Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Student engagement in KU Who-Ville
Shannon O’Lear, Environmental Studies/Geography & Atmospheric Sciences

At the beginning of the semester, most of us were braced to expect the worst. Like The Grinch, teetering on top of Mount Crumpet, overlooking Who-Ville with his dog Max, hand to ear expecting sounds of woe in the first light of Christmas morning, we stepped into this semester expecting… what? Silence? 

But that isn’t happening in my class. 

Now, I won’t say that my students are gathering to hold hands (No!) or sing (Without masks? Absolutely not!), but they are bringing their energy, curiosity, and fabulous effort to our Environmental Geopolitics class. This course got a massive overhaul following the week I spent in CTE’s Flexible Course Design Boot Camp. I am grateful for the *experience* of online learning I had in that program, so that I could see, first hand, why it is helpful to include short videos to preview content, to organize the course Blackboard site by weekly lessons, to plan my syllabus with the combined super powers of backwards design and CHNKNG, and to re-think what it means to be inclusive in an online setting. All of those new insights and skills have proven to be useful if not invaluable, and my class is running more smoothly, more transparently, and with less student stress than it would have otherwise because of all of that. 

The part of the class that is going better than expected, the part that I most want to write about here, are the optional Zoom conversations that I offer twice each week. There are consistently 12 to 20 people, out of 34 students in the class, who show up on any given day. They know they can come as they are, cameras on or off, and pets are always welcome. These conversations are not recorded. I ask for volunteer note takers (which there always are), so that we can post compiled notes from the conversation on Blackboard for everyone to share. 

I just conducted a course feedback survey, and these optional Zoom conversations were by far the favorite feature of the class, because they are a low-pressure, informative, welcoming, and consistent way for students to interact with each other, with me, and with the interesting material that we dig into in this class. Covid-19 didn’t stop student engagement; it came! It came just the same.


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