The Myth of “Teaching in my Jammies”

Working from Home

This is the image I get when I think of online teaching. Curled up in a chair and feeling quite devilish knowing that I was typing up lectures for students to read on blogs while in my Hello Kitty jammies.

BUT, after the readings and discussions, I see a different way to teach hybrid Eng 28000 [Great Works I] classes online and maintain a sense of face time with the students. What about incorporating video responses? I know we are in the experimental stages so I can just daydream out loud. But what if there were two components to reading responses? One in which they responded on a blog with quotations and analysis. Another form of response, just to keep things fresh and exciting, would be video responses or question sessions. This would not take away from office hours, which I would always keep in person. But I mean what if their assignment was to design a set of questions about the texts and they tag someone in the class to ask and the person tagged responds back in video format. A kind of conversation that happens that allows online friendships to happen. I am in agreement with Meechal, my favorite classes were those that allowed me to build relationships with my classmates and the professor. We may not lose that in a hybrid environment. Perhaps by bringing play into the classroom, we can still create friendships. I have to say that I have made a lot of friends and professional contacts just talking to them in an online setting first then developing it f2f [my fav new acronym btw]. Perhaps this concept of tagging would then allow people to pick on each other — I only see this in a wordpress document with their emails connected to getting notifications, or a system that allows them to see when they are tagged by someone to respond to the questions.

This is only one assignment that I have to play out. But the medium of video and audio may be a nice way to build different kinds of listening and engagement skills. Audio alone is a good separate assignment because it teaches us to listen. These things would be fun and important ways of being connected to one another and feeling like a live [as in lively, noisy, constructively messy] class.

Video, Audio, Writing, and Images would be a way to introduce a variety of forms of communication and analysis strategies. Using these media formats as a way to scaffold toward in class meetings, papers, and a final performance [something that is an important part of my classes] would be actually some fun ways to teach an ancient literature course.

Last night, I watched a one woman multimedia performance “One Drop of Love” by Fanshen Cox DiGiovonni. It was absolutely amazing. The text, the translations was one way to absorb her life history. The audio  interviews with her family members, after she had just done a performance of her mother, her father etc, was powerful. The photos of her childhood and images of U.S. census records were all such an incredible way to immerse the audience in her life history.

I can’t help but think how useful this would be for teaching. How does Gilgamesh come alive? When we see images of Gilgamesh. When we see Cuneiform. When see video of the reception of Gilgamesh:

Epic of Gilgamesh

And students are allowed to role play characters or rewrite and perform [recite and record themselves] then I’d say that they’ve been immersed fully in the text and then can find the lines more alive, and more accessible.

So maybe there is a way to keep the sense of analysis, community, collaboration, and levity in a Great Works class even if it is hybrid. So maybe I shouldn’t be so nervous about hybrid classes… maybe…



Visual inquiry

Bass asks poses three questions about teaching: What am I doing now that I’d like to do better? What pedagogical problems would I like to solve? What do I wish students did more often or differently? Kathryn also posed a question in response to my post: What if “develop(ing) a willingness to experiment” became one of the learning goals for an online or hybrid class? Reflecting on these, I have deliberated about which units of my public speaking course could I move on-line, which activities in any unit could be enhanced by moving on-line, and how would I rationalize doing either or both of these in terms of achieving both my and my students expectations of the course, usefulness for their future courses, and grading. What are the risks?

As I’ve said in a recent post, I sometimes have a “flash of an idea for a little twist of technology right there, right then” especially when I hear students puzzling over how a point of context can be applied to her or him personally. For example, a student may ask what specific kind of visual aid or support would be appropriate for her to use? It can use up class time to coach the student personally, or a student may not have time to come to my office, or there may not be enough time to address a line of students waiting between classes for me to address each similar question fully. Further, there isn’t always time to take a teaching and learning moment to put them into an instantaneous discussion group, circulate through the group and still find them wanting me to address their personal questions. Often, once I incorporate a segment into the unit for the next semester, I find the students in that semester may have different needs or concerns.

Therefore, one opportunity to introduce hybridization into my public speaking course would be to expand in-class discussion on-line. I incorporate the Crossroads Research Project’s six kinds of quality learning: Distributive, Authentic Tasks and Complex Inquiry; Dialogic, Constructive, Public Accountability, Reflective and Critical Thinking. I use Bass’s scenarios as models.

