned from someone lacking any semblance of authority of how to transition to Zoom.

Your students are resilient. They’ve adapted surprisingly quickly. More than a few of them Zoom into class in pajamas. I mention that not because it is different than the in-person early-morning class status quo, but because it is the same. If that doesn’t scream “settled into the new normal,” then I don’t know what does.

You are not an online educator, so learn from someone who is. None of us thrust into online instruction in the wake of COVID-19 campus closures are truly online educators. My colleagues who design online courses spend an extraordinary amount of time developing their syllabi, practicing their craft and becoming true experts in online instruction. They deserve an incredible amount of respect. They’re Steph Curry shooting threes, while we’re all just playing pickup basketball at the local YMCA. Yeah, we’re both technically playing basketball -- but are we really? Listen to the experts. Learn from them.

You don’t have to be the best, just do your best. As educators, we hold ourselves to a certain standard. We want our teaching to be life-changing. Unfortunately, we’re asking ourselves to make cakes worthy of The Great British Bake-Off when we have skill set more suited to break-and-bake cookies or the “cakes” on Nailed It! That can be exceedingly frustrating. Don’t let yourself get frustrated. Here’s the thing -- break-and-bake cookies are still delicious.

Recognize learning opportunities in the absurdity of the situation. One of my students showed up to class eating a bowl of cereal and making good use of Zoom’s virtual background setting to show us all a music video. It was a great learning opportunity for us both. He learned meeting etiquette, and I learned that he and I have very different tastes in music … and cereal.

Roll with the punches, embrace the technology. When I asked one colleague slated to retire at the end of the year how he felt, he very genuinely said, “I’m excited; not everyone gets a chance to really be challenged in the last three months of his career!” I loved his attitude: embrace the challenge! It inspired me to throw out my syllabus and start over for the remainder of the semester. The final paper for my seminar? Gone. Instead, we’ll be using Zoom and Audacity to make a podcast series. Why not? Carpe Zoom!

Lean on your friends; they’ll come through. I’m very lucky -- Davidson has an incredible team of instructional technologists and digital learning specialists. They put our faculty through Zoom boot camp, and we’re all better off for it. I also reached out to friends and colleagues on Twitter. I asked if they’d be willing to help out my students with a project. I expected a handful of takers. I was wrong; within 24 hours I had 36 volunteers. We’re all in this together. We have to support each other. And we will.

Bio

Christopher R. Marsicano is a visiting assistant professor of educational studies at Davidson College. His research concerns higher education policy. He figured if his students had to listen to his bad jokes over the internet, you did, too.

 
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