Of Chairs and ZoomBombers

by Gavin Doyle

With COVID, much of what I’ve relied on for my teaching—immediate interactions with students, a close community of supportive learners, and hands-on exercises—felt like they’d be lost. 

How was I supposed to teach ACTING over a webcam, for instance? I’ve been unsuccessfully arguing with UWB for years that I needed chairs in the Performance Studio because good scenes and monologues—good theatre—needed to be “grounded” with a sense of place. It can’t always be heads floating in space on an empty stage. 

empty chair on stage.
Empty chair on stage.

And yet, I was now faced with the prospect of teaching an entire class not only without chairs, but without a room. Or any bodies. We were just voices heard through crackling headphones and jagged pictures seen through a screen. It felt like punishment for sins committed in a prior life.

But, yet… we persevered. We adapted. And, more than that, we learned. Working over Zoom, my students stayed engaged and interested in the work. They formed close bonds with their virtual classmates. They were supportive of each other. We did regular check-ins at the start of each class. We did breakout rooms for small group discussions and workshopping. We used shared Google docs to jointly create characters and write monologues with peer support. The students’ weekly journal entries in Canvas showed careful reflection. Things had not fallen apart. 

Sure, it wasn’t perfect. Our first class had Zoombombers, our second class had me kicked out of my own session several times due to poor internet, and much of my “go to” warm-ups were just impossible. Half the students kept their cameras off. Not my preference, but I didn’t want to push it—I’m teaching from by bedroom closet (with my clothes hanging behind me), so I intimately understand their desire to NOT showcase their own bedrooms. 

I can’t say that I’d now voluntarily transition to all-remote Acting classes. But, it was far from a disaster.  I’ve learned new ways of doing things digitally that I will continue after we return to “in-person” teaching. For instance, I routinely have logistical/space problems when I want students to simultaneously work on lines, or show scenes to each other. The problem of how I can have twelve different scenes being practiced in the same classroom is now solved for me—Zoom breakout rooms worked really well.

For my non-performance classes, I’ve been recording mini-lectures, using Canvas discussions, and requiring student blogs—though, with the help of this LC in past years, those are tools I’ve used in the past. And so, they were not as shocking to my system as Zoom has been.

I had plans this quarter for the personal webspace our LC purchased for each of us, but COVID derailed that. Instead of creating a personal site, I used the space to create an online 5th Grade classroom for my son. It was actually a good learning experience for me. I found myself using Wacom tablets and digital whiteboards to explain math concepts, sharing google documents to start “round stories,” and integrating forms to collect quiz answers. And so, while I was not making what I’d originally intended, I was practicing a new digital language.

And, I think, that’s what I’m taking away from this quarter. Things may not have gone to plan. It’s not been a polished draft. But the work has been there, and my vocabulary has expanded. Chairs? We don’t need no stinking chairs. We’ve got the open web.

Repurposing Education: Building Academic Networks

by Sarita Shulka

With the COVD-19 outbreak, so many questions have been raised about what it means to teach and learn. Our understanding of the educational ecosystem with physical classrooms, tests, school bells suddenly shifted to emergency online teaching. The uncertainty of this sudden shift has been an ever-present reality. I am still pivoting and adjusting to this new reality. Strangely, however, I did not get into panic mode when I had to shift four courses within a span of a week to be taught fully online. I am not suggesting that I have the mantra for seamless transitions to unknown teaching domains. What I am however indicating is that I have over the past few years built a community and cultivated relationships that poised me to embrace this moment with grace.

rock with happy face.

About three years prior to this upheaval, I joined a learning community led by Dr. Jane Van Galen. I have been a member of this learning community ever since.  Our discussions centered around teaching and learning on the open web in this community. We dabbled with questions about what it meant to teach online and the very real challenges and possibilities of the open web. What I felt most challenged was the different ways of knowing and being on the open web. I started wondering about ways in which my students and I could know, teach and learn using the vastness of the web.

I realized that I had perceived the open web from a binary – I too had developed a single story— the web as the big bad wolf and so long as I stayed within the confines of the LMS, my students and I were ‘safe.’  I could now see that was not true and the complexity of the web was becoming more apparent to me. I could now see ways to harness the potential of the vastness of the web. I was also dismayed by my own reluctance to step outside the confines of the LMS and realized how using just one tool (the ubiquitous LMS) was a disservice to my students.  I have since then embraced the web and challenged myself to create opportunities for myself and for my students to step outside the LMS.

