Flip-flops

But don’t let this image haunt you at all

Let’s assume that your teaching plans are intact for present and that you’ve not had to work through more changes just yet.

Let’s also assume that you’re the kind of person who can imagine having to change things around in the near future, because situations can change.

I’m certainly one of those people, which is fortunate for this blog, since otherwise I’d never have anything to write about.

So let’s just unpack how we might cope with a student body that’s moving between delivery modes; from in-class to online and (theoretically) the other way round.

The obvious cause of this is another Covid outbreak, locally or nationally, with institution-wide effects, but we shouldn’t ignore the smaller switches too, especially if our institution allows individuals move at will (grounded in changing circumstances/health).

Put more bluntly, we might find that some students chose to study online some weeks rather than come into class. It’d be like those weeks around assessment deadlines, when your classroom suddenly gets a lot less crowded, except students’ll nominally be continuing to do the same workload.

[I’m parking the ‘rightness’ of this to one side, because it’s pretty unproductive and because I still stick to the view that if your (my) classes aren’t engaging enough to get people to come, then that’s a problem of how you (I) make those classes work, more than it says anything about your (my) students.]

But back to the issue – students moving between modes, at will.

This is a real issue if your institution requires you to ensure the same learning opportunities for students, regardless of mode. And that issue comes because you aren’t going to have identical learning structures online and in-class (unless you’ve paid no attention at all to how online education works).

So for my negotiation course, I’m going to have activities for students each week, but those won’t be exactly the same for in-class and online groups, even though they’ll hit the same learning objectives. The empty room exercise just isn’t possible online, for example.

But how to deal with this? Three ideas spring to mind.

First, specify minimum chunks of time. By this, I mean simply that you should try to break up your course into smaller blocks, but then ask that students treat those blocks as single elements, to be undertaken in a single mode. Logically, those blocks would be one week long, enough time to run a set of classes and for online students to do asynchronous activities, but you might want to run things differently, accourding to your needs.

The key point is to try to contain the number of flip-flop points for students, so they can more reliably follow a track that allows them to get the full package of learning opportunities you want to offer for the course. It also makes each block more dependable in terms of knowing who’s doing what.

Which leads to the second point, keep track. Multiplying modes means multiplying the chances of losing students on the way, only for them to re-appear shortly before assessment deadlines with much bigger problems. So be clear about about who is doing what.

If you’ve a lot of group activity, then make this tracking available to the other students too, so they know who’s likely to be doing what: if nothing else, it also responsibilises the students. Running an open document is probably the simplest way to do this, although you need to think about what happens if students don’t do it.

Hence, the third idea is following up. I’m planning to get students to indicate on the sheet which mode they’ll be taking to start the semester with, but then only indicating if they’ve switched. However, I’ll also be keeping a register of participation and if I’m finding people have missed a block, or have switched modes, then I’ll be talking with them to find out what’s happening, so I’m up to speed and they’ll not missing any more than they have.

In essence, this is just a more robust version of the attendance monitoring we run in any case, with a lot more follow-up and discussion with students.

Will it work? I’ll let you know, hopefully when I’ve got a rfew weeks in and it’s all running smoothly.

However, you never can be sure…