I can envision expanding any discussions addressing one point of unit, but building on knowledge acquired from previous units. For example, I’d like to construct a scaffold for “guided inquiry groups” about Use of Visual and Audio Aids to Support Main Points. This could include incorporating their knowledge of units on Gathering Materials, Audience, Supporting Ideas, Ethics. A possible scenario borrowing Bass’s examples is a follows:

  1. Brainstorming: Whole class/in-class: What kinds of visual/audio support aids do I expect to find and where can I search? (List ideas on board). Create an assessment checklist.
  2. On-line: Small triadic groups would search for and publish possible aids for individual speech project, detailing each Mission Statement comprised of General and Specific Purposes and Central Idea (with main points), for the larger audience and the assessment checklist.
  3. Using the checklist, the smaller group would evaluated and comment on the items found, and publish it for the whole class and invite a global audience to evaluate.
  4. Publish and present findings in class about usefulness of studying, analyzing and incorporating a larger audience.

Risks: How much time an effort would this incur for both teacher to build, explain, promote, assess and monitor the students and scenario and results, and students to schedule and work? Would this take away from other studying? How would this be graded? What copyright legalities would we need to be concerned with? How to be assured of engaged individual division of labor?

All about my Selfie

This past semester I reintroduced presentations to my section of ENG 2850, after taking a semester’s break. Previously, I had organized presentations throughout the year to introduce the time periods of the texts the class was going to be studying (for instance “The Enlightenment,” “Romanticism,” or “Post-Colonialism and Globalization”). Groups of 3-4 students would research the period and come up with a presentation that I hoped would be a fun and informative supplement to lectures that I give to introduce a new unit. Unfortunately, what I had hoped would be fun and exciting (and some were, to be fair), were often drier than what I presented. So, I took a break and reintroduced the group presentation this past semester, but at the end of the term. This time, I asked students to brainstorm on a general question: what is something you think about a lot every day. This brainstorming session gave birth to topics like, Social Media, Sports, Racism, Romance, Feminism, Inequality and, yes, even Selfies. Each member of the group of 2 or 3 drew topics from a bag and among themselves had to select the topic from those choices.  After selecting a contemporary topic, they then had to present how this idea relates to 2-4 works we had studied in the year. As all assignments go, some were fascinating and informative (The social media group created facebook accounts for three literary loners—Frankenstein’s Monster, Sarty from Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” and Gregor Samsa from “The Metamorphosis”—and the ensuing back and forth messages, pulled from quotations from the texts and their own interpretations, wall posts, buzzfeed quizzes showed a great deal of insight into the works and specifically queried the idea of whether or not social media promotes human connection), and others were not (a promising premise of Clarissa Dalloway coming out on an episode of Oprah quickly devolved into reductive thinking about the novel and over-emphasized a discussion of sexual mechanics).

Why do I bring this up as a risk? Well, in my attempt for students to embrace the connection between the great works we study and the lives we live today, I felt more often than not that students equated freedom and creativity with less critical thinking and the urgency to get a laugh. When I approach how I can use hybrid learning and technology to open up the classroom to empower students and harness their own innovative thinking and learning, I fear that the freedom I give them will not produce happy chaos or productive mistakes, but rather their turning a blind eye to the rigors of literary study and critical thinking in favor of navel-gazing. I teach literature today for this reason—I do believe that rigorous creative work helps to transcend time and place and helps us to increase our self-knowledge and what it means to be human.  The presentations of last semester have stuck with me because of the risks they pose—a risk that can bring out strengths in weaker students, produce innovative thinking, but that can also expose how inveterate the coping mechanisms and bad habits are that block learning potential. How do I strike the balance of giving students have more control over their education with hybrid technologies in the deconstructed learning environments, without compromising on my teaching goals of the class?

Turning skeptics into lovers and other thoughts

One opportunity of hybridizing a course like Great Works of Literature is that participation might become more evenly split between oral participation in classroom discussion and written participation on a course blog. This would allow students who don’t excel at speaking up to have another venue for real, active participation that “counts” and is on their own terms. And since you can ask more of students in their blog posts in a hybrid class than we can now when the class is fully f2f (because blogging time in a f2f class is extra, or homework, whereas in a hybrid class it could be the class time itself) that extra amount of writing might really deepen a student’s writing skills. So, you get (at least) two benefits in one: quieter students get the opportunity to participate actively in the discussion and everyone’s writing skills improve because more of the class takes place through writing. And as we’ve discussed already on the blog and as Bass and Groom and Lamb also discussed, this writing is ideally public in some capacity, and so the stakes are higher, and the participation feels more purposeful.

