A Term Online: Teaching Diary (#1)

WHAT: fully-online semester-length English courses

WHO: 2nd year Thai students, mostly English majors

WHERE: a large public university near Bangkok.

Classes started just this morning. I thought I’d start this “teaching diary” to catch some of the experience as I reflect on and refine what it is I’m doing (or at least attempt to). In the parlance of the title of this blog: as I…engage with the muddles and mistakes I encounter/create along the way and emerge (we hope) with some functional maxims and methods to follow the next time around (tomorrow’s class, next year, whenever time is a flat circle).

Probably just a quick one today…the start of the term is always extra busy, isn’t it.

First, a happy note: some encouraging student feedback following class #1 of this “English Listening & Speaking” course:

I like your accent sounds like turning on the radio.

[Class] made me feel like studying online is not too boring just like I think. Your class is very fun.

I feel great because you have fun teaching.

*That last one is kind of interesting conceptually, but is also just one of my favorite bits of student feedback in a while on a personal level!

Students also had some good critical thoughts about learning online:

It’s more difficult to [communicate] because I can’t do my gestures to help me explain things.

I think studying English should be face to face. Studying English online, it’s feel like watching video on YouTube so it’s not that much different.

I think someone who is less courageous can express their opinions in online class more than face to face class.

What do you think about our university study online while most of Thailand let student go to class?

I feel that it’s convenient and fun but some subjects i think we have to learn by face to face.

So difficult…but I think it’s better than normal class.

My survey was mostly collecting info about their familiarity with the various online tools and platforms we’ll be using, what devices they’re using, etc. But the prompts to opine on online learning led to some of those thoughtful responses.

Here’s a picture from this morning…of one of those times during on online lesson when things just start to PILE UP on your screen. I’ve gotten MUCH better at mindfully managing these moments during online teaching over the last few months, but occasionally they still fry my brain. Not today though!

According to the survey they completed, a very small percentage of them had ever used Zoom before prior to our class this morning. This was a vaguely surprising to me, because in general they seemed pretty comfortable in there.

The biggest glitches were due to a couple things I’d overlooked: having recently upgraded to a ‘pro’ zoom package (happy birthday, self!) I needed to set up the new bells and whistles like breakout rooms and ‘non-verbal feedback’ buttons before having my first scheduled meeting. I only realized this right before I was set to shuffle them into their first BR, and had to pause to fix my settings and relaunch a brand new meeting. They rolled with it all nicely though. Must be my ‘radio’-style voice keeping them calm as drive-time smooth jazz on AM 91.9.

Another setting I failed to toggle ahead of time was about the ‘waiting room’. When a few of my 41 students got dropped off of Zoom for whatever reason, when they came back in I was forced to click ‘accept’ after they showed up in the waiting room. This was distracting, of course. These things are sorted now though. All things I knew needed to be addressed; I just hadn’t had (okay, made) the time to do so until this class forced it. Smoother sailing ahead. Ah, but this one did give me the notion to have a rotating ‘co-host’ role where a student (or a couple/few) could perform some of these Zoom classroom management tasks for/with me each week. Maybe I’ll keep the waiting room after all. I’m a “job creator”! (God I hate that term).

The last thing I’d like to get down here is something a bit different. This morning one student came into online class while driving his car (and using phone app). So after the class I sent the bleow message to the class Line group. After all, online learning should be SAFER than usual, not more dangerous! I hope they all get the point. I also thought to myself after sending the first thing “hmm I might have to tell them the story of when my wife and I almost died driving in Khon Kaen last year because a young guy was looking at his phone and crashed into my car at high speed!” #scaredstraight

I grabbed this off Google and mocked it up a little:

Finally, after a few student responses in the chat, I did indeed post this:

It’s been a couple hours now. Nobody has responded or posted anything to the chat. Not even the typical Line character animated emoji shtuff. I’m counting this as success. #scaredstiff 😉

To wrap up, I’m looking forward to posting about this stuff on a semi-regular basis. It’s bound to me mostly like this post – more a simple ‘dump’ than any kind of deeper analysis into pedagogical principles. But you never know when reflection (hell, just reporting/recording/repeating something) can lead to insight can lead to a good new idea. For me or for you. Or for both of us, if we share sometimes.

…which you can always do in the comment section below. 🙂

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