Five Things I Learned Teaching Two Online Classes Today
- The internet did not explode. It turns out every college student, corporate team, and middle school math class can be on streaming video conferences at the same time. At least for now. Not sure what we do when it crashes. Or how much cloud space is available to save all of this stuff. My IT days are behind me so I’ll let Zoom sort that out and stay in my lane.
- Classroom video conferencing time isn’t slower than live classroom time. I definitely thought it would be, and imagined that after about 15 minutes we’d be like, “okay, so what else do you want to talk about?” Because of all of the change — in students’ lives and in the entire world — and because this was our first day back, we didn’t go into either class (an Africana Studies course on Penn’s Black history, and an Urban Studies course on financial literacy and inequities) with a slide deck ready for business as usual. We gave students space to talk and mapped out a collective course forward. The second class did get into a deeper financial conversation, sparked by students’ chat questions, and ran over what we had planned to do. I didn’t even realize it until I looked at the clock. Always good when that happens.
- Small groups are better. My most lively Zoom conference today was my prep meeting for the Urban Studies course between myself (obviously), my co-teacher Brandon Copeland, and our four TAs. This felt the most natural, like our planning times in the same room before COVID-19. Gonna work more sessions like this into our future classes so people feel more engaged in the conversation.
- People need people. I had a different perspective hosting Zoom conversations of 30 and 60 undergrads today. These are young adults who more often than not are traveling in circles, sit in relatively the same seats in class next to their friends, grab lunch or dinner together afterwards, and move on to other meetings and activities with their peers. Today each of them sat side by side in a box on my screen, but miles and worlds apart, and it’s going to be that way for some time. Some of my students won’t get to connect with other people their age in person until this is over, and may never see classmates again face to face. That cloud hung over both of my classes, as both are senior-heavy. But for what it was worth, giving them this weekly chance to talk to each other seemed to lift some spirits. Especially as we get back at it now and try to figure out how to do school in a way that we didn’t plan, facing circumstances that are both a mystery and a terror.
- Greatness comes in different flavors. In my first course, co-taught with Daina Troy and Chaz Howard, Chaz remarked how we often tout Penn’s eminence, but now is a time for us not to worry as much about that, and just be. What I saw today, in near perfect attendance (on time too!) across both classes, probing questions, supportive chat comments and emojis, tips and advice shared, lots of laughter, and a few tears, was the exact kind of greatness that we need right now. Showing up with all you have is a solid win in my book. Both classes are built on change and shaping new ways forward, so I’m excited about how our students will respond in the weeks to come. We pushed them to do it for themselves. In my view, this is how great learning happens.