Most of my fears about hybridizing courses are also things I feel confident I can find ways of working around. For example: Too many response papers on a blog = too much grading! Possible solutions: peer reviewing, staggering responses, some students respond, some students comment on responses…

One thing I worry about and that I don’t see a solution for is the loss of the kind of excitement and engagement that can only be experienced in a f2f course (which isn’t to say that different kinds of excitement and engagement can’t happen outside of f2f interactions, but there is a difference). My favorite classes in college were the ones in which I made friends, or the ones with an awesome professor. These were responses to the people and the setting, not necessarily to the material. My fear, especially with Great Works, which is a required class and not one most Baruch students enter enthusiastically, is that they won’t fall in love with the course in the way they seem to do now, because they won’t have as much access to others and to the professor in a live, personal setting. My experience is that at the end of the semester, students tell me that they weren’t expecting to like the class but that it was their favorite one so far in college, or some variation on that statement. I don’t think this is necessarily my doing (though it is extremely gratifying!) and I don’t think they are responding to a newfound love of literature (though some certainly are) — I think a lot of it has to do with the nature of the class itself as it now exists. It’s a smaller class-size, they are asked their opinion regularly, they are asked to challenge  their beliefs and to find ways to challenge those of others, their participation in class discussion matters so much to their grade that they are forced to do it (something I think most students want to do, even if they’re afraid of doing it), they develop friendships in regular group work, they see me being chatty and friendly and modeling a love of literature — in other words, we build a comfortable space in which the students  get a chance to do something I think they all crave:  to think, and to see thinking happen. I’m worried about the loss of this experiential, personal classroom experience, and I’m worried that the course won’t be as surprising and liberating for many students as it is now.  Of course hybrid courses could be largely in person, and maybe a Great Works class would need to be. But what if it was only 30% in person? What would happen to that dynamic that turns skeptics into lovers of literature and writing?

Public Speaking Class Online?

To many people I speak to, this sounds like an utter absurdity.  But the conversations we’ve been having this week have helped me think more broadly about the opportunities a hybrid course can offer.

The main opportunity that I see in teaching a hybrid version of COM 1010, Intro to Speech Communication, is that students could spend more course-related time out in the world, observing and taking part in public speaking situations outside of the classroom. I often feel that while the classroom is a safe space for getting comfortable with public speaking skills, the assignments we do in class always have an inherently contrived element. I don’t necessarily think this is bad, because I think school should be a place to develop skills and test out ideas in an environment that provides structure and safety. But we also want to maximize connections between theoretical concepts/guidelines and experiences in the messy world outside of the classroom. A hybrid COM 1010 course could involve students exploring “real life” public communication situations on their own, developing their thinking about these experiences in low-stakes writing assignments shared online, and gathering in class to digest these experiences and maximize class time for practicing the relevant skills.

Secondly, a hybrid COM 1010 course could free students from the necessity of watching all of their classmates’ presentations. In a class where twenty-four students each give three or four substantial speeches in a semester, a huge amount of time is spent watching presentations. While some of this is instructive (and you can learn a lot even from watching poor presentations), I’m interested in reducing the amount of required “audience” time.

I do see several potential risks associated with teaching COM 1010 as a hybrid course. Less class time means fewer opportunities for various kinds of face-to-face oral communication, including individual presentation, and dyadic, small group, and large group discussion. For a course specifically designed to improve students’ oral communication skills in front of audiences, limiting the amount of time available to practice this seems like exactly the wrong direction to pursue. Spoken conversation can be facilitated through various web media, but I don’t know a way to use web media to practice speaking to a large audience in a simultaneous, real-time way.

Lastly, public speaking class elicits a lot of anxiety in many students. I think that a hybrid course would risk limiting the capacity to develop feelings of comfort and authentic connection between students and teachers, and among students. The development of a community of comfort and trust in a COM 1010 class is critical to the success of many students.

The Pleasure Principle

At this point, I see the main opportunities in hybridizing a Great Works of Literature course to be: 1) more (and more variety of) writing, 2) more opportunities for non-traditional learners and/or shyer students to participate more fully, 3) the space to dig into my own teaching practice, examine my assumptions, and experiment. I will definitely be looking at how I’ve used blogs in the past. I’ve used them in a lot of classes and have definitely gotten better over the years, but I will need to consider what more I have to do to make sure my class blog (or whatever spaces I use) rises to the occasion of a hybrid learning experience.  I want to focus on giving diverse assignments, so students with different skills all have a chance to “shine.”  I always do this, but I feel like the hybrid structure will open up new ways for me to imagine and encourage student success.

