Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday Evening Reflection

It's Sunday evening.  I had a good day of grading and reworking some things for the on line classes, using students suggestions (which I'd asked for) to try to make things clearer.

I feel better prepared for this week than I have since going on line, and that's good, but I'm frazzled and feeling a bit anxious this evening.

I've posted a weekly summary of things to do for each class, and a little keeping in touch thing that I'm trying to do each week.

I'm caught up on on-time grading, though there are many late things that I need to find in email and grade.  That's the hard part about late things, that they get buried in email...

I made a "late box" for turning in late assignments for each class, so I'm hoping that will help me find them more easily.

One of my students emailed me asking when I would be posting all the grades from before we were on line into our course management system.  Let's see, 80 students, and if each student has done 5 small assignments with grades, that's... yes, 400 grades to move over.  It's not happening any time soon.

I have three biggish committee meetings this week. 

I'm mostly prepared for the one on Monday afternoon, but will need to do a couple hours of work for it this week.  (But not for tomorrow's meeting, for the next meeting.)

I have a meeting Wednesday afternoon, late, that I have a couple of hours of work to do for.  It's generally a once a semester committee meeting, so that's good at least.

On Thursday I have an ad hoc committee meeting that I've done maybe three hours of work for already, and need to do at least another four hours of work for.  The work's at least interesting and not too onerous at this point.  It will get more demanding in the coming weeks.

There's a standing meeting on Thursday morning, but it doesn't take a lot of prep on my part right now.

I have a set of papers coming in tomorrow.  Students can turn in either this short paper or another (later in the semester), and it's looking like there's one in for now, which means that later, there will be a ton.  Okay then.

What I really need to start doing for my courses is looking at all the discussion posts, and seeing more fully how they're going.  And responding some.  I gather I should set aside time each week to do that, and that's the goal for this week, probably Tuesday morning.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

It Had to Happen. . .

One of my NWU colleagues has died.  It seems like it was sudden, but unrelated to the Covid-19 epidemic.  I don't know.  It's not someone I was really close to, but someone I kept in touch with on facebook and was happy to see on campus on those rare occasions when we did. 

Facebook is how I found out.  Her daughter first, and then some other people posted on her page announcing that she'd died. 

It's the sort of thing that leaves me wondering, though I really shouldn't put any energy there.  And she was younger than I am by a few years, so it's one of those times when my own mortality seems a bit fragile again.

I'd love to know what sorts of things people are doing to try to make their classes feel like there's at least a little community.

I'm trying to post a little video thing once a week, wearing a different hat each time, mostly saying hello and wishing them well.

I really need help making discussions more effective.  If we go on line in fall, I'm going to do them more like I did on D2L.

So much grading. . .  so overwhelming and not easy.

Monday, April 13, 2020

A Weekend of Grading

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.

Monday, April 06, 2020

The Not So Obvious Agenda in Assessment

I was at a meeting today about some assessment stuffs.  It was one of those meetings where people look at assessment info and decide if the course gets to keep its qualification for GE.

One course was flagged because every student in the course met the goals.  That's a problem, a colleague said.  They should tell us how and why they're doing that.

It's a small upper-level course, I said (well, not in these words, since it was on line and all, and it seems like it would be a problem if the instructor weren't reaching most students with this rather modest goal.

And the other person wanted more information about the meeting the goal thing, because they suspected it couldn't be so.  It might be that the faculty member wasn't doing more than clicking a number.  Which could be, of course.

So, I understand, but what I want to know is, what's the secret number that will or won't provoke Professor A's suspicion?

There's really no answer.  But 100% for sure, unless there's a good explanation.  Though the form didn't ask for any explanation like that.

It's one of those things where, ideally, everyone would be aiming for 100%, but if you get there, suddenly you're suspect.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.  Frustrating!

Back in Session

After suspending our semester (which starts later than most), we're back in session today.

I spent a bunch of time sending emails to all my students yesterday detailing exactly where they are in terms of their course grade as of the suspension, having graded all the things handed in then.

We've been advised to go totally asynchronous, given how many of our students live in rural areas with uncertain internet or live in households with uncertain computer access at a given time.  If another sibling has a class meeting that has to take place, then better not to put that pressure on our students, and hope they can get things done at other times. 

So, I've tried to imagine what I'd want to communicate about a work to students, and tried to think of how to best do that on line, and that's what I've done.  It means I've basically done all the reading and prep for six weeks of work in three weeks, along with some grading. 

