Why This Topic?
Have you ever heard of Kintsugi? This is a Japanese art, where they fix broken or cracked pottery using gold – they do not recreate the piece back to its original form, but it involves “embracing flaws and imperfections, [to] create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art.” This can be such a good metaphor for higher education right now: the pandemic situation caused some cracks in our education systems, and in the process of putting it back together, perhaps rather than trying to recreate it as it used to be, we should be looking at how to embrace what we learned from the journey and take it forward to create something new more beautiful, and stronger. What we share below are insights from diverse AUC faculty members on promising practices from pandemic teaching they plan to take forward beyond the pandemic. We asked some AUC faculty “What’s Here to Stay?” building on their pandemic experiences into the post-pandemic period.
Ahmed Tolba (MGMT)
In March 2020, once we moved our classes online, there was a sense of “panic” among faculty members, who were not comfortable with the new set-up. We rushed to the CLT workshops to learn new tools. Eighteen months later, the same faculty members are back to campus, and interestingly, many of them are not too comfortable! While wearing masks in classes and the pandemic uncertainties are serious challenges, there is no doubt that several faculty members became comfortable with online instruction, or they at least miss some of the amazing features they had learned and applied.
I personally had a great experience teaching online, though I really missed seeing my students, their reactions and their energy. I am happy to be back to campus, but I hope to utilize the great online tools that helped improve the educational experience further.
There are three takeaways that I realized during the past 18 months:
First, there is no need to hold group meetings on campus. Apart from social distancing constraints, it has always been difficult to have all students working on a project attend a group meeting during office hours. For me, students learn outside the classroom as much as (if not more than) in class. Project discussions allow me to help them think, reflect and apply. Prior to the pandemic, I used to meet with 1-2 representatives of the group, which deprived the rest from interacting with me (which is the key objective of such meetings). Now, I definitely plan to hold such meetings on Zoom at flexible times to allow all team members to attend. They can open their cameras, share their screens; and more importantly, I get to know them all better.
The second takeaway is related to students’ emotional well-being. There is no doubt that students suffered online. They missed the campus experience. It is really amazing to have a lively campus. Having realized this over the past 3 semesters, I had to spend some time asking students about their feelings, their comfort with the material and the flow of the course, etc. This made me realize how critical it is for faculty members to reassure students that they are on the right track and focus their attention on learning rather than panicking. Now, I plan to continue doing that on campus. Students need to be comfortable in class. They need to be emotionally happy and excited to learn and enjoy the sessions. They need to feel that they are on the right track and I am there to support them. They want to make-up for the time they spent at home, and at the same time, they have doubts on what will happen next. They are happy to mingle with their friends, but they are worried about the health and safety of their families.
The third takeaway is related to students’ learning. I realized that some class sessions could be pre-recorded, and students could listen to them at home. Class time is very valuable, and I should use it for interactive sessions, case studies, applications, and exercises. Students’ attention span is limited and we as faculty need to keep them engaged for as much time as possible. This does not happen by forcing discipline in class (which is important but not enough). We need to push ourselves to maximize engagement and genuine interest from their side. I definitely plan to do that; partially this semester; and more in future semesters.
While the pandemic is full of uncertainties and exposed us to various challenges, I personally think it gave us the chance to think, reflect, find new opportunities, and make positive changes in our teaching methods and approaches. Let’s embrace the change for a better future!
Nadine El Sayed (JRMC)
On our first day back on campus, I asked my students across three sections what they would like to retain from the online learning experience. It took probing, and various ‘absolutely nothing’ responses before they all nodded enthusiastically agreeing on one aspect of their previous Zoom life they are going to miss: pre-recorded lectures.
I underestimated the power of the recorded lecture; but for many students, it allowed them the luxury of learning at their own pace. The lectures were there, short and sweet, and they could rewind, review or skip as needed. I would also give students 15 minutes of class time to watch the videos to ensure they watched and digested them before the live Zoom discussions. The pre-recorded lectures evolved and improved throughout the 18 months of Zoom learning, in terms of length, content and means of ensuring students’ engagement — and it has not gone unnoticed by the students. Incorporating the pre-recorded video in a face-to-face lecture is still a question I am struggling with, but perhaps one that we should be contemplating.
On my end, one aspect of online learning that I would like to retain is the meticulous, and diversified method we employed to evaluate students’ participation. I always struggled with grading participation objectively while allowing room for the more reserved students to participate. The pre-recorded sessions had several quizzes embedded throughout the videos, which allowed me to assess whether they watched and paid attention. There were also live polls throughout the Zoom sessions, as well as questions they could answer orally or through the chat box on Zoom. They could also participate through our Slack chats. These tools allowed students to chip in on class discussions using the platforms they are most comfortable with. The names portrayed prominently on the screens also meant we can easily note down who participated in each session.
Sophie Haspeslagh (POLS)
The pandemic and the shift to online teaching and learning has prompted us to rethink our pedagogy. How do we teach? For whom? How? How do students learn? How can I make sure to engage with my students? For me, the main thing I want to keep from this experience is the challenge of constantly revisiting and improving our pedagogy as teachers. To continue reassessing what works and does not and for whom.
I also discovered new tools to ensure all the voices in my class were heard like google docs or writing in the chat on zoom. I found that while sometimes the online mode was daunting for some students it also enabled others who are maybe more comfortable in the written form to participate in class. I am trying to think through how to hold onto that in the physical classroom. I am also making more use of online content such as podcasts, videos or online simulations that can easily be incorporated into our classrooms.
