Saturday, March 14, 2020

An Old Dog Learning New Tricks- My Transition to On Line Teaching.

I am a 73 year old professor of African American studies and History at Fordham University who has been teaching for 49 years, and whose main lecture course, From Rock and Roll to Hip Hop was written up as one of the most popular college courses in New York City. The transition to on line learning has been difficult and exhausting. I think it was successful, but to do it in a way that captured the atmosphere in my classes, I have to work three times as hard as I normally do. The reason for the difficulty is that is difficult to replace my extremely "hands on" teaching methods. Not only do I play music videos in my classes, I dance with my students, have regular guest speakers, and periodically bring in pizza, wings and other tasty food items. Although my classes require students to do a lot of reading and write long take home exams and term papers, students perceive them as an adventure with an eccentric professor where you never know what is going to happen. How do you duplicate THAT on line?
Capturing the energy and spontaneity of my class experience, for me, was as important as making sure the content was there. In terms of content, I made sure they understood the material I was trying to get across by writing up formal lectures for each class session which I would send them by email a day before the class session, illustrated by four or five music videos. Then I would hold a formal class session on ZOOM, which it took me a few days to master, where students could comment, reflect and see one another's faces. But to lighten up the atmosphere in the class and create a sense of community, I also decided to send them short 12-30 second videos of me rapping and dancing in unlikely places, from the Fordham College Dean's Office, to a local beach, to a chair at my hair cutters! My students, many of whom were traumatized by the experience of suddenly leaving the residence halls and moving back in with their families, loved seeing me make a fool of myself that way. I encouraged them to make videos of their own as well as comment on my class lectures. I also created a contest for my students where they chose their favorite hip hop songs of all time and send the list of winners to my class via email.
The result of the combination of presenting course content through formal lectures, having a contest and sending them short videos is by the time we actually had the class meet on ZOOM, my students were excited and ready for an enjoyable experience. We had everyone come on line visually as well as orally which turned out to be hilarious because several students had pets on their laps- one dog, one cat, and one cockatoo. We had a great discussion both about the class material, and about the crisis we were all living through, and had more than a few laughs.
I actually felt great after the class session because there was so much positive energy in the group. But a lot of work went into this- writing lectures and posting videos, assigning them relevant course readings and films to view, staying in email contact with students individually, making short comic videos and learning ZOOM. This is MUCH harder to do than live classroom instruction if you want to capture the energy of the way I normally teach
Dr Mark "Notorious Phd" Naison

1 comment:

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