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First Semester Wisdom December 10, 2020

Posted by Mia Moody-Ramirez in : Uncategorized , trackback

By Professor Matthew Brammer

Any good professor will tell you … your first year is rough. And those professors probably didn’t start their first years during a global pandemic. I learned several lessons in my online teaching adventure this fall, the most important being to stay real with students and keep the personal touch.

Not even 20-20 vision could have prepared me for the year 2020. On Friday, March 13, I was furloughed (read: stopped making any income at all) from my previous position as a coach and trainer in the automotive industry. I was emotionally conflicted, yet, in the midst of my human emotions, Father God had a plan for my success and a new chapter. Friday, March 13 was also the date on the email from Baylor President Dr. Livingstone offering me a position as a full-time lecturer in the Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media. God’s plans are perfect – in perfect time – and exactly what we need.

The university determined that I would be teaching all my classes online from my home in Phoenix, Ariz., so along with preparing a course, writing a syllabus and gathering my sources, I also had to create Canvas modules to support remote learning. I took my master’s degree classes online, so I was aware of what a good experience looked like for a student. I was not, however, prepared for the back side. The professor’s side. Creating assignments, discussions, quizzes and exams. And, then grading them.

One of the best things about Baylor is the opportunity for connections with students, and despite the distance and technological interface, it is still possible to build those relationships. I made sure to start class by connecting with every student, by name. I asked questions about their weekends, their events, their families. It became real and not just a lecture or video to watch.

Even though my sections were officially asynchronous, I made sure to schedule regular times for Zoom classes and lectures so students could feel they were a part of something and not alone. The meetings were recorded and published for those who could not make the session.

I also focused on being available. I’ve heard through the grapevine that some professors don’t offer their cell numbers, but I went against that grain. I was sure to set priorities in the syllabus and reinforce that calling was a last resort after emailing, one-on-one zoom meetings and texting. In fact, I only received calls from three students the entire semester, but I think that knowing I was available gave them security.

I offered and encouraged the Zoom meetings – in office hours as well as by appointment. Sometimes, the appointments were later in the evening, but, that’s when they had the questions, and I worked to make time.  I had one student taking classes remotely from Wuhan, China, so we arranged meetings at 9 p.m. my time in order to accommodate her schedule.

It might sound silly, but I also added smiley-faces and positive comments to the papers I graded. Positive psychology studies suggest the benefits from focusing on what went right and leveraging that is much more effective than only marking errors.

I also invested in an iPad and Apple pencil in order to grade the papers. With almost four course sections and 80 students, the workload can be too much when you have to print things out, grade and edit, scan and then submit them to the students, one-by-one. Canvas Teacher made it a breeze with the tablet, and my turnaround for grading assignments and providing feedback to build on reduced from days to hours.

I also have to mention the safety net of my department. Every professor and administrator was available to answer my questions and coach me on things I did not understand. Teaching is a passion, a calling, and each of my peers is gifted in ways I am looking forward to exploring. Being 2,000 miles away was challenging because there was no “coffee talk,” but we did have meetings every two weeks to stay connected and up to date on the department and university.

One other thing I did, at the end of the class was to end with a “Sic ’em Bears.” I think it reminded them that even if they aren’t learning in quite the same way this year … they’re still Baylor students, a part of something special, and that they can accomplish anything.



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