Remote Learning: Some thoughts

After a lot of confusion, UMass Amherst switched to online remote learning for the remainder of the semester following Spring Break this week.

First and foremost, I am holding a lot of emotional space for my students. The last time I saw them, they were quite scared, anxious, uncertain, angry, and most of all, sad. The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented, and it’s important to really allow ourselves to understand that emotionally. My students’ lives were upheavaled in just a few days, with many unsure of where they are returning back to, some expressing concern about home life and safety. The last time we met, we discussed both our acute concerns about the University, logistics, and where everyone will go, as well as our macro concerns about our communities, the future, politics, the economy, and the world as a whole. That is a lot to carry. So I will accommodate the heavy burden we are all carrying with flexibility, while also still providing the materials and structure, as many students may appreciate some structure during this time.

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 8.54.59 AMThat said, I felt the pedagogically appropriate thing to do in this situation was to first send them a survey about the transition to remote learning. I sent my students a Google Form in an email where I explained that I wanted to see where they are at right now, and that the survey was not required and they only had to answer questions if they wanted to (all of them were optional). Each question also had an open ended response option. They can share nothing or as little as they would like, or share detailed thoughts.

My remote learning survey consists of two parts:

1.) Well-being and Internet Accessibility Check-in

  • How are you doing?
  • Do you have your travel plans set and a safe place to stay? Yes, maybe, still figuring it out, no, or open ended response.
  • Do you think in your expected or current situation you will have at least an hour to a few hours each week to spend on classwork? Yes, no, maybe, not sure yet, or open ended response.
  • Do you have stable internet access? Or do you have to make special arrangements? Yes, maybe, open ended response (or no response).

2.) Remote learning preferences, expectations, and suggestions

  • I had students rank their preferences about: discussion forums, live video lectures, recorded video lectures, recorded audio lectures, live Q&A video chats/office hours, live Q&A text chat/office hours, free videos/film content, news-based readings and discussion, peer review assignments, short writing assignments, and other suggestions they may have
  • I also had students rank preferences about topics for our course (on debt): 2008 Financial Crisis, government debt and deficits, corporate debt, or other suggested topics
  • I asked them for suggestions for videos/films and other content we can draw on

As for the grades issue, I told everyone not to worry about grades (I say that anyway). But, really, we’re beyond grades now. If you want feedback and structure, I’m happy to do my best to provide that. If you have other priorities, so be it.

I also liked the guidance of this post “Please do a bad job of putting your courses online“. I agree with most of it, especially asynchronous work and the points on accessibility. I think as we go forward we all will be uniquely balancing per each classroom being flexible given the scale of the current situation and still providing space, structure, routine, and “normalcy” for our students who need it. How about that for highlighting the care function of professing?

I try to maintain a very participatory and democratic classroom, always reminding my students that this is THEIR course. I think they appreciate that and so far have expressed concerns about their anxiety levels as well as their living situations, but also a desire to continue learning and to use our remote learning course as a space to discuss and analyze current events. I feel for them, but I think something unique may bloom in this weird situation. 🌹

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