I noticed, via Twitter, that a colleague had written an interesting post about survival strategies for lecturers [Edit: I hadn’t appreciated that this had been written pre-pandemic, but it is what largely motivated my post]. I had been thinking about writing something similar, so thought I would pen some of my thoughts about how this pandemic has influenced university teaching. They won’t be quite as insightful as my colleagues.
I was quite fortunate that I wasn’t doing any lecturing when the pandemic struck, so I didn’t have to suddenly switch teaching modes in the middle of a semester. However, I do have a fairly heavy teaching load in the first half of semester one (which typically starts in September), so was rather dreading preparing for it. I also really dislike watching myself in a video, or even listening to myself, so really wasn’t looking forward to editing and captioning my lecture recordings.
A consequence of this is that I started early. I spent most of August and September turning my lecture notes into a presention (in one of my courses I normally do what is often referred to as “chalk and talk”) and pre-recording my lectures, which I would try to divide into 20 minutes chunks. I would typically re-record these at least twice, and spent virtually every morning drinking my coffee and editing the captions. I eventually did get into this, and got over my dislike of listening, and watching, myself. I don’t think I ever didn’t find some silly mistake in a recording, but I eventually realised that it wasn’t possible to re-record my lectures enough times to entirely avoid this.
The actual teaching involved releasing about a week’s worth of lectures in advance, then running one live online lecture. In one of the courses this involved working through an example problem, while in the other it involved going over one of the pre-recorded lectures. We’d then have one live online tutorial, and a set of in-person tutorials, that were very socially distanced (a few students in a room that would typically have a much larger capacity).
The response from the students was fantastic. Even though not everything went as well as it possibly could have, they really seemed to appreciate that we were doing our best. They also seemed to like having some live classes (either online, or in-person) and they seemed to appreciate having the ability to watch the pre-recorded lectures in their own time.
Even though it was a lot of work, I ended up quite enjoying it. I think it mostly did work quite well, and it did make me appreciate that there are alternative ways to teach. I wouldn’t like to repeat exactly this, but it has made me think about things we could start incorporating into our teaching (although I haven’t got any firms idea about what, or how).
I was possibly fortunate that I was teaching first and felt nervous enough about it that I started pretty early. Probably also fortunate that I had the time to do the preparation. I’m looking forward to going back to a more standard style of university teaching, but I do think that I’ve learned from having to teach under different circumstances, and I hope the students found it a reasonable learning experience too.