How to teach #coronastyle
This is going to be a short post and I shall give you a glimpse of my first feedback on my distance teaching. This semester, I am giving a course on epigraphy at the University at Innsbruck and one course on iconography of Roman provincial deities at the University of Bamberg. I am actually glad that both courses are in German, because I am still struggling with the different options and tools used for distance learning at both institutions.
Next to my current confusion about wether to use MS Teams or Skype for Business or Zoom for my on-going video conferences with colleagues and students I am really unhappy with the fact that I am not able to see my students at all. Some of them do not own a Webcam or the connection is too bad to go on an actual video call. I filmed myself giving talks about my teaching material here at Bamberg, providing mini-clips about 20 min (average length), most times two of them. I gave some examples and questions to think about and that we can discuss during our chat-sessions and video-sessions. So far, everything worked well for my iconography course.
For my epigraphy course, I had to deal with the problem that I planned a very practical course; I wanted to show my students how to work on the object, how to use the different tools to document an inscription, the inscribed object and so on. I guess I cannot deny my archaeological soul, even while teaching a course in classical studies or ancient history. But isn’t that the clue to all our classical studies? That we should work on our different sources and findings, in order to interpret them well? At least as well as possible, because we are still somehow solving riddles without a clue if we are even getting close.
So, Sarah helped me with filming me during working on a proper documentation of a modern inscription. I wrote about it in this post – my first one on concrete distance teaching (AF). Next to the clips I provided a Powerpoint with my recorded voice to the relevant points – it is a good way to give a talk to a subject, but the longer the presentation gets the easier I can bring my students to sleep. Next step in teaching is that you have to find a good system for starting a discussion and – at least in Austria – you have to grade the work attitude of your students making sure that they actually did the stuff you want them to do. (In my opinion it should be absolutely granted that students work on the material you prepared but… yeah, well, you know. We know. We were all students once, we know reality. 🙂 Sometimes, things are complicated. But hey, they are basically adult individuals, they will learn from their mistakes. Sooner or later. I hope they will.)
The semester was a very awkward one – while nearly at its end in Austria, I have to go on the whole July here in Germany. Organisation was not easy, coping with the new situation – including the fact that there was a pandemic out there and thousands of people dying! – was not easy. My family came out of this crisis healthy and unscathed. We know what is important now. We know what is at stake. I am an archaeologist, I know that we are actually witnesses to a future historic event. And I know that we have to learn from it. We have to try.
Concerning my distance teaching, I have a list of things I want to change – and a list of things I will keep the way I did, because of the good feedback I got from my students. I will go on with my videos and my video-conferences after all of them have seen the videos and read the material I gave them to prepare. I will organize my reading material somehow different – easier for my students. There will be rules like how they have to name their submitted files, because I got totally confused with 2 courses at 2 universities sometimes. I know now how to work on and prepare a new course session given the software and the tools used at the various institutions.
Do I want the old way back meaning to stand in front of people in real life – oh yes, definitely. But it is like Jack Sparrow taught us – what a human being can do and what a human being can’t do. Can I give a whole university course with the methods and tools of distance teaching or can I not? I can. I will. And I will get better at it, I guess. 😉
So, what were your experiences with distance teaching and distance learning? We would be glad to hear and discuss about, no matter if student or lecturer! Write us!
All the best and stay healthy, my dear fighters of academia.