My First Week Teaching Online During the COVID-19 Shutdown

By Guy Kellogg

For what it’s worth, here is a description of the past week, during which nearly all in-person courses were moved online in response to COVID-19. I wrote it to Sam, the volunteer campus gardener.

In your email, Sam, you asked: “How do you conduct your online instruction?”

I would rephrase the question and ask, “How do you conduct your instruction online?”

It’s a big challenge, but I have good students. I’ve taught online before, but since none of my current students signed up for an online class, I took spring break to up my skills, thanks to the indefatigable support of professional staff and volunteer peers, and I now offer a distance education class.

The best [Zoom] view to start with is like the old Hollywood Squares TV quiz show, but with 5×4 (20) students. -GK

Here’s how it works: We use a videoconferencing app (Zoom) to all meet. The best view to start with is like the old Hollywood Squares TV quiz show, but with 5×4 (20) students. We are all in our little boxes or windows, and we can all “see” each other and talk to each other that way. The students are now on two continents, but we all meet twice a week, and I have two classes like that. 

Example of a Zoom class meeting online.

After we say hi and I take attendance, I can share my screen with the class. A small video square remains, off to the side, and to see each participant, you’d have to swipe through, like photos on a phone. The screen I share can be any document. I use an equivalent to PowerPoint, and as I lecture, the students can listen and are welcomed to ask questions. Students can turn off their video or mics and still be present and active. There is also a chat window, so students can quietly type questions as I lecture, and I will see the questions.

I try to keep the lectures brief, and I plan this in the presentation slides. After about 10 minutes or so, I stop sharing the screen, and we see each other again like the Hollywood Squares. At that point, I explain that each group has a task to accomplish, and I give them 15 minutes to complete it. The task relates to their reading materials and involves discussion. The outcomes I am going for are comprehension and idea-generation. With a few clicks, the software ushers them off to their groups, and they find themselves in a video-conference, but only with two or three other students. I can drop in to check on each group, but what I did today was issue a broadcast message to all groups asking for one group member to come back to the main “room” if there was a need to ask any questions. That worked, from a software standpoint, seamlessly well.

With another click, I can bring them all back to the main room where we debrief on their task work, and I lecture on the next topic. This week, they are analyzing a TED talk and reading an allegory, both related to the general idea of “being successful” and considering the factors that affect success, and next week they get the essay assignment related to the content, so understanding the content this week is important for them.

In addition, we have an LMS or learning management system, branded Laulima, with which everyone is quite familiar. I have used it throughout the semester to archive all materials (including their “textbook”), to issue announcements, and to provide various asynchronous communication tools. I’ll stop here. You probably get the idea!

Online classes are text-intensive, and success depends on an individual’s ability to self-motivate, manage time, and read, read, read.

An online class is designed differently, typically with more asynchronous content delivery, in some cases including recorded video lectures and, more often(?), text- and image-based content to read. Online classes are text-intensive, and success depends on an individual’s ability to self-motivate, manage time, and read, read, read. It’s not for everyone, and, in my opinion, quite challenging in a second language.

A distance class, such as the one I am trying to provide, is also not without challenges, the first of which is access — students need the right equipment, and we all need to know how to troubleshoot on the fly. My hardware is old. I’m typing this on an eleven-year-old MacBook Pro, and I have a cheaper PC laptop, about half a dozen years old, running Linux. The audio will sometimes go silent when switching between rooms, but I learned the solution is to quickly go in and out of the room again. A student earlier in the week could not get her laptop mic to work, so I had her call me on the phone. I kept my phone on the desk, allowing her to have a personal audio feed. I sent her to the library to get a loaner laptop, and today, in class, everything worked fine.

The Kuhio Holiday and the exodus of international students to Japan and Korea this week have cost me some valuable rapport and tech-skill building time with my Tuesday/Thursday class. The Monday/Wednesday class section is solid, with 100 percent attendance, which is consistent with the whole semester. Nineteen students total, and they were all there, on time, for both of our video-conferenced classes this week. The other class section is not as solid. Only about half made it on Tuesday, and I fear that this may have an effect that drags into next week. Alas, I am prepared to adjust the balance between synchronous and asynchronous modes of instruction, as per the evolving needs and changes of each class.

It’s as fun and tiring and as much of a pain and joy as it sounds.

2 Responses

  1. Guy: Nice to hear about your journey. I”m pleased to hear you working to address on equity issue — access. You didn’t mention, and I expect you haven’t yet addressed making your course content fully accessible (aka ADA Section 504 compliant). I hope that will be added to your plans as you continue to explore this new world.

  2. Guy, mahalo for this professor-eye view of your return to online teaching during this COVID-19 pandemic and campus shutdown. Your many years of experience with computers, the web, and online teaching, I’m sure, has made the transition easier for you. When you have some time, please consider sharing an article on using the Linux operating system with us. Could instructors and students rely solely on Linux for an online course? -Jimmy

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