This week is the last time I’m likely to be in a classroom with students until next autumn.
We’re now working on the nationwide return of students back for the Christmas break, with mass-testing for Covid, followed by next week’s classes being all online. And I’m not down to teach next semester in any case, bar some supervision of assorted dissertations and theses.
All of which makes me a bit sad.
As much as it’s been very hard to make teaching under social-distancing (and with masks) work, there is still something much more immediate and engaged about being in the same room, being able to work together with a flexibility that eludes us so often online.
Which makes this a good point to consider how we can make the most of those occasions, as we have them.
Central in this, for me, is recognising that the classroom is only one part of the educational experience that we offer and that students encounter (and those two aren’t quite the same). Put differently, we can’t treat the class as the be-all and end-all.
That implies that we should be concentrating on using class time as a moment for doing things we can’t do better (or at all) elsewhere, rather than becoming the place where it all needs to come together.
A case in point is background reading.
Talking at an event last week, my fellow panellist Heidi Maurer recalled working in an institution where each class required students to read a list of articles that ran to four pages*. Not only is that an unreasonable load, it’s also an unhelpful one in that it obscures the core for what a session might concentrate upon. But it’s typical of a pedagogic worldview that treats the class as the prism through which all things must pass.
Which echoes the view of my other panellist Alexandra Mihai (whose blog you should certainly be reading) that learning happens in lots of places and not always in your presence.
Seen like this, we should be centring in on the value-added that a class can bring, and stripping out the elements that can be done elsewhere.
Most obviously, that means moving transmission out of class, be that through pre-recording lectures or creating structured repositories of materials.
Secondly, it means putting students front and centre in the class, with activities that draw them into utilising their knowledge and skills to engage with you and with each other.
And finally, it means making the most of the chance to build a community of learning, in which everyone helps everyone else to make sense of things.
There’s a good reason that the time you learn your students’ names is in class: it’s the time when you get to engage more fully with them, and they with you.
But also remember all the other points of contact you have with them and think about that can allow a more rounded and considered learning experience.
* A kind reader emails to check on this and I see I’ve not expressed this very well: imagine being given a bibliography that is four pages read and being told to read every source on that list. That, rather than “read these four pages”.