Connect! Students | Colleagues | Learners All!

This is a letter to my colleagues who endured the digital “retreat” that the English Department  sponsored for us yesterday less than a week from our glorious and painfully stupid hybrid reopening. We were asked to consider how we might make diversity, inclusivity, and equity (DIE or is it DEI…Hmmmm, death or God) central to our semester’s work. This is what I wrote.

In our breakout session yesterday (8/20/2020) we talked about how we can make diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) part of what we do in the classroom this fall. I don’t know if we are being asked to make it central to what we do. That seems a deep ask and frankly I won’t be doing that. I will, however, do something. Whether that become central or totally peripheral and temporary, well, that depends on the students. Everything does. How’s that for being inclusive?

I suggested something at the end of the thirty minutes (Seriously, 30 freaking minutes?) that I wanted to follow up, but my ram had escaped and was rampaging through my flower beds. Priorities, folks (no, I won’t spell that with an “x”.) Here are the three parts:

1. How do you connect with students? This falls under the category of what we the teachers do. My idea is that I share with you something I am doing to connect. I sure as hell don’t want this to be a virtue signalling extravaganze. In fact, I would prefer to hail failures more than anything else. I am hoping that observing our practices (both successful or failing in part or wholly)or recounting the practices of others will give us grist for our own mills.

For example, I use Google Forms to survey students. Here is a link to the spreadsheet that gathers answers to the questions. (Sorry, private info, can’t share this.)

I am trying to connect with students. DEI connection? Effed if I know. I just want to peek into the black boxes that are the minds and motives of my 54 learners in E100E/105. Categorize at will, but that is a waste of time at the moment. Just realize I am thinking out loud here so this will likely suck quite epically. As a teacher my job is to understand as best I can from the best questions I can muster at the moment. So please be kind.

Here is a screencast with some observations ad libitem: (Sorry, I can’t show this personal survey info.)

2. How do students connect with you? What I am talking about here are “channels”. When they do the scary thing, contacting the teacherperson, how do they do it? Do they use the channels that you provide? The survey above was a channel. If I had not used that channel, would they ever get in touch with me about Blackboard navigation, remind, Calend.ly virtual office hours and a class hashtag? A few would. Many won’t. DEI doesn’t really help me all that much here, but empathy and imagination do. What I mean is that I have to go further and ask them why they haven’t filled out the survey or why they haven’t explored Bb or how they might prefer to communicate. I think we have to teach them our expectations, but that we need to adapt to theirs as well within the bounds of reason. And contrary to popular belief, my students have almost always been remarkably reasonable.

3. How do I show students how to connect? I ask for their feedback and then follow up. I create redundant channels for both one-way and two-way contact. What I don’t do very well is that group contact? Do they do that on their own? That part of their lives is dark to me. I would like to find out more here. I do provide them platforms: Twitter hashtag (#e100ewku), Bb discussion boards, Zoom breakout rooms, social annotations tools like Hypothes.is, video annotation tools like Vialogues…{crickets}. That’s about it. This is where I need help. Remember. I teach online only. (Note: you will quite likely and quite soon be teaching online only at a university near you. )

To sum up, here are the three guiding questions that will help me center my teaching practice this semester:

1. How do I connect with students?
2.How do students connect with me?
3. How do I show students how to connect?

And a fourth implied question

4. What am I going to do about it?

The survey example above is one of several I will share. We need a place to gather these informal stories. A safe place where admins are not privy to the real workings of a classroom. You know what they say about sausage and legislation–best not to watch how they are made. Any ideas on how to share, hopefully not on a university platform.

Maybe this could be a place to vet (or since we are in BG, vette) connections. Hailing failing is encouraged. In my experience failures are rarely complete fiascos. There is often of core of something worth improving upon.

BTW, if you haven’t listened to This American Life’s episode titled “Fiasco” I am jealous. Here it is. It just might brighten your teaching day. Hell, connect with students by sharing it with them.  Ahhhh, see what I did there? I showed another way I connect with students.  I am just a valor signaller at heart. Sorry.

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