Working from home since the middle of March has truly destroyed any work-routines that I had developed. It means that I haven’t spent as much time writing as I need to and that my projects feel like they’re piling up, even when I make progress, because I’m not getting any sort of feedback from colleagues and advisors. In my program I’m used to having 2-3 opportunities a semester to present to all of the students in my subfield (Women & Politics). Without those deadlines and interactions my work is starting to feel totally isolated and isolating.
I feel an overwhelming need to start putting more thoughts and research into the world because the horrible state of the job market makes me feel like I won’t ever land that academic job. I don’t want my research or my knowledge to end with my dissertation. Perhaps sharing these tidbits will inspire someone to hire me!
My summer has been filled with online teaching. I taught two classes for the political science department at Rutgers-New Brunswick: Women & American Politics and (Comparative) LGBT+ Politics. Both are 300-level courses, which are mid-level electives in our department. Everyone says that course prep is like a gas that fills up all the space that you give to it. They say this like it is a bad thing, because the implication is that teaching takes away time from your research.
However, for me, the consistency of developing teaching materials and responding to student emails has provided a sense of routine that I have really needed. This is my first summer teaching a comparative politics class and it has been so much fun to combine my dissertation research with my more formal training. My current class is small, only 7 students, and we meet weekly for an hour to discuss the reading material. That hour is our only time of face-to-face interaction and it makes teaching worth it.
It is a challenge to teach students critical ideas without discussion time built into the lecture. I have relied a lot on posing questions at the end of each slide and even having an entire slide dedicated to ‘things to look for while reading’. I know that many instructors think of these things as “hand-holding” but the reality is that we do a lot of this in class verbally, often without realizing it. As we move online, we have to provide a clearer roadmap for our students. Its a big adjustment so be sure to be patient with yourself and your students.
I’ve learned some things about online teaching that I want to share:
- Make an introduction video about yourself
- Make a syllabus and course site explanation video or PDF walk through
- My students don’t seem to care if I record my face in my lecture videos. If you’re having a bad hair day or can’t be in front of the camera, don’t stress.
- At the start and end of each lecture, summarize the purpose of the lecture video–what do you want them to know? What is the connection between this lecture and the upcoming reading or assignments?
- Add due-dates on all of the assignments, quizzes, and even lecture videos. This makes it easier for everyone to see what is coming up this week.
- Add quizzes that ‘check-in’ with students. If you aren’t the type of teacher to ask how someone is doing, then you can still put questions about the class: how much of the reading are they able to complete each week, what aspects of the class are the enjoying, what questions do they have about a final project, etc? Again, this is something you often do verbally but now need to ‘schedule in’ to the online setting.
- It takes me 2-3 times as long to prep online teaching as it does face-to-face. There is no discussion to fill up teaching time. You basically have to have discussions with yourself.
- I avoid looking at the course stats to see how many views my videos get or how many times a student logs on. No matter what the numbers say, you’ll always be upset. Its sort of like ignoring your teaching evals.
- Explain, prior to the student filling out the eval, exactly what you had control over this summer/semester. Here are things I will tell my students:
- I don’t control how much time you dedicate to learning, or how much you learned. I do control the style and content in our lectures.
- I don’t control any technological difficulties with the LMS or virtual meeting software. I do control the assignment types, rubrics, and grades.
- I don’t control how often you attended office hours. I do control how easy it was to schedule office hours, and how well I answered your questions.