If you’re teaching in a face-to-face classroom again, I wonder whether you’re experiencing the same sort of dissonance that I am. After spending an academic year navigating online synchronous spaces, I’m back to figuring out how to teach in a physical one again. And I’m finding there is some relearning that’s been required. Let me explain.
Last fall, like many other educators, I was asked to move courses that I traditionally have taught in a face-to-face format online. And there were some growing pains. Since I already knew how to use most of the tools for online instruction, most of the technical aspects were easy. The challenge really came from my pacing and timing. I found that some activities that would take 30 minutes in a face-to-face classroom, now took a fraction of that time online. And some face-to-face activities that would take a few minutes of time, now took a lot longer. I know I’m speaking in general terms, so let me give an example. One strategy I use regularly in my face-to-face classroom is “think-pair-share.” If you haven’t heard of the strategy, the name basically describes it. A student turns to a partner. They spend a minute or two discussing a question or topic. After their discussion, one of the partners shares their conversation with the whole class or with another group. This is a quick active learning strategy that helps to engage students in the learning process and can foster larger discussions on course content.
While “think-pair-shares” are easy to implement in a face-to-face classroom, they’re harder to do in Zoom and much more time consuming. You have to set up the groups within Zoom and then send students to their groups. After a few classes of small group discussions, I learned that I couldn’t always depend on pairs of students to have rich conversations online without support. After some experimentation and discussions with colleagues, I found that students in small group, online settings worked better in groups of three and four, instead of in pairs. I also found that a lot of these discussions worked better if the students had to produce a collaborative artifact. So I started using Google Slides and Padlet for students to collaboratively author a document while they were engaged in their small group discussions. Which just added to the length of time this conversation would take. So, while a “think-pair-share” may take a few moments in a face-to-face class, they usually took five or ten minutes online. If you’re interested, I wrote about some of my learning journey last fall in a post titled Learning about Active Learning Online.
Jump ahead to this fall and I’m back in a face-to-face classroom. I’m finding that the year of synchronous online instruction has really messed with my timing. A few weeks ago, I only got through about 60% of what I had planned for one class. In another class last week, an activity that I had estimated would take students twenty or thirty minutes to complete actually took the class less than fifteen minutes to complete. It’s still early in the semester and I’ll know I’ll get better with my timing and pacing. For now, I’m doing my best to learn and relearn. I just worry that if our institution needs to pivot back to online delivery due to increased COVID-19 infections that I’ll have to readjust again.
When I was first starting out teaching decades ago, a mentor told me that teaching was all about “monitoring and adjusting.” It became her mantra for me as I navigated the first few years of teaching. “Monitor and adjust. Monitor and adjust,” she’d say. I guess I never anticipated that I’d still be embracing those actions after decades of teaching.