Looking back over a summer of teaching remotely with Zoom and Canvas

So my course is over now, and I’m in the midst of final grading, which means I have a little perspective about how this new experience went.

Twice this summer I’ve written about Zoom-based teaching and learning, first on July 3 giving my initial impressions after one week and then on July 28 lamenting the impossibility of giving secure assessments. What is there to say now? The good news is that I ended up feeling reasonably comfortable with the Zoom environment, as did my students. The bad news is that it didn’t begin to compare to the standard in-person experience. There was no way to read the room, no way to tell anyone’s reactions or who was doing what.

Let’s good at the results of a few of the questions on our end-of-summer student questionnaire, with my own comments interspersed:

So clearly the breakout rooms were a success, at least in the students’ eyes. It was (relatively) easy for them to ask questions of the teacher or mentor — whoever happened to be in charge of their particular breakout room that day — and they could work quietly without having to listen to a lecture. On the other hand, collaboration was almost impossible (see below), and there was no way to have a quiet personal conversation without the other seven students in the breakout listening in. Furthermore, our setup with iPads and Notability precluded seeing a student’s face while they were working — or doing something else!

This was a little surprising (assuming that the self-reporting was accurate). The background is that we had recorded the plenary portion of each day’s class for two purposes: so that students who missed class could watch it, and so that anyone who needed to review what they had learned could readily do so.

In case you don’t know: the mentors are college students who work as teaching assistants for the regular teachers. Each QR mentor is assigned 16 students, whom they see during breakout sessions and (sometimes) during office hours (officially called “study lounge“). Clearly they were successful this summer. We literally couldn’t have taught the class without them.

We also presented a bunch of a statements where the student could agree or disagree. Here were the results of the first 13 statements, showing the percentage who agreed with each:

86.2% I learned a lot.
13.8% I learned something but not as much as I hoped.
03.4% I learned very little.
75.9% I worked hard.
20.7% I was often distracted during class.
72.4% It was harder to learn and focus on Zoom than in real person.
17.2% I preferred the Zoom classes over in-person meeting.
44.8% This course got more than its fair share of my time and energy this summer.
03.4% This course got less than its fair share of my time and energy this summer.
27.6% The Crypto unit was more challenging than my 10th-grade math course during the school year.
34.5% The Epidemics unit was more challenging than my 10th-grade math course during the school year.
89.7% The mentors/teachers were helpful to me during class in breakout rooms.
62.1% I got help from mentors in study lounge or other times outside of class.

Finally, a small selection of unedited student remarks in response to a couple of open-ended questions:

  • The work I did throughout the summer overall reflects how I interpret things, and I sort of stumbled around with turning in all assignments because I had other responsibilities outside of CSA that I had to attend to (like work shifts). I could have been a lot more transparent on the other struggles I had outside of QR to make it clear that I’m not just not doing the work, but its more like I tried my best to complete the work on time. Towards attendance, I was in every class – I think I missed one class, but besides that one time my attendance was good. I wish I could have participated more but I was honestly just afraid of calling out the wrong answer.
  • My work was great I got mostly P’s throughout this session and even ended up with an E at the end. I had heard that this was a hard lesson but it was honestly pretty easy when I understood the topic. Over all I did great.
  • I feel as if I did the best I could given the circumstance of online learning. Compared to last summer, I definitely had to do a few more revisions but overall was still a straightforward and easy class. I attended all classes on time as well. I will admit to not showing my work on some works but the reason is that it’s hard to show math work on Notability with all the symbols. It would be far easier if it were on paper.
  • I feel like taking into consideration of all the things going on at the same time I was a lot more productive than last year and was able to get ahead of my schedule and expectations. I was able to encipher and decipher my final codes successfully and I felt really good about not having to revise it. I attended each class on time, and really did my best to take advantage of the work times integrated in each block. I think I did pretty good.
  • Compared to last year, I cared less about the grade and cared more about the learning process. I attended all classes and completed all my work without the thought of simply getting it done. I learned a whole lot more and the took the advise of doing quality work instead of simply finishing it for the grade. Overall, I feel like I was diligent and passionate about what I was learning. It was an improvement in my work ethic and character especially.
  • I really enjoyed the crypto unit, one thing i would ask is maybe make it less work but harder questions? if that makes sense.
  • Thank you for teaching me and my peers this summer. I know it must have been very difficult and different to do but I am very grateful for your time and continuous efforts. Have an amazing rest of your summer!
  • It was less stressful because there were no quizzes/tests, I felt like I didn’t have to remember a bunch of things just to spill it on a piece of paper. It was definitely better than regular school because I learned more from it, the content will stick with me for sure.

Finally, a link to an external article about improving student collaboration and cooperation in remote learning. Maybe this will help if we have to do this again next summer, which is looking increasingly likely.



Categories: Teaching & Learning, Technology