But most importantly pandemic/online teaching made us more cognisant of each other as human beings. Our lives, our health and vulnerabilities. Checking in on my students, focusing on them as humans and remaining flexible are essential to both teaching and learning.
Ezzeldin Yazeed Sayed-Ahmed (CENG)
In March 2020, one Thursday, we had a storm that ended up with a lockdown and pivoting to fully remote instruction to our students. I had no problem since most, if not all, of my materials were already digitized and uploaded to our LMS in the form of short Panopto videos, slides, notes, e-assignments, etc. I thought it was a dream come true: I always thought/claimed that we can easily and effectively do our teaching and learning “100%” online; I had previous experience(s) with flipped classes, blended learning, etc. My mindset was that the current campus “format” will soon come to an end given the available technology. Well, a few weeks of doing remote instruction with online teaching/learning, and the outcomes will be marvelous. At least those were my thoughts. However, despite all my preparations and efforts, I came to believe that what I thought as a fact was nothing but a mirage. I cannot deny that many of the technologies I have used, particularly the Zoom sessions, were beneficial, but only as an addition to our TRADITIONAL F2F teaching and learning. Now, I can say that we may significantly improve our standard F2F traditional paradigm with what we have learned during the remote instructions era, but surely we cannot replace it. My experience with both starting-level or advanced design level engineering courses simply say that we can successfully use the following to enhance our teaching and learning styles:
- Additional online Zoom session with students which can easily replace our common office hours
- Flipped classes proved to be the best way of teaching. Short videos (among other materials) were made available to the students prior to class/online meeting. This was even done before the lockdown and can continue to be one of the best ways of enhancing our F2F teaching/learning.
- Exams proved to be an ineffective way of assessment; currently, I have very successful rigorous courses with no exams whatsoever.
- E-submission of all the course activities proved to be a very efficient and effective way of providing students with feedback and enhancing their learning experience.
- Recently, I have also tried the dual delivery modality which, I strongly believe, will solve many problems in many circumstances during the F2F. One typical situation is when a student for any reason cannot come to class physically for a certain period.
Hanan Kholoussy (HIST)
The biggest takeaway for me from online learning is the digital technologies I learned and incorporated into the classroom. As a history professor who facilitates student-centered, discussion based classes, I didn’t see the need for many multimedia tools prior to the pandemic. Online teaching mandated these tools which terrified me at first because learning digital technologies was like learning a whole new language for me. Through a process of trial and error, I learned what worked and what didn’t over the two and a half semesters we spent online. What I learned most is that this generation of students learns better from multimedia resources whether we are online or not. In particular, I found social media is the best way to connect with students since that is where they spend most of their time. It is also a powerful way to share knowledge with them since that is where they get most of their information. I found Instagram, in particular, to be much more effective for communicating with students. Many don’t have Facebook or Twitter and don’t check email and WhatsApp regularly, but because they live on Instagram they will engage instantly. As a result, I created an account where I feature their assignments on @honeywellness. Incorporating multimedia into my teaching and encouraging my students to use it in their assignments is something I am definitely bringing with me into my face-to-face classes.
Juleen Keevy (RHET)
When we went online with students, I employed a variety of online methods to ensure every student was listening, learning, and engaging with each other. Now that we are back on campus, I find myself missing that constant “finger on the pulse” of every student that I had last year. How do I know Mariam in the back row, staring blankly at me, isn’t busy mourning Egypt’s futsal loss to Russia? Or that Ahmed, staring intently at his laptop, isn’t perusing his friends’ latest TikTok posts?
Accordingly, while I intend to celebrate the affordances of a face-to-face classroom, I have also decided to continue using online platforms to ensure an inclusive experience for my students. I use the following two often:
Collaborative Reading/Text-based Discussions
WHAT: Google Docs
WHEN: I use this both for in-class and homework activities.
WHY: Ensures everyone understands a complex text and/or everyone has the opportunity to share thoughts/questions/connections about the text.
HOW: Paste the text into a Google Doc. Give everyone at AUC commenting privileges. Share the link with your students. Option: Add a color key to the document e.g. examples of fact, opinion , faulty logic, sensory imagery, summary/paraphrase, etc.
EXAMPLE: “Participatory Culture”
WHAT: Loom is a screencast app that allows the audience to interact after the recording.
WHEN: Anytime I want to know what my students think or to run a formative assessment. (It is also great for explaining a complex task or concept to students.)
WHY: Ensures everyone has a voice (and is paying attention!). It allows students who struggle with writing to share what they know.
HOW: Provide your student with a prompt or question and give them 3 minutes or more to go somewhere and record a Loom. Have students post the links on a shared GDoc. When students return to class, they can listen and respond to other classmates. (I also assign such recordings as homework. Students can incorporate anything from their screen, edit, etc)
EXAMPLES: (1) Teacher explanation Student assignment (They were given 15 minutes to record and share their understanding of the texts from the homework. This student has given permission to share her recording with faculty.)
Watch the Faculty Idea Exchange
Besides this article, we also invited some faculty to a live discussion on “What’s Here to Stay” on September 27th. The session was moderated by Maha Bali (CLT) and included the following panelists: Juleen Keevy (RHET), Hanan Kholoussy (HIST), Ahmed Tolba (MGMT), Maya Nicolas (SSE), and Fady Morcos (Asst. Provost ILE). You can watch the recording below:
Featured image by JuDPjuctors from Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/JuDPjcutors