Virtually Possible: Reflection #2

In this TLi Reflection Series: Epiphanies, Lessons, & Hard Truths post, CI faculty were asked to reflect on their teaching and learning experiences during AY2020-21 virtual instruction. The second reflection is by Rachael Jordan, a faculty member with the English Program at CI.

What program or department to do teach for? If possible, share a picture of yourself or your virtual teaching workspace.

Rachael Jordan is shown with her laptop while working from home. She teaches courses in the English Program at CI.

What surprised you about virtual teaching and learning?

Luckily, I had been teaching both online and hybrid courses for years before the pandemic. However, I’m always constantly surprised by our students’ willingness to adapt, be flexible, and play the “believing game” with me as we move through these online spaces. I had really enriching experiences with my students and got to know some of them quite well. I’m hoping they will come to visit me in my office in the fall if they feel comfortable!

While teaching virtually, I started regularly asking my students to share how they were feeling this week. The screenshot* below is the final Padlet. I asked my students to choose a GIF from the menu options that shows how they are feeling this week and write a brief explanation of the GIF they chose and why.

*Clicking on the screenshot below will enlarge it (for those reading on a larger screen) if you are interested in reading the responses.

Screenshot of a final "How are you feeling"Padlet activity. Description provided above.
Screenshot of student responses on a Padlet

What revelations about inclusive design, universal design, or accessibility did you come to understand during virtual instruction?

My huge revelation in regards to inclusive design was how I ended up grading during the pandemic. I used “contract grading,” something that my field (Writing Studies) is starting to do more and more in their pedagogy online or off. Grading in this way really made the focus on the learning rather than the grade. It also enabled students to very explicitly know exactly what they needed to do in order to get a specific grade and they had agency over what that grade would be. Many of our students took on extra work or home responsibilities as a result of the pandemic and the contract grading allowed those students who needed to pass but didn’t necessarily need an A, to have a clear view of exactly what they needed to do each week. (If you’re interested in learning more about contract grading I suggest starting with Asao B. Inoue’s work). I was also much more mindful about “feed-forward” and having transparent assignment design so that I was busting those “unwritten rules” of college through how I was structuring my assignments and how I was responding to students.

What lessons or innovations from pandemic teaching will you carry with you as we return to campus for Fall 2021?

I’m going to continue to use the contract grading practices, feed-forward, and transparent assignment design. I’m teaching hybrid courses in the fall and will be with students for two hours in the classroom and one hour asynchronously online, so I’m being very strategic about what sorts of activities are important to do while all together — writing, peer review, discussions, revision — and what activities can stay online — social annotation of readings through Hypothesis, VoiceThread check-ins, assignment turn-int.

What adaptations did you make to your academic life as a result of the pandemic academic year?

This was the hardest challenge for me. Both my kids and spouse were home, doing school, and working. I’ve had to adapt to get things done in spurts and not get frustrated when I get interrupted. I leave myself a quick note of where I’ve left off (whether that’s a manuscript draft, creating a page on Canvas, working on assignment instructions, or something else) so that I can pick it back up again when I can come back to it. I’ve also become much more conscious of actually scheduling in off time. Certain times that I turn off the computer, step away from my phone, stop responding to emails, and be in the moment with my family or whatever else I’m doing. I literally built it right into my Outlook calendar with some defensive calendering. It was too easy, at first, to let my academic life bleed into everything else which is good for my academic life or the other parts of my life!

Please share any final reflections about teaching that we may not have asked in earlier questions.

One really important thing that stands out to me is how the challenges I faced online were the same challenges I faced in the physical classroom. I reminded myself that every semester, whether I’m online, in-person, or a mix of both, I have students that struggle to be engaged or who try to make up all of the work at the end (which never ends up working). Good teaching is good teaching and those principles apply no matter the environment.

One thought on “Virtually Possible: Reflection #2

  1. Rachael, thank you for highlighting “contract grading” in your post. I look forward to implementing some of these ideas already this semester. Thank you for your insights and keep these good articles coming!

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