On Thursday I hosted the first class meetings for CIS3750 and CIS4020. I was incredibly worried and anxious prior to class. Despite having spent the entire summer working to transition the courses to online formats, I had this nagging feeling that I forgot something, that the technology would fail, or that the students wouldn’t engage.
I’m not going to pretend the situation wasn’t weird. I wasn’t as smooth with my transitions within and between the different technologies that I was using (Zoom, Moodle, and Google Slides). And I feel that my script could have had more details and have been more organized that what it was. In one class, I also forgot to turn on captioning in Google Slides. Fortunately Microsoft Stream auto captions the recorded parts of my lecture, so all was not lost.
Regardless, I ended both classes feeling pretty good about the situation and excited about the new ways in which I can engage with the students. Online learning is very different than a face-to-face situation, but the opportunities it provides in terms of streamlining, improving, and innovating the course content and the tools I use is obvious. It also offers weird and wonderful situations that would almost never have happened in a face-to-face setting.
For example, during a short break in class where I stopped yammering on about the course content and logistics, but before I described my take on learning in a pandemic, one of the students opted to turn on their mic and video to play guitar for the class. Not being personally musically gifted in any way, this would have been something I would NEVER have been able to do in class – but what a fantastic surprise. It was unscripted, unplanned, and entirely amazing. So much so that in a survey that I sent to the students yesterday to get a better sense of their situations and how that might impact their learning, I also asked Do you play a musical instrument, and if so, would you be interested in playing with others (or solo) during class breaks? I have no idea what responses I’ll receive, but I’m already imagining a class band playing us into and out of lecture.
Later in class I introduced the very computer science topic of Babies, Pets, and Other Cute Things. In a nutshell, I wanted to let students know that if they are responsible for any creature – be it children, siblings, adults, or pets – that they never have to apologize for any disruptions they might cause. And in fact, if any child, sibling, or adult happened to be in the room and following along and had a question – that it was perfectly fine for them to ask it.
And as if planned all along, my cat Elliott jumped onto my computer – blocking my view of my monitor – at exactly the moment I was discussing this. Since I had slides on the screen I don’t think anyone actually saw this happen, but I chuckled to myself and couldn’t help but share the situation with the students. I probably even apologized – even though the point of the conversation was not to. Whatever the case, our group chat was suddenly filled with several requests to meet Elliott – and, based on the comment of one student, provide him with a new title.
So with that in mind – please say hello to Professor Elliott. His expertise includes people climbing, pie hunting, statistics, snoozling, and chasing – but never catching – lasers.
All told, neither of my classes on Thursday were perfect. But they were better than expected, and more than good enough to start off a new semester at one of the weirdest times in probably any of our lives. Based on the interaction with the students, and the surprises that came with each class, I am looking forward to what the next 12 weeks might bring.
Happy Fall 2020 semester everyone. May it be good enough.