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Better than expected: Impressive work in on online assignment
Ali Brox, Environmental Studies

This semester’s teaching and learning are not occurring in the ways we might prefer and are accustomed to, and yet there are aspects that are going better than expected, maybe even better than what we have done in our courses previously. For me, I realized the latter about two weeks into my First-Year Seminar, Apocalypse Now? Imagining Environmental Disaster in Cli-fi (climate change fiction). My course is fully online and has at least one synchronous Zoom session each week. When (re)designing the course this summer, I planned it to be fully asynchronous, just in case, and have been extremely pleased with the engagement, discussions, and general well-being check-ins during the synchronous sessions. An anonymous survey of my students at the one-month mark indicates they are happy with the Zoom sessions, as well. 

What I have been most impressed with in terms of the quality of work and critical thinking is an Adobe Spark/VoiceThread assignment that my students completed after reading two short stories. Students designed an Adobe Spark “post” with text and image(s) that represented one of the short stories to them. Then they uploaded the post to VoiceThread and gave a one-minute oral explanation of why they chose the image(s) and text they did. Students then commented on at least two of their classmates’ VoiceThread assignments. 

By happy coincidence, about half my students focused on Margaret Atwood’s “Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet,” and the other half chose Toiya Kristen Finley’s “Outer Rims.” Most chose a quotation from their story to use as their text, and their image choices and post designs were well thought-out and professional looking. The VoiceThread components were the most inspiring: they explained why the image(s) they chose represented the story for them and then connected the text/quotation to their understanding of the story as a whole. When commenting on their classmates’ posts, many students pointed out the similarities or differences between their own assignments. Multiple students commented that they saw the story in a new way after viewing and listening to a classmate’s assignment. 

Their analysis and engagement with classmates’ ideas are what I hope for during in-class discussions, but that does not always materialize. Students exceeded my expectations on this assignment. Regardless of the mode in which I teach this course again in the future, I will use this assignment to achieve learning goals. 


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