Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Restoring facets of a traditional classroom
Anna Neill, English

It is the 6th of October, and I just returned from my first in-person meeting of my First-Year Seminar. Half of us (one “cohort”), nine students and me, met outside in one of those big, empty, grassy tent spaces. I yelled questions and responses to student answers for 75 minutes through my mask and over the weed whackers, and watched time move like treacle because I couldn’t have everyone work in groups or even have students chat in pairs for fear they would scoot up their seats and lower their masks. Although it was nice to see them in person and the weather was beautiful, the experience sharpened my appreciation for everything I’ve been able to do with them online.

I know many faculty members miss teaching in person. But although sitting in front of a screen is very different from speaking at the front of a room and moving among students, I am finding that Microsoft Teams in particular is allowing me to do most things that the pandemic has stripped out of the traditional classroom, and in some cases more. I have students work in small groups, collaborate on creating and editing documents, and peer review assignment drafts. We can be talking as a group with video minimized while looking together at multiple items I’ve posted in the class folder (somehow this feels a lot more fluid and a lot less tiring than using screen share on Zoom). I can step into private chat with a student at any point, and we can meet the same way outside of class (again easier than Zoom since we don’t need a link and password).  Another bonus is the way Teams mimics social media, allowing students to chat casually, and post reactions to others’ comments. One of the most important goals of a First-Year Seminar is for students to make friends, and I can honestly say that I see that happening. I’m not sure it would have been the same if we’d started out behind masks at six feet.  

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