In a state of helplessness, I wrote a guest post for John Warner’s blog on Inside Higher Ed. As I’m on parental leave for most of this semester, I have been watching my college “go online” with its instruction from afar, so I thought if I put together some of my thoughts on teaching online, I could be of help.
I wrote the post thinking of all the instructors at my college who were posting back and forth on the faculty listserv about their anxieties about using technology. And then there are some emails from folks over in EdTech with links to trainings and tutorials. I’m thinking, “This is all well and good, but how are the servers going to handle all this?” And also, I’m pretty competent with technology, and even I had a lot of technical kinks to work out in the process of deploying my online classes last semester. There’s absolutely no reason to tax everyone further with these ridiculous expectations.
This article by Rebecca Barrett-Fox, which I read right after I wrote mine, gets to the heart of the politics of this suddenly online education crisis:
Ask yourself: Do I really care about this? (Probably not, or else you would have explored it earlier.) Or am I trying to prove that I’m a team player? (You are, and don’t let your university exploit that.) Or I am trying to soothe myself in the face of a pandemic by doing something that makes life feel normal? (If you are, stop and instead put your energy to better use, like by protesting in favor of eviction freezes or packing up sacks of groceries for kids who won’t get meals because public schools are closing.)
I wish I knew how to put my energy to “better use,” but until I figure out what that looks like, I’m hoping that a few people who read my article will ease up a bit on themselves and their students.
I’ve been thinking about an adage that one of my education grad-school professors would repeat (I got a Master’s in Teaching Adolescent English from Fordham in 2006). It went something like this: a good pedagogical practice will work as well in a pre-school as it does in a college classroom. Good pedagogy is sound, no matter what the level of instruction. It doesn’t sound as deep as I remember it sounding at the time—I think the professor phrased it better somehow—but I think about it when a college instructor criticizes what I do (sometimes implicitly) as “baby-sitting.” For instance, I require that students use calendars to organize themselves, and I give them a few points every once in a while for maintaining it. I know that this doesn’t sound as deep as analyzing Socrates or whatever, but students appreciate the training. If a student doesn’t have their own calendar, I give them what I call “Milsom’s Bootleg Calendar.” It’s just a Word document I’ve made with a blank calendar on it. The calendar includes all the important semester dates (the last day to withdraw, for instance). I now have a couple students who find me at the beginning of the semester requesting copies of the Bootleg Calendar, so I always make extra copies. When I taught high school, I would identify the students who liked to draw, and I’d get them to illustrate the Bootleg Calendars before I made copies. I hope to do something like this again.
I say all this because making college accessible to my students—people who have been “historically excluded” from higher education—means training them how to organize their time. Most of them work full-time, many have families to care for, and yet they also are balancing a full course load in order to remain eligible for financial aid. Few use calendars to arrange their busy lives, so getting students to develop the habit of self-organization can make a huge difference.
When I was in fifth grade, each student in our class received an old-fashioned, spiral-bound student planner which we were forced to use. My teacher Miss Smith would draw a replica of it on the board—very fastidious—and would show us what and how to write in it. My school provided these calendars for all of us through eighth grade. They were a part of the curriculum, in a sense. When we got to high school, I remember that a few of my classmates still would purchase them on their own because they loved them so much. I can’t remember a year of my life, since fifth grade, that I haven’t used some sort of planner. My elementary middle school teachers were very deliberate in how they trained us to make use of planners. Their support meant that by the time we entered high school, planning was a habit.
The fact that many of my students—whose average age is 27—have not been trained to manage their time means that they start out with a disadvantage. The fact that they gotten this far in their education without that skill in the first place is a testament to their gumption and dedication.
While researching the topic of accessibility and syllabi, I learned that the SIZE of the font is more important to the dyslexic reader than the absence of serifs (though serifs are problematic).
I googled for 2 secs and found an article that says that serifs impede reading for folks w dyslexia, but the most important factor in helping readers with dyslexia is actually a font's SIZE. (NB: This article uses a serif typeface of some sort of course.) https://t.co/L6uRTqK5lp