Hostos Community College’s support to a very diverse population of students in regards of background, age, and experience definitely resides at the core of the institution mission. This diversity is present also in academic preparedness of our students. Students often come poorly prepared for the science courses, for example. Throughout the time that I have been teaching science courses, I have observed several major challenges that majority of the students experience, such as lack of general preparedness for the science courses, necessary prerequisite knowledge of math, organizational skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and most importantly, lack of confidence and belief in their potential. As a professor, I want to help my students to overcome these obstacles. So, that’s where you start trying different methods, teaching techniques, best practices, new technologies, new learning systems, new approaches, etc. As we all may know, teaching is a constant learning process, and without learning there is no effective teaching. Teaching traditional face-to-face class or online class, the challenges are still there, and they don’t become virtual challenges with switching to remote learning.
How to keep the students engaged and interested in the online course?
This is one of the most challenging parts. Many students taking an online class now were not planning to do so, but due to the circumstances related to the pandemic they have no other choice. This creates an extra layer of struggling. For other students,their everyday lifestyle has changed, some of them have their school-aged children staying at home and taking online classes as well, some have lost their jobs, some have faced eviction, some have lost loved ones to COVID 19 and the list goes on. These students need our support – the support of the faculty now even more than before. These recently emerged challenges unfortunately add to the above list of impending obstacles for learning. I realized that I could not just copy whatever approach I was using before in my face to face classes and just paste to the synchronous online class. I had to make a variety of adjustments. I don’t see my students as before, so I cannot judge based on their facial expression if they understand what I am explaining. I cannot constantly walk around my classroom during the lecture or recitation time and write on all possible boards left and right, to make them follow me and stay awake and engaged, I cannot ask them to come to the Blackboard and move around when we work on problems in teams during the Recitation class. Well, I cannot do all this and many other ways I use in my traditional class in the same way I did it before, but I have found alternatives.
Tip # 1. Prepare the clear and organized course shell in Blackboard. It helps students immensely with navigating the information related to the course. The more detailed it is, the better. I have separate folders with corresponding names in Syllabus/Course info and in Course Content, so when entering Syllabus/Course info for example, the students just click on the folder they are interested in and retrieve the information they need. I have organized the Course content, both for the Lecture
portion and for the Lab in Course Content folder. So, for example, when clicking on Course Content, they can find the folders with the name Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. When entering Chapter 1 folder, for example, they will find all the necessary information related to Chapter 1, such as Power Point Slides (as a separate folder) and Resources (as a separate folder), in which I place all the videos, or simulations that will facilitate the students learning and comprehension of the material covered in the corresponding chapter.
Tip # 2. Come to the class few minutes earlier. I start my session earlier just to talk to the students before the class starting time. Many of them are usually enter earlier in the virtual class and engage in conversation with me about how their weeks go or anything they want to share with the group. This creates a very welcoming and pleasant atmosphere even though you don’t see the students and they don’t see each other. Overtime, they become closer to their peers and their professor. It helps a lot with the interaction during the class time. I always keep my video on during the online class, so they know I am present, I am there for them.
Tip # 3. Use various useful options that Blackboard provides. During the lecture class, to keep the class interactive, I try to use different tactics, and one of them is using polling option in Blackboard. I also constantly ask individual questions (I call on the students), which makes them stay present in the class and actively participate in discussions and practice problems. I have an online learning platform “ALEKS” (Mc Graw-Hill) implemented in my course to facilitate the students learning and comprehension, as well as to keep them engaged. I use practice questions from ALEKS among other examples during both, the Recitation and Lecture sessions to demonstrate the application of the scientific concepts I explain in the class. I also use the “White Board” in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra to work on the problems from ALEKS or other sources. In face-to-face class I usually invite students to come to the Blackboard to solve the problems, now in a virtual mode, I invite them to come to the “White Board” to solve the problem. The students seem to like to write on the white board and the rest of the students actively participate in the problem solving. This creates the working atmosphere and keeps the students engaged.
Tip # 4. Assign group projects. In order to create the collaborative atmosphere, I assign group projects to students which they need to present later. Even though the students don’t know each other and don’t see each other they collaborate while working on the project as
Tip # 5. Actively use Office hours. I must say that Office Hours have been always a very busy and interactive time for me, even prior to online teaching – my office was always full of students. Based on my students’ feedback from the Spring 2020 semester, I found that
office hours in online mode became even more valuable than before. Having in mind all the challenges that our students are going through during these uneasy times, I try to accommodate their needs by extending my office hours. I meet with them via zoom or Blackboard Collaborate as needed. Office hours are also by an appointment. Thus, it accommodates to student time availability.
Tip # 6. Check your email and respond timely. I have been always responding to students’ emails timely. I feel that they need it even more during this pandemic time. Email is the only way they can communicate with me, so they know I will answer emails in less than 24- hour period.
Overall, I am learning to teach online which opens another channel of empathy with students as learners. I look forward to reflecting on my Fall 2020 learning experience as I prepare my Spring teaching assignments.
Prof. Anna Ivanova is an Assistant professor at Nat- ural Sciences Department /Physical Sciences Unit/ at Hostos Community College. She teaches the fol- lowing courses: General Physics I (PHY 210), Gen- eral Chemistry I (CHE 210), Introduction to General Chemistry (CHE 110), Principles of Organic Chem- istry (CHE 120), Environmental Science I (ENV 110) and II (ENV 120, ENV 122). Dr. Ivanova has complet- ed her academic studies (Ph.D, Master’s Degree and Bachelor’s Degree) at the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi, Georgia. She has received a postdoctoral training at the Institut de Biochimie et Biophysique Moleculaire et Cellulaire, Universite Paris Sud, Orsay, France, and at Columbia Univer- sity, New York, USA. Her research background is in Biophysics, Biochemistry, Molecular and Cellular Bi ology and she is particularly interested in Pedagog- ical Research