When I began teaching Latin American and Latinx Studies at Hostos in Spring 2020, I considered myself a seasoned teacher. After having taught at both public and private universities for several years, I thought I knew how to share my enthusiasm and passion for my area of expertise. However, during my first months at Hostos and then during the COVID pandemic, I was exposed to an incredibly diverse student body and had to my teaching strategies and strengths. I did realize that in order to engage Hostos students with complex class topics in an online environment, it is necessary to provide them with an array of pedagogic resources that accommodate different learning styles. Here, I will reflect on two pedagogic tools I use in my online classes: handwritten outlines and dynamic visual frames.
Before teaching at Hostos, I used the board to write down some keywords and dates, while my presentations and class activities were structured through PowerPoint or Prezi slides. However, as Hostos students tend to bring their lived experiences to class discussions and develop rich, unexpected connections of ideas, I needed to record their thoughts on the space of the whole board and organize them in extemporized conceptual maps that I captured with my phone camera and distributed through Blackboard. Class boards had been difficult to reproduce in an online teaching environment. However, part of the materials I assign in my online courses are handwritten outlines for each reading.
These outlines look like classroom boards, with keywords and chunks of texts connected through dashes and visual devices. I ask students to look at them while watching the video lectures on the readings. In an online learning context laden with digital tools, students have found these handwritten outlines refreshing and mentioned they incentivize them to take their own notes. In that way, they can review my handwritten outlines and their notes when studying for exams.
In my classes, these outlines are part of a visual frame that includes an array of visual and performative materials, like videos, paintings, and diagrams. Indeed, for each Zoom session, I gather a repertoire of photographs, short films, historical cartoons, and other graphics, and produce a visual frame to guide students through complex historical narratives. To insert my persona within that visual frame, I use an advanced Zoom option that shows the video of my interactions with students inside the slides.
Before the pandemic, I gave students extra credits for visiting Hispanic cultural institutions, like the Hispanic Society, the Bronx Museum, and El Museo del Barrio. From viewing colonial paintings to watching contemporary video art at these venues, students could better understand the readings and films discussed in class. Such out-of-class experiences were instrumental in sparking students’ curiosity about Hispanic topics after leaving my classroom. The visual frames of my Zoom classes had worked as an alternative to these activities during the pandemic, with the advantage that I can strategically guide how students engage with visual materials so they can understand historical narratives better.
Developing my handwritten outlines and visual frames have not been an easy task. When we transitioned to online teaching, it was not clear which strategies would work. Yet, with the feedback I received from colleagues and students, I explored handwritten and visual
pedagogies to develop fully dynamic classes.
Emmanuel A. Velayos Larrabure
Emmanuel A. Velayos Larrabure is a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at CUNY Hostos Community College. He holds a Ph.D. from New York University. Before joining Hostos in January 2020, he taught at NYU and OSU. He won the 2020 LASA Best Essay in the Nineteenth Century Award and the 2018 Sylvia Molloy Award for Outstanding Dissertation. He has published several peer-reviewed articles and serves in leadership positions at LASA and NCSA.