The main risk I see–my big fear–is a loss of pleasure. Time flies when I’m teaching. Not all the work associated with teaching (ahem, grading) fills me with adrenaline and joy, but class time does–it definitely does. I’m at the point in my career that even when a class session goes “poorly,” it’s a good experience. I examine it, learn from it, am interested in what happened. Good or bad, class time is an opportunity to get to know my students, be surprised, and learn along with them. It’s just fun.  And it’s what sustains my energies during a semester when some less fun stuff threatens to drag me down. I worry I won’t enjoy teaching as much in a hybrid environment–and that, as Nicole mentioned, I’ll lose the flexibility I’ve learned to build into my classes, which is a big part of what’s fun and DYNAMIC about the work of teaching.

Writing and Reading in a Hybrid Course

I think students in a hybridized ENG2800 course would benefit from the opportunity to write in different (and public/semi public) ways. An article like this for instance considers how new forms of internet-based writing (in which many students regularly engage) could or should change our approach to teaching writing. The article points out that, through the internet, people are writing more — and then asks how a writing class should take into account these different forms of online writing. I think, in a hybridized course, confronting online writing is clearly inevitable, but it does not have to mean sacrificing academic writing. In fact, I think a hybridized class provides a really interesting opportunity to explore these different forms, how they differ, and how practicing public online writing and standard academic writing can be a process mutually beneficial to both. For instance, I know that many of my students come into class with a host of preconceived and often incorrect notions about what academic writing entails (we are all familiar with the essays that begin, “Throughout history, all of mankind….”!). I think writing on a class blog for instance helps to mitigate that type of issue and may even demonstrate why it is an issue in the first place– maybe an “all of mankind” statement would suddenly look absurd to a student imagining it in a blog post! Potentially students feel less pressure when writing on a course blog than they do in academic papers, and perhaps they could learn how to bring that ease into their academic writing.

The issue I see at this point in hybridization is in the reading side of an ENG course. I feel that so much about how to read and how to read closely is a tool acquired in the classroom through discussion and work performed together. This would of course still be done in the F2F time, but that leads me into another worry — I fear putting a lot of pressure on the F2F classroom to make sure we do everything we “can’t” do online, and I’m not sure how, as an instructor, I would know which aspects of the course to move online and the best way of doing so. I think hybrid courses entail a reimagining of the course as a whole, and that leads me to my last worry which is about the level of planning (pointed out in our reading) required for successful execution of a hybrid course. I understand completely why this planning would be necessary, but I’ve always left a certain amount of flexibility in my courses so that we can adjust according to student interest, the pace of the course, etc — would this flexibility be lost in a hybrid course?

Embracing the Chaos

One area of hybridity that I feel at once excited and anxious about is asynchronicity.   My unease probably stems from losing control, although empowering students is what attracts me to the hybrid course.   A specific assignment I’ve done in an f2f course but have not had that much success with, is getting students to examine the relationship between prose and poetry (haibun form) in Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Interior.   In the f2f I begin by asking them to freewrite about what emerges in the prose versus poetry section of a manageable piece of text.  The students respond, but very superficially.   At first I thought this initial exercise might be viable as a general blog, even before we meet to discuss the text.   My thinking was that they would build on each other’s comments and work to create an initial understanding (they read a general introduction before we discuss the text, but I don’t give them a more specific background until I’ve gotten their initial, untainted reactions).  The risk is that students will simply parrot each other.

After giving this more thought, a general response is certainly valid but rather uninspired.  How can I use out of class sources/experiences to enrich this task?  Here are a few (random) ideas that hopefully expand opportunity (getting them excited) and diminish risk (parroting each other) concerning the prose/poetry question in Basho, in an asynchronous environment:

  • Students divide into groups (by sub-topic) and create a list of blog questions about the text. The class could edit this into one list.
  • Students send the text (short section) to someone outside the class by text message/social media, and elicit a response (report in blog format and/or f2f)
  • Go to nonliterary websites and research a contemporary context for the prose and/or poetry section, then present (online?)
  • During class time, give them 20 minutes to go outside the room, read the section of the text aloud (ask permission to read it to a class in session, go to the lobby/hallway where students congregate, go outside on the street, etc.) and elicit responses. They would work in pairs/groups, and one member would film the reading on their phone. They would then return, present their readings, and discuss the experience with the class (this scares me, a good sign).

During the f2f course, they increasingly narrow their focus: categorize information (narrative, historical, etc.) in each section; compare the physical appearance of each section; sentences vs. poetry lines; diction, etc.   These exercises could be blog work, but these tasks might be best in class, then I could organize more creative ways for them to respond online.   For example, if they’re comparing the physical look of the prose and poetry sections, they could research how other kinds of information look on the page and consider how shape informs content.  Ultimately, this is what I’m pondering:  will giving my students more authority/independence lead to more profound involvement, more confusion, or both?

