To my Fall 2020 students:
I'll try to make this brief. But please read it in its entirety.
First, I hope everyone's healthy and able to find some peace and calm in the midst of this weird mess.
Second, for what it's worth, I hate that we're having to do this remotely.
My first experience teaching online was in graduate school -- I thought it might give me a little more time and flexibility to work on my dissertation, especially since the entire online curriculum was managed by the university. I didn't have to write the syllabus, choose the texts, write the exams, or anything -- all of that had already been done by whomever designed the course. I basically just had to chat with students during the week on a discussion forum, and then grade their exams and writing assignments. But the whole experience was awful for everyone. The students complained (understandably) that it didn't really feel like I was teaching them anything. And I discovered that semester that the thing I enjoy most about teaching is the face-to-face, often spontaneous interaction that takes place during lecture and discussion. And of course, that's extremely difficult to re-create online (even nowadays, with things like Zoom).
My second experience teaching online was ... this past Spring. So, I still feel a bit like a fish out of water, trying to adapt my courses and teaching methods to an entirely new format. And, needless to say, I'm counting the days until we can get back in the classroom.
Third, I'm teaching two courses this semester: (1) PHIL 102: Introduction to Ethics, and (2) PHIL 261: Evil. For a few reasons, I've decided to teach both of these courses in the same basic format, which will involve both synchronous and asynchronous elements.
In the Spring, I did my courses entirely asynchronously. This was for two reasons. First, I had students all over the world, in several different timezones. The day the College decided to go remote, I got emails from some of these students, expressing their concern that the time difference (or some other factor) would keep them from participating in synchronous Zoom meetings; and they felt like this would put them at a disadvantage relative to the other students. This really resonated with me, so I decided to do things asynchronously.
And second, I have six kids. (Yes, you read that correctly. For some strange reason, I have six kids -- three naturally, and three we're currently fostering, possibly one day to adopt.) Four of those six kids are in school, and required access to a computer or tablet to do their schoolwork. So, since my computer needed to be available to the kids during the day, I just couldn't be available online for regular Zoom meetings with students.
I still worry about some students being disadvantaged -- since, for whatever reason, they are unable to participate in regular, synchronous Zoom meetings. But at the same time, a number of my Spring 2020 students complained about the absence of regular, synchronous Zoom meetings. Much like when I taught that online course in grad school, some of my Spring 2020 students felt like they weren't really being taught, since that ordinarily happens in the form of lecture and discussion.
So ... it'll have to be a mixture of both, synchronous and asynchronous. Some of you may find that you wish there were more synchronicity, e.g., more group Zoom meetings. If that's the case, please reach out to me via email. Maybe we can meet one-on-one sometime during the week, or on the weekend. Others may find that they're unable to participate in the synchronous elements, and feel like they're missing out. Again, if that's the case, please email me. Let's see if we can work something out.
Finally, to be more specific, here's how things will go:
- At the start of each week, on the course website, I'll post (a) the reading assignments for that week, and (b) a few short videos (10-15 minutes) of me "lecturing" about the readings. These videos will focus on the main points that I want you to get from each reading, and they'll be accompanied by PowerPoint slides.
- You can handle this in whatever way works best for you. You might do all of the readings before watching any of the video lectures, as would be the expectation if we were meeting in the classroom. Or you might watch the lectures before doing the readings, so you have a better idea of what to look for in the readings. Or maybe just skim the readings, then watch the lectures, and then do the readings more thoroughly. Probably this last approach is best, but again: do whatever seems to work with your learning style, with your schedule, etc.
- As you're doing the readings and watching the videos, if there are questions that you'd like answered immediately, or comments you'd like to share for immediate feedback -- whether from me or from classmates -- you can post these in the class discussion forum on Moodle. I'll check the discussion forums a few times throughout the week.
- Alternatively, if you have questions or comments, but you'd rather not share them in a public forum, you are welcome either to send them to me in an email, or request a one=on-one Zoom meeting. Or, if you're one of the students who'll be living on campus, we could also meet in-person. For the record, this will be what my "office hours" look like this semester: email correspondence, one-on-one Zoom meetings, or in-person meetings with students living on campus.
- At some point in the later part of the week -- preferably Fridays -- we'll have a group Zoom meeting to discuss the readings and main issues of the week. I might start these meetings with a quick 3-5 minute review of the material from that week, and then open things up for discussion. This will be the main synchronous element of the course. It's your opportunity to ask me to clarify or expound upon anything from the readings or lectures, and so forth.
So, instead of thinking of the course in terms of 2 or 3 meetings per week, with readings assigned per meeting, you should think of the course in terms of 14 week-long units. Each unit will feature a few readings, a few corresponding video lectures, sporadic Q&A in the discussion forum, and an end-of-the-week group discussion on Zoom.
If you have any questions or comments about any of this, please email me.
P.S. In the interest of finding a little humor in the present circumstances, read this article to get a sense of how many of your professors are feeling these days. Obviously, it applies more to this past Spring than it does to the present semester. But it's still somewhat relevant, and very funny.