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Edtech Moodle online course Tertiary teaching

A not so ordinary semester

Bryan Alexander: cat cuddles laptop (CC BY 2.0)

I honestly expected I would be writing this post sooner, even though the frequency with which I normally produce new posts probably should not have led me to expect this. At the very least, I expected I would write something during the lockdown because, for some reason, I thought I might have more time. And here we are, at what currently looks like the tail end of the pandemic in Croatia, and I haven’t written a thing. So I figured I’d better hurry up, if for no other reason than to have a sort of record of what this semester has been like. It’s almost over.

Drum roll… It’s actually been very much like any other semester over the last couple of years. Readers of this blog know that I teach writing skills to undergrads, asynchronously, in Moodle. Each semester we spend about 3 and a half months in an online environment and we don’t see each other from the introductory sessions on campus to the final exams. We never have synchronous sessions. I’ve been planning to have one or two of these per semester since the beginning of the course, but the course is structured so that there is no real need for synchronous elements and I haven’t yet gotten around to it. 

I know you’re probably thinking it’s easy for me because I teach writing skills and of course you’re right. It wouldn’t be as easy if I were teaching regular English classes at elementary school, say. Or if I was running a language school, like the last time the recession hit.    

I didn’t think this post through in terms of deciding what to write about except vaguely that it would be about “the COVID semester”. So maybe it would be best to just note down random observations and see where that takes me. Some of them might be fleshed out to form a paragraph and some might not.

  • We had our usual introductory campus sessions over the first two weeks back in February/March. My favorite part of these was a new twist on the getting to know you activity.
  • My class is usually the only one my students take which is delivered fully online. Even for those who are entirely uninterested in writing in English, the delivery format lends it a touch of novelty. Obviously, this semester’s class did not get to experience the novelty factor, which is making me worry I’m boring them out of their skulls. I worry none of them will see any of the advantages of online learning because it’s being stuffed down their throats.
  • Over the first week or two of everyone transitioning online, the system was glacially slow. Everyone was trying to replicate their standard working hours online and you could not get anything done in the morning. I remember telling the students to log on in the evenings/early in the morning (before 8) in order to avoid frustration. Things improved after a while; now it’s fine.
  • There was the earthquake. We had an earthquake a few days into the lockdown. It’s been almost 2 months and only recently have I begun to catch myself realizing that I’ve actually gone without thinking about it for a couple of hours.
  • There were/are the exchange students. Three are still on the course and one was repatriated before the earthquake. I sent one of them a couple of emails asking how they were and if there was anything I could do to help. I felt that was the least I could do – it really didn’t seem particularly thoughtful or considerate – and was told that my emails were the most compassionate the student had received. It made me think about exchange students in general and how most of the time they must have wonderful learning (and other) experiences but then they could go on an exchange in a semester like this one and end up feeling lost and needing support. I was surprised at the impact of a small message of support and was very glad I had reached out to the student. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we sometimes have no idea how something that to us seems like a small gesture will end up helping someone.
  • I tried out Flipgrid, which did not turn out as I’d hoped. More on this in a separate post (partly in the hope of pushing myself to tentatively plan another post and partly because I feel this topic could be fleshed out a bit).
  • Despite the challenges of the semester, the students have been observing the deadlines more faithfully than in most (perhaps even all) previous semesters. I may feel I experienced these disruptions to a far lesser degree than most teachers but doing all their classwork online has been new to my students. I was (and still am) prepared to be more flexible than usual in terms of accepting work submitted late, but there has actually been very little of that. 
  • I am as late with my feedback as ever. I have focused on feedback on those tasks where it takes on a significant formative function, and students have received this more or less on time. But there are tasks where the feedback is primarily summative and these I have yet to address. 

There are other details that come to mind but I’m going to wrap things up and post this. Just for the record, the last couple of paragraphs were not written on the same day (or even week, for that matter) as the first few, so it’s probably best not to procrastinate. 

I hope your online semester has been good or at least okay. I hope you and your families and students are doing well. If you’d like to share any thoughts or observations re the topics in the post, I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!  

By ven_vve

ELT, elearning, higher ed, teacher training, translation. Partial to the island of Vis since the pre-tourist era.

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