Teaching Bright Spots
During the fall 2020 semester, we are highlighting teaching tips and classroom successes to help navigate this semester in community and collectively develop best practices within these new learning environments. You can submit your own teaching Bright Spot or nominate a colleague.
Browse the links below to read about Xavier instructors' successful strategies.
Submitted by Megan Nieto, Teaching Professor, English
This semester, Megan Nieto is teaching two online sections of Literature and the Moral Imagination, titled “Life and Love in the Time of Corona: Pandemic Fiction and What Apocalypses Reveal.” Megan says, “Hoping to create community in an online environment, I created weekly Small Talk discussions where my students and I can get to know each other. Students have shared pictures of themselves, their families, their pets, and their partners; their interests; their favorite music, TV shows, films, and books; how they’ve been staying busy and/or coping during the pandemic, etc. Students’ engagement and interaction in our Small Talk discussions have been great! It’s an informal space to get to know each other and also a space to reflect on our personal experiences and the relevance of pandemic fiction and our course.” Currently the Small Talk discussions are set up as discussion boards; synchronous Zoom meetings will be scheduled as well. Wanting the conversation to flow naturally for the first few weeks, Megan has kept the topics open, but is likely to provide prompts later in the semester, such as a top ten movie or book list. Participation is not mandatory, and the discussions are not graded, but Megan provides an incentive by dropping the student’s lowest quiz grade at the end of the semester if there has been regular participation. Continuing Small Talk discussions throughout the semester is a great way to continually maintain connections with and between students, and can easily be adapted no matter what course format you are using!
Submitted by Amy Whipple, Associate Profesor, History
Amy Whipple planned to use Hypothesis, an online, collaborative annotation tool, in her remote sections of Historical Perspectives. Looking for a way to allow students a low stakes opportunity to try out the tool, Amy asked students to annotate the course syllabus. She asked them each to make one comment on the syllabus, which could be a reply to someone else’s comment, and provided some suggestions, such as asking for clarification about something, or noting something they were looking forward to or were worried about. In describing the results of this activity, Amy said, “I think what most surprised me was the number of students who chose to say what they were looking forward to. Their enthusiasm was genuinely energizing for me, and it even helped me think about adjusting some readings in later modules to best fit the class interests...It felt like an easy way to connect with the students right away, and I think they read the syllabus more closely than before.”
Submitted by Julie O'Hara, Associate Professor, History
Julie O’Hara shared a simple but highly effective idea for helping students easily find the Zoom link for course meetings: “I made myself a button labeled Zoom Room, put it right at the top of my Canvas home page, and linked it to my Zoom ‘personal meeting room.’ It’s practically the first thing students see when Canvas loads, and no one has gotten confused or asked me for the Zoom link for either class attendance or office hours since I added it.”
Add a Zoom button to your Canvas courses. (You must be logged into Canvas to access.)
Submitted by Kelly Austin, Senior Teaching Professor, English
Kelly Austin offers an approach to providing students with sufficient structure and keeping them actively engaged in a synchronous Zoom session. “I’m getting the hang of Zoom sessions. I teach online and meet via Zoom once a week, and that 50 minutes flies! I’ve learned to focus on just one thing because technology makes things more complicated. We start with a fun Zoom poll, or I post questions on the whiteboard (How are you? How is the week or the semester going?). Students seem more willing to type responses than speak up. I create an agenda slide each session with a preview of what we’ll be doing. Then I cover relevant content or set up an activity/discussion. I try to use breakout rooms each session to encourage student-to-student interaction (though a few still vanish). I’ve learned to create a deliverable that they have to complete to focus their activity. Using Google Slides with the prompt repeated for each group to respond to is also a great way to monitor their activity and to know when they’re done.”
Submitted by Jodi Wyett, Professor, English
I am teaching two sections of ENGL 205 Literature and the Moral Imagination remotely this semester, with weekly or biweekly Zoom meetings to synthesize small group discussion board work. Because of the pandemic, I decided that I could not require students to attend Zoom sessions. My classes are also Diversity Flag courses that address sensitive subject matter, so I am not comfortable recording our Zoom classes. Instead, we keep a collaborative Google Doc of course notes and two students serve as note-takers for every Zoom session. Those students earn extra credit for the note-taking after completing a survey describing their experience. I go over the notes after class to be sure they are accurate and complete. The class notes have been a huge hit. Note-takers say the process helps them to stay engaged in class and that having a partner means they can participate in discussion without worrying about gaps in the notes. All of the students appreciate having this resource available to them. Subsequently, I will continue this practice post-pandemic.
Submitted by Niamh O'Leary, Associate Professor, English
In my ENGL 361: 16th and 17th Century Women Writers course, which I am teaching fully online with synchronous meetings, students are required to tweet while they read. They have to post two tweets for each day we have primary text reading due: one asking a question or making an argument about some part of the reading, and one replying to a classmate’s tweet. This helps build a sense of community outside the classroom, which is vital when I am teaching 100% online and students are feeling distanct from each other. I review the tweets before class, and often use them to start class discussion, sharing my screen and highlighting some of the students’ tweets. It helps focus the discussion on the questions they have and ensures that they’re actively contributing to shaping our course conversation.
Submitted by Travis Speice, Visiting Faculty, GDST and Sociology
After completing the CTE’s workshop on building community in remote teaching over the summer, I really wanted to find ways to engage students in collaborative work that was still flexible enough to accommodate in-person, remote, and online learners. In my SOCI 262 Gender and Society course, students worked in groups to put together a full class project about the waves of feminism. Each group collected information about a wave of feminism and then worked together to build a product that could be shared. Using different online tools, we created a cohesive timeline capturing the work done by the whole class. As a final assessment, students reviewed the final class project to learn about other waves of feminism. Students really enjoyed the blend of independent, small group, and full class collaborative work that allowed them to work together, but still at their own pace.