In a face to face class, I do short bits of information, and then tend to have longer times when I'm asking students to read and think, draw, write, discuss, and then share out, so that they learn to read and discover for themselves what's important in the reading.  In those cases, I'm trying to be more like a guide who focuses folks on where to look and helps them see something for themselves.  My goal is to help students learn skills in reading, in learning to identify what's important, and in learning to tease out how metaphors and  such work.

I'll give students passages to look at in groups, say four passages, 8 groups, 2 groups on each passage.  They'll get time, I'll wander around, try to guide them, and then we come back together and they tell each other what they've come up with, and I try to reinforce it.  My difficulty figuring this out on line stems from not knowing how to divide students into groups looking at different passages, and not knowing how to have students report out from groups, and not knowing how to get everyone else to read the reporting out part.

I've got two of my three courses totally up for the rest of the semester, and the third up through May 7.  I'm trying to finish that up by tomorrow, and start grading midterms that they're starting to turn in. 

My guess is that I'll feel less stressed and anxious as students show that they can get through the on line stuffs.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Virtual Meetings

As proto-chair, I've started participating in meetings, and now those are going virtual.  We've got a meeting program embedded in our course management system and it works pretty well.  But none of the deans or deanlings I interact with wants to use that.  So each has their preferred program, for whatever reason, and everyone needs to get on board with that. 

So upload I do, and then...  for a meeting tomorrow, the deanling's assistant thought I needed to practice on the program, and so called me on it, and then it took close to an hour because there was another dean's assistant on the line and both wanted to make sure I knew how to show documents and such, except they couldn't get it to work on her thing (though I got it to work on mine).

And now back to trying to put my courses on line.  I'm putting up the stuff for Hwang's M Butterfly now, and it's been really hard to figure out how much background to give on Orientalism, history, and the opera, in order to help them read and enjoy the play and make something of it.

I did a bad drawing of a set:

Super sophisticated, for sure.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Checking in

I have a Garmin watch that tells me when my phone's ringing because it's connected by blue tooth.  So this morning, I was in my bedroom dressing when my watch buzzed and I saw I was getting a call from my Mom, so I ran into the living room, except I didn't get there because for the first time ever, I tripped on a rug and went splat, onto a hard tile floor and head into a wall.  Fortunately, my head hit the wall to the side rather than, as it were, head on.  Still, it was a whack.  I took a moment to get up, wondering if I'd given myself a concussion (pretty sure I didn't at this point some hours later), and realizing I'd also whacked a knee. 

I'd missed the call, but called back right away.  My Mom had called.  The week before last, she'd asked me to send her some playing cards, and I had, but stupidly sent pinochle cards.  I didn't even look at the labeling, and even if I had, I don't think I'd have realized that pinochle cards aren't a regular deck of cards.  (My Mom let me know that, and has repeatedly every time we talk of late.)  I offered (last week) to get a another deck and send it to her, but she declined, assuring me that her friend plays bridge regularly and can probably lend her a deck. 

This morning, she was calling to ask me to go get a deck and send it to her.  So I asked, didn't your friend have a deck to lend you?  Yes, she said, but it's a brand new deck, and I don't want to open it.  And I said that if I sent a deck it would also be a brand new deck, so? 

I think the point was that she doesn't want to wear out or ruin her friend's cards.  So I said when the virus was over, I'd get a brand new deck so she could give that to her friend.  And I think that satisfied her.  At least about the cards.

My Mom isn't mentally all together these days, and I realize that, but still, it seems wrong that she wanted me to go out and potentially expose myself in a grocery store just so she could have a deck of cards that wasn't new from her friend. 

I think I've figured out why I'm so slow putting my classes up on line, other than just procrastinating a bit.  I'm basically doing the rereading and rethinking that I'd do for a regular class, AND doing more thinking about trying to teach it on line.  And I'm doing it for three classes, and trying in three weeks to put together six weeks of teaching. 

It's far less satisfying not knowing how things are going to work for the students and not getting feedback.  I hope things will feel less strange when I see that students are working on things and get some feedback.


It's been two and a half hours since my head banging, and it doesn't hurt on the surface, and I don't have a headache or any other issues, so I'm pretty sure I didn't give myself a concussion.  Still, as I was flying (literally) for the wall, I did think, that could be it.  And then it wasn't.