A big takeaway from this experience has been the commitment to teaching and learning in the open, alongside other people who are doing the heavy-lifting around topics that are important for the public. I began dabbling with using academic twitter, blogs, podcasts as a result of these experiences. Another direct outcome of this experience has been more thoughtful assignments that embrace the open web. Students in my classes now not only write assignments to be turned in via the course LMS but also discuss issues via blog responses, use video and article annotation tools, create podcasts, and use a rainbow of options for creating audio-visual presentations.

rock decorations with "wish" written on it.

This academic year, Todd Conaway led our learning community. At the beginning of this academic year, we decided that in addition to consuming web content, we would create our own content for the web! To that end, we purchased our own domains and created our own websites. I have made a humble start here and have created my own site with information about my academic and research journey thus far. I want to take this further by building out my site to be a venue for sharing critical and thoughtfully curated resources about topics that I care about. This will help people who might not know much about multiculturalism, motivation, learning and identity as it relates to education. This site could become a go-to place for learning about these topics. I want to contribute to the worldwide web as a place of learning.

In sum, my experiences in this learning community helped me build networks that have been so crucial especially during this sudden shift to online teaching. I am grateful to have these networks and hope to nurture it for building my own critical consciousness while also enriching others.

Exploring New Places

by Mark Chen

This year has been an exploration of a couple of new platforms for me since we had to transition to online-only courses. Most of my courses were already using online tech pretty heavily so the transition was an opportunity to try some more extreme ideas.


Like many, I had to figure out a good work-from-home office set up and invest in a new webcam, and, along with that, I checked out a couple of apps to add special effects or that let me mix in multiple video feeds to a virtual camera that is fed into Zoom. Namely, I use XSplit VCam which lets me use a custom background, its settings more flexible and reliable than Zoom’s built-in one, and OBS and ManyCam to let me do things like picture-in-picture. Oh, and also an app called APowerMirror to let me plug my Android phone into my computer and mirror its screen on my monitor, which could then be used as a video source for ManyCam and OBS.

computers on a table.


The most extreme thing I’m exploring is meeting students in games and virtual worlds instead of or alongside Zoom, as my course on interactive media sort of lends itself to experiments in said media. I’ve tried World of Warcraft, which sort of works but also sort of doesn’t work in that the novelty might be getting in the way of doing anything productive. I’m also torn about whether to make it an official meeting place. The free version is sufficient, but it’s still a sizeable download, and I’m not sure if it’s reasonable to ask students to install it on their laptops or desktops, and anyone using a phone to connect would be out of luck, unfortunately… This summer, I’ll probably start with a poll to see what people have access to.

“Most of the optional days feature just a Pandora music station to have in the background sort of like a virtual coffee shop where we’re all doing our own things…”

Mark


I’ve also tried to just stream from within a game on Zoom, attempting to play a game that doesn’t take 100% attention to attend to while discussing readings or other topics for that week. This has mostly been used once in a while during our optional Zoom days (for my courses this quarter, I’ve only been making one day a week the official meeting time and reserving the other day as virtual office hours). Again, we’re not really “working”, but for the students that show up, it seems to be a welcome diversion from everyday crap. Most of the optional days feature just a Pandora music station to have in the background sort of like a virtual coffee shop where we’re all doing our own things, and there’s a small handful of students who seem to join every week for that.


Surprisingly, my courses this Spring Quarter seem to be doing quite well, maybe because of these things that I’m trying to do to build community, but also probably because they’ve been more vigilant reading emails and structuring their lives around the milestones and synchronous class times, etc. I’ve been trying to stay in communication with them frequently and being transparent about course decisions and adjustments and emailing individual students who seem to need more help than others, etc. Also, the web course I teach, in particular, is benefiting from the Zoom format with me and various students sharing our screens to troubleshoot code; it seems to work better than doing it in a classroom setting.
Other than those things, I’m still doing the same things I tried last year: using Slack and hypothes.is for online discussions and having students in my web design course register their own domain name with Reclaim Hosting.

This year, we’ve had to face many adjustments, using our care and diligence for our students to guide us. This is true for every year, of course, and I’m continually mind-boggled that some people feel like online instruction is easier or not worth as much as face-to-face instruction. Certainly, there are some courses and disciplines that require in-person interactions (and next fall will be a challenge as I teach an ethnographic fieldwork course!), but I’m pretty adamant in thinking that even though we’re using an online-only format, we’re for the most part still serving students to a rigorous standard that I think UW is rightly proud of upholding.

