I came to this teaching lab convinced that online education is an alienating experience, an inadequate substitute for face to face contact in a real classroom. I still hold this opinion, though I am adapting to the notion that there are modest ways to encourage motivated students to learn online.
It’s my sense that the key to successful online learning lies in frequently leaving the internet behind in favor of non-screen oriented activity. For example, requiring students to read actual books enhances their comprehension and memory of course content. Yet this in itself is not enough. There has to be some form of dialog between students and teacher. In an asynchronous course this contact will often take the form of fora. (Unfortunately, there is no chat feature on iLearn which would permit non-Zoom realtime discussion.) Supplementing fora with a postcard assignment not only encourages students to reflect; it pushes them into the offline world and gives their thinking an objective form. The conclusion I’ve arrived at then, is to mingle online resources with meatspace assignments.
Attempting to humanize that which de-humanizes seems quixotic at best, at worst a well-intentioned perjury. The end result is likely to be a kind of pedagogical uncanny valley, where the teacher engages in a form of digital puppetry, stuttering remarks as the wifi buffers, face frozen momentarily in a rictus. I am inclined to assert my human presence in written language by adopting a simplified, open sentence and paragraph structure. In addition, I’ll be uploading brief lectures to ilearn. It’s my intent to include reading sessions, when students will be offered the opportunity to follow along as I read aloud passages from the assigned novels. I will also ask them to record their own favored excerpts to share with the class.
I tend to use video as an enticement, particularly with regard to teaching about formal analysis because students always already have a basic grasp of the structure of music videos and film/television. They might not know what peripeteia means, but they understand that stories usually feature a setback or reversal of fortune for the protagonist.
I suppose I tend to rely on my students’ anxieties about “getting it”. I try to pull them in by appealing to their desire to be culturally fluent. The diversification of the larger culture into hyperfragmented niches and my own advancing age have probably weakened my ability to do so, but my basic question for them here is essentially, “Do you get the joke?”– i.e., are you informed enough to understand the multiple registers this thing/symbol/whatever is operating on.
I’ll be implementing labor-based assessment criteria for my courses. Put simply, this means my students will no longer be graded on the quality of their work but whether they have completed the assignments. They will still receive feedback, but so long as they meet the prompt they get full credit. Adopting this stance, I hope, will minimize the punitive aspects of my pedagogy and foster genuine intrinsic motivation to learn on their part. Rather than police their behavior, I will approach their work in good faith. If they want to cheat, they can do that.
Here’s a rough example, a time-sensitive prompt that addresses a point of interpretation in one of our readings.
300 words minimum. Explain the differences between the phrases “hart of the wood” and “hart of the wud” in Riddley Walker. Cite textual evidence by page and paragraph in support of your claim. You have 48 hours to respond.
The prompt goes up on Monday and closes on Wednesday. If a student responds in timely way with a minimum of 300 words and that response is not a glaringly obvious case of plagiarism they get full credit and a qualitative assessment.