• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Thanks for the Speakout

Students restore my faith in the future.

November 25, 2020
 
 

On Tuesday, Brookdale had its semiannual student speakout. (This time was on Zoom, for obvious reasons.) Officers of student government and various clubs and organizations show up to tell the senior leadership of the college what’s on their minds.

In the Before Times, it took place in a large multipurpose room. The president of the college, along with the vice presidents, deans, chief of police and head of facilities (among others), would sit at a long table up front fielding questions. Most of the time, we have no idea what the questions are going to be in advance.

This time around was slightly different. On Zoom, it felt a little bit less stagey and a little bit more intimate. We were given a few questions in advance, but several students added their own spontaneous questions and/or follow-ups.

The major difference this time, though, was that it was the first one we’ve had since going remote. I was curious to see how the students would respond.

To their considerable credit, they identified many of the advantages of remote delivery. Rather than complaining about going remote, they asked several questions around the theme of what we will have learned from this time when things go back to something more normal. They wanted to see how Zoom (and other technologies) would change what we did, once we had the option to return.

It’s a bit early to answer that, of course, and I’d expect considerable variation by professor, course and discipline. But I did suggest that remote office hours seem to be a major hit, with far more students showing up for office hours than did when office hours were held in offices. I don’t know if it’s a function of convenience, perceived safety or what, but the increase is noticeable and welcome. The point of office hours is supposed to be discussions between faculty and students; if Zoom allows those conversations to flourish, I’m on board.

Someone asked, too, about having professors record their synchronous classes and post them, so students who miss class can watch the recordings. I responded that I wasn’t going to mandate that, for a host of reasons, but that some faculty have found tremendous success in prerecording short bits of lecture and posting them before class, thereby freeing up class time for discussion. That seems to work well for several reasons. It allows students to rewatch the same short clip over and over again if needed, without either holding up the class or annoying anybody. Pure lecture works better in small chunks than in extended form, particularly on a screen. Class time works best for interactive discussion. Prerecorded bits don’t have students in them, so you don’t need to worry about inadvertent FERPA violations when posting clips. And a professor can reuse the same prerecorded clip for multiple sections, saving time.

Whatever else happens, though, I was genuinely grateful to see that the approach everyone took was to look for silver linings. None of us would have chosen this, and none of us will miss it when it’s gone. But if we can glean some improvements from this time to make the After Time better, then we should. In a few cases, we may have stumbled onto something good.

So thank you, Student Government Association. You gave me something to be grateful for in this weirdest of years.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my wise and worldly readers.

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