How I fell in love with Padlet

By Rebecca M Price

Our faculty learning community discusses teaching and learning on the open web, and we frequently share with each other apps that facilitate learning. I’m a fan of Google docs, and I structure my classes so that students and I share collaborative documents.

We frequently brainstorm in the Google Suite. In a classroom-based undergraduate research experience, students share their hypotheses with each other in a Google Sheet. We analyze papers from the primary literature in Google Docs, recording our criteria for writing scientific papers by reading scientific papers. So, when my colleague Sarita Shukla began using Padlet in her classes, I couldn’t see the value in adding yet another app for my students to use. Couldn’t they just brainstorm in Google Docs? I have to admit I like the stripped-down simplicity of a single document.

And here I am, two years later, raving about Padlet. I direct an instructor training program, and I’m now encouraging my mentees to use Padlet, and I’ve seen them use it successfully in their courses. Their undergraduate students are enthusiastic about it. I’m encouraging other colleagues to use it. What changed?

Padlet logo

While my interest in Padlet began to grow a few months ago, it took off dramatically when the University of Washington decided that all spring 2020 courses would be online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was helping two teams of postdocs prepare undergraduate seminars, and the postdocs were there to refine their use of active learning techniques. We decided to hold synchronous Zoom meetings, but to record classes for students who would attend asynchronously. I champion “think-pair-share” in my in-person classes, but making breakout rooms in Zoom is cumbersome for brief check-ins. We decided to substitute padlets for think-pair-shares. It works so nicely!

Padlets involve all of the students—so it’s a great inclusive exercise that involves everyone. We can ask a question that would generate a think-pair-share, e.g., “what are some of the strategies you’re using in your rapid switch to online teaching?”, and we see an array of answers immediately. The fact that notes are arranged in a grid makes it quite easy for the instructor to survey the answers and read the room. I have a much better sense of what the audience is thinking than I do when I move among breakout rooms in Zoom. We’ve begun to use Padlets for small group work, in which each group has a different question to answer. There’s a form that allows you to post a question at the top of each column, and then each group can write out their answer in a space below. Again, the instructor can quickly assess how each group understands the material. We’ve also found that padlets are a great way to ask for muddiest points at the end of class. One thing to keep in mind—I always make it clear that students are welcome to use aliases to protect their privacy.

Some Websites & Stuff

I have had this website since 2011 and iterations of this one since 1998. They have helped me express my work and the work of my students, my ideas, my successes and failures. They have helped me get jobs by sharing the work I have done. And, like a drawer full of pictures, the sites keep some fond memories of work I have been involved with. From hiking trips in the Grand Canyon to conference presentations and a portfolio of work, the sites have shared a good vision of what I am capable of doing. They document my learning.

I could stop right there with that last sentence. As a teacher, I am after experiences and the documentation of them.

navigation of website

Being a part of the Open Web Learning Community here at Bothell has been wonderful. It has helped me form some relationships with the faculty here. That is important to my work. Jane Van Galen started the community four years ago and we have shared many ideas, had many coffees, and most importantly, taken some of the things we learned and placed them in our courses. Some worked. Some did not. That is how learning goes.

For me, as the “leader” of the LC this year, it has been challenging. Not only has COVID been challenging, but I tend to be pretty loose with rules and regulations. Both in following them and in making them. And I know, some people work better with clear guidelines and some do not. I suppose, looking back, I did not give the LC as many clearly defined goals and time tables as I might have. So, our team had some great moments and some not so amazing. And that is how learning goes.

I do think that our goal for the year was noble and is very relevant. More than ever today with the move to more online content, and more online experiences. I am reminded of Stephen Downes noting that, “Your next LMS won’t be yours, it will be your students.” He was referring to spaces for learning that were more student centered. Literally. Learning spaces the students control rather than a faculty or university or LMS provider. That may be a way off, but for today, faculty can maintain, and role model controlling, more of the work they do and the experiences they offer students. Tightly controlled classrooms with little coming in our out is not in the nature of the web.

Mike Wesch and the anth101.com is a wonderful example of where things may go. Where things already are. The book if free and available to anyone. The student work is shared and owned by the students, not confined to an LMS that no one else can see. Take a look. Try a Challenge. I dare you. www.anth101.com

Posts by students on instagram and youtube.

In our LC we have wondered about what it means to put our ideas out there on the web. We have wondered how it feels to have our ideas out there on the web. Much like many of us learned about being “on camera” here with the COVID events, putting your writing, your failures and successes on the open web makes you vulnerable. It also allows others to learn from your experiences. And that is of course, just what schools are for.

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