A Term Online: Teaching Diary (#2)

Two weeks ago, just as my term’s worth of fully-online courses were getting started, I began this “diary” series about teaching online. I was hoping to be more active following up with it before two weeks, but hey. Here I am now.

The bulk of that 1st entry was simply reporting on how some of my students responded to a survey I sent out. One positive response to the question “how do you feel about learning English online this term?” was:

I feel great because you have fun teaching.

That response was given shortly after the very first class, one in which I put a good deal of attention and effort into modeling and eliciting enthusiasm for the course. So now I’m prompted to ask myself if, two weeks in, am I still having fun with it….

The answer is yes. And I think that student and any others who may find it motivating are likely still perceiving this, so that’s good. How? Well, first: now we’ve had two live online classes and both had similarly high energy. And second: our Moodle forum and class Line chats have been active and I’ve taken a good deal of time to respond in a personal way to nearly every submission (with specific responsive feedback and using the students’ name as much as possible, among other things).

This slide from a presentation at English Australia’s Ed-Tech SIG Symposium (a 2-day online thing I was able to attend only some of live, but now have all the recordings, yay) sort of gets to the spirit of it:

I saw that on twitter and replied with something like “yay, I think I’m doing something right then!”.

HOWEVER! However…I think this level of personalization is mainly a ‘phase 1’ phenomenon. While I’ll like to keep it up throughout the term, we’re now getting into the thicker forest of course content (Week 1 being zoom training, GTYK activities, and a light course orientation and Week 2 being an intro/overview of the topic which is, in broad strokes, public speaking). Now comes, for me, the harder part in terms of generating material and managing students’ work. So, I think I’m going to be generating a bit less “shared fun” myself. And of course this is okay…I think overall ‘mission accomplished’ for these first couple of weeks if, in general, my 150+ students have a positive mindset and feel some happy vibes when it’s time to log on.

One logistical thing I’ve done that I’m also hoping contributes to good group dynamics is open my Zoom room a full 30 minutes early. I announced this and mentioned explicitly that (to paraphrase) “this is for you guys to hang out together – like you would in the classroom on campus before your teacher shows up…of course you should also chat about class work, share advice/ideas, ask and answer each others’ questions about the class, etc. but please, do use that time to just connect with your classmates and friends and I’ll show up at class time!”.

Both weeks, maybe half of all 4 class sections were very much settled in on Zoom when I logged in. Sometimes they were playing with features, sometimes they were just chatting, sometimes they were showing off their pets. Seems like fun. Seems like some good group social time that might otherwise be lacking. So this is why I cite it as a potentially good influence on student satisfaction and perhaps ultimately student success on this course and therefore will keep doing it.

What else…so, after Week 1 and 2 doing orientation and introduction, we’ve arrived at the main show and this is how it flows:

Now, if you’d really like to tell me all the ways I’m “doing TBLT wrong” please, PLEASE share your feedback in the comments section below. I realize it’s an old-school, basically a PPP approach but yes, yes that’s exactly what I’ve determined should be done here with this course and these students and this Matthew. 🙂

And with that, an admission: this week is Week 3…class is tomorrow..and…I have not yet produced my model task video.

And with that, an escape: see you soon, I hope, for diary entry #3!

Diary entry #3, I predict, may have something to do with the issue of “video on or off?!” in Zoom with 40+ students. It’s been a thing. And the below slide is from the very first webinar recording I’ve got to watch! Just after I make a tutorial video for my task model…

Anything you’d like to share – comments section below!

PS! – ahh one more thing I just remembered I’d like to jot down here in my ‘diary’: one of the best things that happened last week was I had some moodle issues and instead of spending the time and energy trying to work them out myself AND instead of sending off a pseudo-anonymous email I hiked to the IT department, asked where I could find “the people who run the moodle”, followed their directions to the top floor of the university library, and found the most pleasant and helpful handful of women to answer my questions. They steer the ship of moodle, and now I’m in with them and they rock. Most importantly, this system I spend so much time on has changed from a big, bad tech tool to something with a human face on it and I know anytime I have an issue I can stroll over to that office, have a blast getting it heard and addressed, learning something, and probably having a shared snack with my new moodle manager friends. So remember, not unlike soylent green, the tech we use is people.

9 thoughts on “A Term Online: Teaching Diary (#2)

  1. Thank you for sharing your reflections and experiences. Like you, I’ve started week three of my online course. The first week was a chance for students, and myself, to become accustomed to Zoom and the class online pages. It has been a steep learning curve and one thing that find myself doing is sending emails out to students at the start of the week to remind them of important tasks they must complete and then an email at the end of the week to explain to them what they must expect for the following week. There is a lot of unseen administration and I’ve started keeping a register to mark engagement and attendance. I attempt to mark and grade submitted work as soon as it is received.

