Keep Walking

Last week was hard. It was particularly hard for those members of our community who have faced racism and discrimination in their own lives, but it was also a hard week for our community as a whole. Many of us found ourselves wondering what to say to our students in class and how to respond to the complex mix of emotions they were experiencing while also managing our own. As the VC has said, we have a lot of work to do. At the same time, we know that many of us are feeling tired, and have been feeling that way for quite some time. As we begin a new week, we offer a few resources that we hope will help you—in the words of psychologist Mays Imad—to “keep walking”. We’ve taken some of the links we shared for our CfT “un-sessions” last week and added a few extras that people kindly sent us. If you have your own favorite resource for avoiding burnout or cultivating mental and physical wellness more generally, just let us know and we’ll add it to the document. A few highlights:

The whole list—including readings, podcasts, music, and more—is available here. If you need someone to talk to and would like to get a referral to a mental health specialist, Ashley Liston-Avnaim (CAPS Director) can help with that: just shoot her an email

Executing Plan B

“Did you try turning it off and turning it back on again?” We’ve probably all been given this advice at some point, but do you actually know how to turn off and turn on all of the technology you use in the classroom? (It might be more complicated than you think.) In a recent CfT session, Adam Hawkins took us through some of the most frequently encountered tech issues in the classroom and the best ways to deal with them (as well as avoid them happening in the first place). We also discussed creative fixes for what to do when all else fails, and swapped our best ideas and war stories. As one of our attendees commented, this was “a very useful session”!

Weren’t able to attend the session? Don’t worry! You can watch the recording here and see Adam’s slides here.

Thank you to everyone who attended, and especially to Adam for doing a wonderful job of leading the discussion. We’re also very grateful to the whole faculty technology team for getting us through our crises and helping our classes run smoothly on a daily basis!

-Mark Hopwood, Philosophy

What are office hours for?

We all hold office hours, but what exactly are they for? Should students be incentivized or even required to attend? How can we make office hours accessible to all students? How long are office hours actually supposed to last? Should we even be calling them “office hours” at all? We had an excellent discussion of all kinds of questions relating to office hours at our CfT session on Thursday 2/11, but don’t worry if you couldn’t make it – you can see a recording here and read a very useful background piece on office hours from the Chronicle here.

A few comments on the sessions from our attendees:

“It was extremely helpful to me to hear from colleagues about what they do to promote, and how they relate to students during, office/student hours.”

“I will likely change the way I ask students to contact me about office hours.”

“It was really neat to hear what other people are doing and to just interact with my colleagues.”

Thank you to everyone who attended, and especially to the faculty we invited to share their wisdom and experience: Kati Curts, Evan Joslin, Matt Irvin, and Emily Puckette. 

Mark Hopwood, Philosophy

What can we learn from students’ experiences with technology in the fall?

Using technology in the classroom can be challenging for faculty, but it also poses challenges for students. At the end of last semester, the technology team surveyed students to get their perspective on what was working well and… not so well. Although the tech team—including Adam Hawkins, Vicki Sells, and the amazing FTCs—are working constantly to improve the experience for students, the survey brought out a few things that faculty can do to help too:

  1. Make sure students have easy access to Zoom links

A number of students reported Zoom links being difficult to access. As one put it: “Keeping track of Zoom links was difficult. Some professors emailed them, some only linked to them through Brightspace, and some only provided them on the paper printed syllabus.” Keeping Zoom links consistent and easily accessible is one simple thing that faculty can do to help students navigate their classes and make sure they show up in the right place at the right time. 

Need some help getting your Zoom links organized? The recommended method for creating and sharing Zoom links for classes is outlined here:

https://new.sewanee.edu/technology/remote-teaching/zoom/create-your-zoom-room/

  1. Make sure students know where to find readings and other materials on Brightspace

A number of students articulated frustrations at not being able to find class materials on Brightspace. One student commented that difficulties in finding materials made it “quite a challenge to stay on task with everything due”. While most faculty are likely to set up all of their Brightspace pages in a similar way, students are likely to be dealing with four (or more) different approaches at the same time, making it easy for them to get confused. Although it’s easy to assume that students will know where materials and assignments are to be found, clear communication about exactly how you’re using Brightspace and where students ought to be looking to find their materials is likely to be much appreciated.

Not sure how to organize your Brightspace page? Here (with a hat-tip to Adam Hawkins) are two of the most common strategies for course organization:

Thematic:

Chronological:

Still have questions about how to make the most out of Brightspace? Our Faculty Technology Coordinators can help! Make an individual appointment with your relevant FTC here:

https://new.sewanee.edu/technology/remote-teaching/faculty-support-appointments/

3. Communicate clearly about how students will receive their grades

Students in the survey noted that while some professors posted all grades on Brightspace, others did not use the grade book feature at all. Since the grade book on Brightspace is likely to work better for some styles of assessment than others, there is no one-size-fits-all solution here, but the key—as always!—is clear communication. Students who are now able to check their grades on Brightspace for some classes may expect to be able to do so for other ones too, and may feel anxious or confused if they don’t see any grades posted. Communicating clearly about exactly when and how students should expect to receive grades in your class (whether on Brightspace or by other means) may help to relieve some of this anxiety and allow students to concentrate their mental energy on learning instead.

Although the semester is already up and running, it’s not too late to get help with Zoom, Brightspace, or anything else you need to make your classes work better. Check out our faculty technology resources page for a wealth of information and tutorials, or make an individual appointment with one of our awesome faculty technology team. 

How should we grade? Why do we grade? And how can we get more out of Zoom breakout groups?

With the late start to the semester, we took the opportunity to hold a couple of pre-semester workshops for faculty to swap notes, exchange ideas, and help each other with last-minute tweaks before the start of classes. Both discussions were well-attended and very productive, but don’t worry if you couldn’t make it – recordings are available at the links below:

Online Discussions and Breakout Groups

Grading and Assessment

During the breakout and discussion session, we shared a couple of helpful resources on How to Make Breakout Rooms Work Better (by Beth McMurtrie) and How to Hold a Better Class Discussion (by Jay Howard). Both are highly recommended! If you have technical questions about how to use the gradebook on Brightspace, breakout rooms on Zoom, or anything else, it’s still not too late to make an appointment with one of our awesome faculty support staff.

A few comments on the sessions from our attendees:

“I heard a lot of great ideas and think I may be able to implement some of them.”

“Very helpful to hear other philosophies on grading.”

“[These ideas] will be part of my zoom class this coming semester.”

Thank you to everyone who attended, and especially to the faculty we invited to share their wisdom and experience: Stephanie Batkie, Anne Duffee, Lauryl Tucker, Richard O’Connor, John Coffey, and John Willis.