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A long thread about online synch classes:

I've been having a very different experience with my online class than others. I don't find online synch discussion as miserable, and my students reported digging it.


A thread:
Almost all the students said they loved the (optional) online discussion. I have a proposed theory, based on one data point. I think I conducted an accidental experiment. (Note: on a small discussion-heavy upper-div epistemology class full of majors.)
A lot of folks shared and agreed with the following article, about why Zoom discussion classes are so miserable and exhausting.…
It has to do with how hard free-flowing discussion is when only one person can talk at once, how much we depend on tracking gazes, and how Zoom kills all that.

And I agree: attempts to have multi-person free-form chat on Zoom is *hard* and *painful*.
Most of the people complaining about how crap their online synch discussions were, I believe, using Zoom in full video mode. But at UVU, Zoom is forbidden for security issues. We have access to some weird other online conferencing software, which doesn't work very well.
Before my first class, I'd heard there were bandwidth issues with our conferencing software, and happened to have read and been convinced by an article that asking your students to share their video from their homes was an invasion of privacy.
So I started by asking the students to start with their video and audio off, and then gave them the option of turning video and audio on to ask questions. In fact, students the students never once wanted to turn their video on, and almost never wanted to ask audio questions.
The classroom ended up going like this: I talked with my video and audio on, and the rest of the students chattered with each other and asked me questions and commented in the text-chat. Discussion was lively.
Here's my theory: Zoom is really weird for shared conversation, because it apes, but misses, natural visual/verbal communication. We keep trying to use the norms for in-person communication, and they don't work.
But text chat is totally different, and we've evolved really good norms for it. (For one thing, it avoids the problem of figuring out who gets to talk and negotiating interruptions. Everybody just types at once.) ALL THE STUDENTS ARE TOTALLY COMFORTABLE WITH TEXT GROUP CHATS.
Also: the virtual whiteboard was broken on both the conferencing softwares we had, so I ended up typing on the fly into a shared Google Doc, which I gave students editing privileges to. (Adorably, the fixed all my typos). This worked surprisingly well.
In fact, when the virtual whiteboard was restored to semi-functionality, we tried it out, the students said they preferred the Google Doc and we went back to it.
Basically: the stuff that tries to replicate the in-person classroom with virtual analogues (Zoom chat, virtual whiteboard) seems to be problematic for many. But I accidentally ended up using... solutions that don't try to imitate the in-person classroom. Text chat. G-Docs.
I've seen a lot of discussion that seems to think there are only two options: full video synch classes that imitate the live classroom Zoom-style, or going fully asynchronous. But it seems like there are in-between options too.
(PS I still hated the experience. Doing it this way, PS, means you're lecturing while staring at... nothing, no facial contact from your students, and it's weird and isolating for me. But the students said they thought it went really well for them.)
PS I know "best practices" from experienced online folks is asynch only, but I think different rules apply for untrained teachers crashing their courses online, when students picked live courses. And the discussion was optional.
And after the first class, I polled my students about whether they wanted me to make it asynch instead, and they were unanimous in preferring the synch live discussion.
Final PS: this is only a hypothesis from one data point - though some friends of mine who've tried something similar report similar experiences. If anybody tries this, I'd love your experiences/input etc.
Finally: one interesting thing I saw was that LOTS of students that never spoke in my live class lit up the chat with lots of questions. In fact, women and minority students ended up contributing much more to the class online. (It may matter that this is in Utah...)
(Also: this was for a 20-person upper div class of lively majors. I took my 150 person intro lectures 100% asynch, with recorded lectures and discussion boards. Couldn't imagine this format working for those big classes...)
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