The Coat of Many Disruptions

You know that feeling, the first week of the semester, when you realize that you have the most amazing and brilliant group of people ever assembled in one space, and that this course, finally, will be the holy grail of course design? Then, usually by week three, you get the first round of essays or presentations and that feeling dampens a bit. 

I have that euphoric feeling after reading everyone’s posts (without the inevitable letdown because I will never have to grade your papers—which clearly would be brilliant anyway).  I can’t think of a better way to end my day than by reading your thoughtful, provoking, and insightful thoughts on the two articles we assigned. I really enjoyed them.

Some common threads that strike me, and I will add, refine, and edit these thoughts after sitting with them for a while, are the exciting possibilities that come with experimenting, questioning, and trying new tools. Moreover, many of your posts and comments emphasize the importance of creating discursive and disruptive moments in the classroom. Others remind us that we need to temper this compulsion to innovate with pedagogical and institutional realities. We do not teach in an ideal environment and there are constraints and responsibilities to consider.

The following questions seem to haunt many of the posts: what are we giving up by hybridizing our courses, what unknown effect will these concessions yield, and how can we innovate and disrupt without completely losing the thread of content?

Many posts also admit a certain anxiety about technology and the rapid changes and advents of new tools. How do we keep up? Yet those of you who voice this anxiety tend to argue rather eloquently for the importance of openness and a willingness to learn over technological skill acquisition. This feels a bit scary to write, but I think it is totally okay not to know things. Technological things. I think it is fine, even admirable (albeit terrifying), to use digital tools in the classroom that you are not completely comfortable with. Indeed, on a related point, several of you comment on the places in the texts where Groom and Lamb and Bass discuss how technology changes the role of teacher and learner, and transforms the very idea of a classroom from a contained space to an open one.

These questions, these anxieties, and—most importantly—these inspiring, scholarly, idealistic, and pragmatic thoughts are, I think, the best way to start the project of thinking through hybridization and online teaching. There’s a ton of work to be done, yes, and some of it will fail, some of it will make you feel inept, and some of it will confuse the hell out of your students. Hybridization will definitely change your role as a teacher, your course structure and content, and what your students get out of it.  And that’s awfully exciting.

Pushing Back to Push Forward: the Unlimited Shapes of Learning

I’m interested in the ways that both articles addressed trends of suspicion toward, or pushback against, use of web-based information technology in education. Jim Groom and Brian Lamb talk about this in a broader sense when they refer to “backlash against innovation.” This fear that technological innovation goes hand-in-hand with (or perhaps actually functions in the service of) of an overhaul of “school as we know it” resonates with me. I’ll admit that I have an old-fashioned affection for my idea of what school is “supposed to be” (my quotation marks), and this involves a great deal of rigorous, engaged, face-to-face group discussion. Thinking about backlash against new uses of technology in education as a form of backlash against innovation itself helps me see the ways in which I—along with many others, I suspect—normalize the kind of classroom that I grew up with as simply the way the classroom is, as synonymous with school itself, rather than as one of infinite possible models.


Randal Bass criticizes the way that integration of new technologies in business and education alike is so often packaged in rhetoric of technology “solutions.” This observation helps me understand why I sometimes feel a little reluctant to incorporate certain new technologies into my work. An orientation that frames new technologies as prepackaged solutions has a corporate and formulaic feel, and does not encourage flexible and creative thinking about how best to get students involved in learning. My father’s complaint about being required by the medical school where he teaches to use PowerPoint slides comes to mind, as do the frequent encouragements I hear, during Ed Tech conversations, to use a class blog. I’m not dissing the class blog (and I use them! I do!), but I think that more important than having the blog is asking questions about why and how you want to use the blog. I also think that we need to continue being innovative in non-technological aspects of teaching. What potentiality of people in a room together, of pen and paper, of reading, speaking, and listening, in any form, is yet to be harnessed?

Of course, new technological developments and their applications in education are only as good as what we choose to do with them and how strategic we are in discovering the particular potentialities of each technology in relation to our ideas about what meaningful learning consists of (and I found Bass to be particularly compelling in his arguments about the capability of internet technologies to facilitate distributive learning and to maximize relationships between students and material of study). Both articles urge us to resist paradigms and systems that limit our visions of what is desirable and possible, both in regards to the democratic capabilities of the internet, and the unlimited shapes that rich formal learning experiences can take.