    Anyhow, I love your idea of keeping Zoom open 30 minutes before the class starts. I shall be stealing this for my course now and I think this is great idea to generate student to student rapport. My students have resorted to creating their own groups on WeChat or WhatsApp as well. I think it is nice to give students space so that they feel less shadowed by the tutor.

    Great post and thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Martin. The sentence “there is a lot of unseen administration” is packed with profundity, I say. It was true for teachers in ‘normal’ times and right now, I think, doubly so. But must it be thus? I’m always looking for ways that I might not be streamlining things for myself. But I know that it’s not a strength.

      You also mention taking attendance. So there’s a spot where I’m sure I can streamline, but I’m not sure which approach to take. Everyone done on the Moodle comes with a timestamp; this makes giving credit for posts and submissions easier. But as for the live lessons, attendance is a bit tied up with other things: limited time (it needs to be done quickly), *actual* engagement/presence (during some presentation-heavy lessons this connects to whether their camera is one or off, or they’re responding in the chat), and perhaps more.

      I have a Google sheet I use for marking attendance. I screencast this to them on Day 1 as I took attendance by way of audio/video checks, individually, going down the list (along with one of a handful of question prompts to keep them on their feet and taking that first all-important first ‘turn’ speaking English in the class). But it was time consuming with 40+ students, of course. The second class I didn’t really take attendance at all, just confirmed with the group who the couple of absences were.

      If you’ve got something clever on this front, please do share! I was thinking about something like an entry/exit ticket in the form of a Google Form with a class-related question on it, which then becomes a GSheet at the click of a button. Could that become my attendance record? Hmm….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Great post Matthew!
        I don’t use Zoom for teaching (we use Teams, which has a different set of tools) but is there a polling option you could use as a way to take a kind of registration? Sound like the Google form might work like that. Teams has it built into the chat, so it’s quick and easy to do. Also helps monitor engagement to an extent, with quick-fire questions sent out to students after an explanation, for example. Making online tasks engaging is where most of my planning energy goes tbh. I found small group work helped increase participation as well as jigsaw tasks which force pupils to take part and do their bit, as their contributions are necessary to the final product.
        Also loved the social start before the lesson! I can’t do this because my students are all young teens… 😞.
        Looking forward to seeing how it goes over the course. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah, polls! Good idea – I’ll think about how/if I could use that function in Zoom for attendance.

        We uni uses Teams but gave us the option to use another platform for live classes. I was more familiar with and preferred Zoom so I chose it.

        One big reason was Breakout Rooms. How do you manage group work in Teams? I did once figure out how to organize something like them there but found it logistically weird.


      3. Yes, there aren’t actual breakout rooms, but we got round it by showing pupils how to set up a call and to join one, so we allocate group leaders to go off and set up and the others join (I have to decide groups & publish beforehand though). Then I drop in and out as they work. But I have smaller classes, so it is manageable! I like Teams because it integrates with Onenote, word and assignments set ups. I think Zoom in some ways is better for the ‘live’ session, but I like the connected ‘hub’ feel of Teams.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Fortunately for my class, I only have 12 students to check attendance now. I have a spreadsheet which I use for my class. I tend to put in information such as nick names, their subject of study or area of interest. This helps me understand a bit more about them. If I have any lapses of memory, I can bring it up and then remind myself.

        With regards to 40 students, that is an awful lot to check. Perhaps when you place students in breakout rooms, you can cross off any names from the register so it doesn’t slow down the momentum of the lesson. Just a thought. It also accommodates those that arrive a little later than expected.

        Unfortunately in my case, I have students from some countries which can’t access Google. So any Google Doc is not really suitable for my class but I do like the idea of a Google Forms for students who do have access to quiz them on something and then you as you mentioned you have a name to the student who engaged with this task.

        Keep up the good work and I love your diary. Currently I am keeping a weekly diary and post it a week later.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Good stuff. Actually I now think I was over-thinking the attendance thing a bit. While part of me wants to ‘use’ attendance for some productive thing or other (I do like the idea of adding one piece of info about each student to the list each time you call roll), today I simply looked through the ‘participants’ list on Zoom and ticked of the names on my spreadsheet while they were busy with something. Later, I just confirmed who was missing and asked if anyone knew why (‘go on – rat out yr friends!’). Dunno if I’ll stick with this, but I do find myself wanting to streamline things – my goal is to have EXTRA time in the majority of my lessons this term, rather than encounter any need to rush through the last stretch, even a little bit, maybe 60-70 percent of the time.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This post made me smile. I am just coming to the end of the first semester and, like Helen, most of my energy has been spent on trying to make things engaging. Essentially, I have found that those who are keen will be great anyway, and those who are reluctant will find even more distraction from or excuses to avoid studying. I am currently thinking about next semester and how to improve that!

    Liked by 2 people

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