A Term Online: Teaching Diary (#6)

It’s been over two weeks since my last confession diary entry.

Not sure what to write, so I’ll just take some nice deep breaths and try to write down the bones. First thought, best thought. No editing or at least minimal. I know that over the last couple weeks I did take down notes here and there about things I thought I could write in this series…but I seem to have lost those notes. It’s likely they are a scattered in a few different places. Annnnd well, perhaps I have not really lost the the notes as much as lost the will to relocate and organize and read them.

I don’t need to find any notes to start with this: yesterday I found myself palpably appreciating a shift that 5 months worth of fully online work has brought on within me when the colleagues with whom I share an office decided to do a major clearing out and rearranging of the space. Usually I’m quite into this kind of thing and conscious of/curious about the ways physical space can affect interaction patterns and comfort levels and more. But I found myself utterly apathetic yesterday. And when I noticed this and asked myself “why?” the answer came swiftly: my workspace is virtual now. The door into it is my laptop screen. To sit down at my ‘desk’ is to put my headset on and open a browser. For the first time, I’d say, this felt like much more than a conceptual metaphor. It was a grounded fact. The look on my face as people around me got all excited about moving cabinets and rotating desks and they stroked their chins considering where to place a chair…that look must have been comical. I know that at times I was trying not to frown or laugh and just blurt out that for me it all felt sort of ridiculous.

As fate would have it though, I’ve just now found out this whole “term online” won’t, in fact, be a term online (so maybe my fengshui-happy colleagues were onto something after all)! Just after midterms (a few weeks from now), we’re back fully on campus. So soon! And it’s over, it’s done! They’re all coming back! Bodies on campus at any given time during a typical day will go from probably under 1000 to, I suppose, between 10,000 and 15,000 if everyone everywhere comes fully back! Yes, with masks and maybe some face-shields in the mix. But before you know it we’ll be back in the all-too-familiar physical format.

It’s hard to even imagine right now. It’s going to feel really odd, probably rather uncomfortable for a while. I think class is going to feel something like a flashmob (remember flashmobs lol) at first; an sudden unexpected crowd, surprisingly coordinated, lurching close, wresting from the hand of social distance the crucible of contact! What..what..what IS HAPPENING right now!?!

Hmm. Damn your rule of zen writing Natalie Goldberg, I can’t delete any of that silliness!

What I will say (and surely blog about if/when this ‘diary’ series continues with a modified title) is this: I know that even when classes do shift back to F2F mode, we’re keeping a lot of what we’re doing now. Okay? Capiche? (I’m talking big to an imagined disapproving boss here, giving me a look like “I want you to pretend this never happened”). No, we’ve now gone there and a lot of this virtual stuff? It stays. We may need to rename it, because ‘virtual’ sounds a little flaky. We haven’t been flakin’ around here and just because we’re back in a room together doesn’t mean the Moodle gets the Bootle.

In other news, since my last posting I had one more synchronous lesson and then did a week of autonomy with no live sessions. Plenty of chat (though admittedly not as much as I would have liked) in the Line groups as the students in all sections read the script of my semi-fictional “best man speech” and proposed a logical order for it’s 5 or 6 sections and tried to figure out precisely what stuff like “…and the rest is history” and consider whether “making a toast” is breakfast-related or not. And they’ve been sharing rather deep thoughts in the forums on the topic of true love and whether they believe in it and why/how. It’s one of those assignments that reminds me that learners’ apparent language level depends entirely on the meaningfulness of the content they’re working with (and good conditions for full expression). When it really clicks, such L2 poetry comes forth! And on first pass you just read for pure pleasure without a single teacher-thought to distract you. I mean, whew…this kids got some profound thoughts on the matter! That was really nice.

Alright, also…well, I was actually feeling vaguely embarrassed about having such live class-focused courses going. Was I forgetting to flip? Ignoring independence? Attached to immediacy? Well I did let go, and of course it was quite nice to have the bit of extra time to catch up a bit on marking. But actually, just because I didn’t deliver a live lesson didn’t mean I worked any less on course-related stuff. It might have been more. Perhaps this is a potentially anti-intuitive truism about modes of online teaching ? Asynchronous delivery does not necessarily = less work/time spent.

One more thing, I think. As a teacher I definitely pay attention to how I might maintain a positive and potentially motiving presence with groups of learners. Not even sure I actually take it as a maxim that I ought to in a very principled way (I mostly feel that ‘resultative’ motivation is the most compelling type, and that’s not necessarily affected at all by my saying encouraging things), but going fully online has really made me notice that/how I do this habitually. For example, this morning I sent this out on the Line chat for each section of a class:

I then stopped and thought, “hmm..was that weird”? And after just a second answered, “not for me…pretty sure I’ve done that each and every Monday of the term!”. Lo and behold, tis true. Each Monday I send a little ‘mom note’ type of thing. I think I’m trying to make up for what feels missing from the physical classroom. Just these expressions of care that would automatically come out of my mouth as a new week was starting, or as a class wrapped up, or whatever. And perhaps in the weekly live Zoom sessions those don’t cascade so naturally either as I’m distracted by toggling buttons and such. We do have a pretty good ‘everyone wave goodbye!’ moment to end each online class, but then POOF! people just instantly disappear. Also…well, I think Thai students certainly get some expressions of care from their Thai instructors but they tend to be more formalized. And I know from feedback that my students are in classes with other instructors who are really challenged by so much tech and going online, and because of this don’t have mood and/or time for this as much as they might. Something just tells me “these students could probably use some positive vibes” over the line, I guess is what it comes down to.

I also tend to send them something like this the day before their Zoom class:

It’s just something about there being an entirely casual positive voice saying these totally casual, normal things during a virtual course where just maybe that very human, probably pretty inconsequential element is easily to drop out. And the positivity in the voice translates, maybe, through the colorfulness/cheerfulness of the little graphics. Maybe. I dunno, I’m just reflecting on it now in my diary! Are you happy, Goldberg? Writing! Just writing!

Okay, that’s all for now.

2 thoughts on “A Term Online: Teaching Diary (#6)

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