LUBBOCK, TX — It’s been nearly three weeks since being called back from Taipei to West Texas, and we’ve been making the adjustment well enough.
Like so many of my colleagues all over the world, we’ve made extensive use of Zoom’s live-streaming capabilities — even more impressive, given how many others are also relying on Zoom: in mid-March, Zoom was the most downloaded app in both the Apple App Store and the Google Play app market. NOTE: This post is not sponsored by Zoom, but I’m damned grateful that the platform has been working well enough. =)
For about two weeks now, I’ve been live-streaming into my courses at NCCU from my home office here in Lubbock. It’s certainly not the Fulbright experience that I had signed up for, but it’s an experience nonetheless.
A few of the major changes? For one, I’m no longer in Taipei. This one stings the most for so many reasons — friends not yet met, languages not yet learned, beers not yet tasted and research not yet completed. Not to mention, the relative handling of COVID-19 in Taiwan compared to the US.
It really hurts being home, because home is really hurting.
All said, there’s not much sense engaging the game of “What Ifs?” After all, if I rewind back to my childhood, I should have been a secret agent astronaut millionaire by now … and I’m only halfway towards that goal. =)
I’ve read so many of my colleagues working to quickly reformat their courses for an e-learning format. They’ve had to overcome technical barriers and digital divides, not only for their students (many of whom do not have reliable hardware and software access) but also for the instructors themselves (many of whom not have deep training in online instructional methods) — we often forget that technology gaps run far deeper than the financial, and include elements of literacy and empowerment as well.
To this end, I’ve got a bit of an advantage in that I’ve taught courses online for about a decade, mostly during my time at West Virginia University. Most of my courses at four different institutions have been more of a “hybrid” format — in-person lectures, buttressed by online discussion boards and readings. For example, I often require my students to post three “prime the pump” questions before the start of each lecture (usually due about 24 hours in advance of class), as it both (1) gives me a chance to see how they’re understanding the readings and (2) makes sure that they’ve done the readings in advance. Sometimes, you have to save students from themselves. ;p
We do have a fortunate situation in that (at least for now) National Chengchi University is still open for classes, so our students still have a place to live and a place to study, and those places are on-campus. We’ve shifted to a teleconferencing classroom but otherwise, we’ve got the luxury of having the same time and space for the students to gather.
The big change? Timing.
Back at NCCU, our courses met on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am until noon, with a few 10-minute breaks at the top of each hour. However, the benefit of us meeting during the “normal” times that students are on-campus and in-person only works if we shift class back 13 hours into the past. By the back of my envelope? I’m live broadcasting from West Texas from 20:00 to 23:00 on Mondays and Wednesdays.
How are the students handling it? Not so bad. They were a bit quiet on the first day, but this might have been more a function of some denser-than-usual discussion material. Or, that I likely appeared like a floating, imposing, and a ever-judgmental head.
They’ve been much livelier in more recent days (we’ve had four so far), and we’re feeling pretty good about it. The students pass a microphone back to each other to speak for the recording software (we make audio and video recordings of each course, for later viewing), and our feelings of social presence are surprisingly high — good non-verbals, with the occasional student ducking out of the camera lens to avoid being called on (a pretty good strategy). I definitely ask them for more audible feedback but frankly, it’s smooth. It feels good. I feel back in Wenshan District … and if I focus enough, I can almost taste the morning noodles.
No word yet if I’m in the running for Carson’s job, but for now? The first hour is coffee. The second hour is water. The third hour is usually a nice and tastefully poured beer. After all, it’s nearly closing time.