Teaching online in 2020: a retrospective

Harder than anticipated would be my assessment – and it is one shared by computer scientist colleague Eugene Wallingford, whose conclusion is also the same as mine. He seeks, after André Gide, an intentional awakening going forwards:
More than a month of blanks. Talking of myself bores me. A diary is useful during conscious, intentional, and painful spiritual evolutions. Then you want to know where you stand. But anything I should say now would be harpings on myself. An intimate diary is interesting especially when it records the awakening of ideas (qtd in Wallingford 2020)
So what did I learn?
tl; dr I made a personal investment in my courses without calculating an appropriate return on investment (whether student or institutional) and am drained, eager to establish new connections of my own, and also to do my own writing work, which I did not have time for. Yet this allowed me to gain an incredibly large amount of experience in online teaching techniques (e.g. even as outlined in the EFF guidelines on teaching security education) in a short amount of time, rounding off my experience in networked learning. My initial and casual post on the course design appears here and a more thorough outline of the syllabus and course design is here.
Why face-to-face?
I did not have institutional support in arranging for in-person meetings as 150+ students enroll in my courses, but in the future I will insist that this be made available to me as it was to almost every single of my other colleagues. I am among the few with the biggest work load – and additionally have no assistant.
This is to reach out to students who either through laziness or an inability to follow need a more hands-on approach. This need became apparent through what wasn’t said in a reflective course assessment segment (e.g. some students missing points that had been repeated multiple times and ways). Motivated students, including those who had trouble at the beginning but who used the multiple lines of communication available to them to reach out, adapt to different contexts.
Changes to project-/problem-based components
While it was possible to give weekly project/problem-based assignments for students to complete when we met in person, this proved to be too much for students in the online experience.
It was also too much for me because the exercises had to be designed in such a way that would make it difficult for students to complete the work through cunning internet searches (it is amazing how much work will be done to avoid actually engaging with the work). I would never do this again, though if teaching smaller groups, I might assign fortnightly tasks.
My general idea going forwards is to assign a larger task with smaller components and then add in testing to fill in gaps. I usually avoid heavier testing because it does not develop the type of dialogic thinking that can be valuable in transformative learning processes, e.g. Gunnlaugson 2006. Note, the courses I teach explicitly seek to develop communication skills.
Shorter videos but keeping the slide decks
It is established today, following Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences, that different people have different learning styles. The videos take a long time to make – so the time investment must be proportional to their average use. Slides are provided for learning reinforcement. Making shorter videos is an answer to this and also frees up time for:
More video conferences
It would have made a great difference to hold video conferences every three weeks instead of four. If used in conjunction with a forum, students could be conversant with the rules on what constitutes a valuable contribution, and could be asked to make one comment per semester, to make related mind maps, or to submit lecture notes. (The forum could bring practice in how to identify valuable ideas.)
How to protect the teacher, not just students?
I spent so much time worrying about protecting my students, I did not worry about myself. Students found ways to disrespect the terms of use for the videos, for example. I need to learn code to block downloads or find new ways to present videos using free software, which has become an important part of my courses. Making videos available beyond the lecture time was popular (many students wanted longer availability) and I support this particularly as I know some students used the time to watch the videos more than once.
What to do about institutional lag, if it exists?
I might have gone too far in implementing what I consider to be the most up-to-date approaches and material. Institutions comprise people who disagree and those in influential positions change. But I am very excited to write a book about what I have been working so hard on in the past few years.
Can I say more about the participatory, collaborative approach I use in my teaching?
The book I co-edited and contributed to on this topic is coming out in January, in a Palgrave edition. This post will be updated when it is available.
Moving forwards
Given the intense work I have done in recent years to improve my teaching and bring added value to the content of my courses, it is time to figure out how to show and share this work that I have done – beyond the context of my (virtual) classrooms.
It is precisely by exploring meanings and rudimentary design of the virtual that it is time to design – in Donald Schön’s reflective, conversational sense – a system that will work for me as I pursue this (new phase of) work.
Isn’t the hope of designing better workflow systems the promise that computing teaches us, regardless of our stations in life?

Posted By: