We started back to classes last week, all on-line. We were told we needed to have students doing something by April 2nd, and really dig in starting April 6th. We'd left off just before I would have given midterm exams, and I'm sure a lot of my colleagues were in the same boat. So, late last week, I had students turn in short essays for their midterms.
Mostly, given the constraints, they did well. Some were really excellent.
Today, we were supposed to turn in midterm grades for our lower division (first and second year level) courses, which meant I spent the weekend and much of today grading their midterms so I could give them a real midterm grade and turn it in. I got them all done, but it wasn't easy.
Grading on line is hard. We use a system called "Canvas" for doing on line course stuff, and it works pretty well, though it's not super intuitive. The grading thing is good, but I'm really slow at reading and responding on line, MUCH slower than I am with paper. So my responses on the midterms were minimal. I'm hoping I get a bit more efficient with longer essays!
I have students do a fair bit of writing in short one or two paragraph assignments; they do ten of these over the semester, which ends up being about the equivalent of a 5-8 page paper. Except it's less stressful, and they get a lot more frequent feedback, so more developmental. Because these are short, it takes about half an hour to 40 minutes to grade a full stack (there are 15 for each course, and students do 10 of those). That means I often have smallish grading tasks two or three times a week (for the three courses I teach). So I'm constantly grading, but not huge tasks, if that makes sense. It means I can keep up well with those, and pretty much turn them back at the next class session, which is as good as it gets in terms of low stakes feedback for developing writing skills. Most college students can write a decent paragraph in well less than an hour, so it's not a massive burden on them, and certainly not as stressful as a 5-8 page paper would be.
If the semester had gone to plan, I would have had spring break to grade midterms, and never really fallen much behind. But as it went, I'm buried in midterms now (I still have my upper level course midterm to grade), and another biggish developmental assignment for the upper level course (which scaffolds into their semester project), and I haven't even looked at those small writing assignments this week.
I think most of us, instructors and students alike, are feeling pretty ragged now.
I've gotten good feedback from my students on the material I put on line. With the Canvas system, you can give students short quizzes, which aren't graded, but do the prompting memory thing; you can make short videos where you show what's on your screen and talk over it, or where they look at your face. You can put up discussions (I really need to figure those out better), and you can put up writing. So I've tried to do combinations of those so that it's familiar, but not exactly the same for each text. (My classes are organized by text, mostly, so students can work at their own pace.)
Students say they like the quizzes (low pressure, ungraded, and mostly 3-4 questions), and the videos I've done (mostly with text showing, or pictures that I drew or something). They also tell me that the course is organized so that they can find what they need to do pretty easily, and follow along.
All that is good news. The organizational strategy seemed obvious to me, but I have no idea how other people are organizing their courses.
Last Monday, and today (also Monday), I sent each class a group email telling them what was happening as far as grading and such, and what they need to work on this week, and whatever due dates are happening this week (for those short writing assignments, mostly). I'm planning to do that every week, and also put up a short video of me talking, just saying hi, how are you sort of thing, every week. My plan is to wear a different hat or something every time.
That's the week that was. Now that the courses are up and I've turned in midterm grades, I have more committee work to turn to, and more grading. Of course.
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