Well, here we are, as they say.
In my mind, English classes often operate on a kind of flipped model: read the assigned text or complete the assigned writing outside of class; in class we discuss. When I have taught online courses, I typically make “mini-lesson” videos that go over assignments, strategies, background to texts, etc. that students can view at their leisure and respond to online. My main goals as an English professor are to get students to think about the texts we read and the writing they do in a new light, to acknowledge that they are seeing things differently, and to connect with each other through reading and writing. I typically achieve all three of these goals in in-person classes. I struggle with the third one in online courses, and I’m not sure what to expect with the hybrid/hyflex model I’m trying this semester.
In preparation for this week’s classes, I did hours of painstaking behind-the-scenes work linking documents and apps together, creating email groups for cohorts, google forms for surveys, padlets for discussion, folders for course materials, and pages in Canvas that link them all together in one place. It’s the sort of work that is hard to notice from the user’s end—unless it doesn’t work. Then it becomes really obvious. I also drafted procedures for what to do if Zoom breaks down and how to run class if I become unable to attend. I sent calendar invites for the rest of the semester with both the physical and virtual locations for class included.
I taught my first hybrid course on Tuesday, and it was a fiasco. Not a disaster, because we did cover most of what I had planned, but a fiasco because I arrived in my classroom to discover that the classroom computer had no webcam! No worries, I had my laptop! By I didn’t have an adapter for my thunderbolt 2 port to the VGA. No big deal! I joined the Zoom room from both my laptop and classroom computers – one for projecting and one for audio and visual communication with the virtual attendees. I had students projected behind me, in person in front of me, and computers to my right and left streaming the in-person class to online students and projecting the online students to my in-person class.
I spent the whole hour and twenty-five minutes awkwardly dancing between them. At one point, I moved the computers close to each other and spent two minutes trying to copy and paste a link using the keyboard for the wrong computer. Ridiculous. At another point, my laptop died, and I had to fish out my power cable and restart the computer. When I did, the virtual students lost sound, and I didn’t notice it in the chat until 10 minutes later. Also, 3 students joined the Tuesday class virtually when they were meant to join on Thursday.
It was pretty stressful.
But in the end, we got through it. I ordered an adapter and bluetooth headphones with a mic. I’ll probably get a laptop stand. I knew what to expect for Thursday, and the class went more smoothly—just awkward pauses while I moved people in and out of virtual breakout rooms.
I’m interested in how these challenges are pushing me to clarify what I care about in the classroom and challenging me to facilitate community building in new ways. I’ve made a lot of pedagogical decisions in response to the pandemic that I’m not sure will have the intended effect, but I’m interested to see. I’ll keep you posted!