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What Will We Miss About Remote Teaching, Learning, and Working?

By Julianne Morgan

I was excited and eager as I read the university's guidance about returning to in-person teaching - no more shaky internet connections and Zoom black boxes, and now PEOPLE. Actual people! In a classroom! But, I got to thinking: What, if I were a student, would I miss about learning on Zoom? What about as an instructor? I think there are some things about teaching, learning, and working on Zoom that all of us* became accustomed to that we're not yet aware of that we will miss once Zoom goes the way of the dodo (one hopes). The point of this article is not to lament the going away of remote learning, but rather to be prepared to encounter and address those things we will miss, if at all possible. 

I'll get this brainstorming started, but I'm looking for others' input as well - because I don't teach, I know there are things I will easily overlook! 

  • I will miss seeing people's names in their Zoom boxes. 
    I know it's important to say someone's names when you're speaking to them, but I, like I'm sure many of us, live in that perpetual space of I'm 99% certain I have the name right, but that 1% is just enough to get me to just say, "hey, pal!" instead. In Zoomworld, I could almost always count on getting someone's name correct because it showed up right on the screen for me! If it was a name I wasn't sure how to pronounce, I could still maybe look up the person's name recording or ask them how they say their name. Once I learned, I found it much easier to remember the pronunciation because the name cards existed in Zoom, and I could read the name instead of trying to visualize it. 

    When it comes to returning to the classroom, I expect this is something instructors will find themselves missing. A potential solution is to have students create name tents for themselves on the first day of classes. Distribute and collect them at the start and end of each class to achieve the same goal as the Zoom feature. 

  • I will miss some aspects of presenting on Zoom.
    I'm not a great presenter. I often forget what words I was supposed to say for any given slide or what questions I was supposed to ask when conducting a discussion. Zoom really did make it easier for me to present because I could have the slides I was sharing on one monitor and all the resources I could possibly need on the other monitor. For some presentations, I basically wrote out scripts with transition queues to make sure I nailed any PowerPoint transitions that matched up with a big point I was trying to make. I would have a document ready to go with all the links that I would want to share with folks so they were just a copy'n'paste away. I had the Chat open, Zoom webcams open, a document ready to go for taking notes as people asked questions. It was a lot to keep track of, for sure, and I definitely messed up here and there. But, I always felt more confident going into a Zoom presentation than I ever do with a face-to-face one. 

    Did any instructors appreciate these aspects of Zoom presentations? Or was it all just too stressful and overwhelming to manage the Chat, the slides, the webcams, etc.? My thought is that most instructors did not enjoy presenting over Zoom, but I'd hazard a guess that any students who presented actually did like this method better than face-to-face presentations for at least some of the reasons I outlined above. This could be a question worth asking to students before any presentations they may be doing in their class. If they have become accustomed to Zoom presenting, help them prepare to go "off-script" early in the semester (just having watched some students' presentations during the pandemic, I know they were reading directly off a script, just like I was!) if that's an important component of their presentation grade. 

  • I will miss Zoom chat during meetings/presentations. 
    I know most instructors didn't have this luxury, but I was lucky enough to conduct presentations where I had others in the Zoom room who were able to answer questions in the Chat as they came in. And, I highly enjoyed serving as the Chat moderator for others' presentations as well. I liked that I was able to answer most of their questions immediately without interrupting the flow of the presentation. I liked that I could tell folks that I'd make sure their question was answered by the presenter when a pause was reached. I liked that some people who might otherwise not speak up were able to engage in this format. Most of all, I really liked the private messages I received from folks! The private messages were reminiscent of passing notes back in middle school. Most private messages were clarification questions, but I really got to know some staff and instructors more personally through the DMs, as the kids say. Those one-on-one side conversations are just harder (and, well, rude) to have during in-person meetings, so I will miss this fun aspect of Zoom. 

    When it comes to the classroom, again, I would guess that students made high usage of the private chat feature in Zoom. I do think this is something they will miss while learning face-to-face, and they might be more likely to pull out their phones and text because they are simply so accustomed to being able to privately say whatever they want to their peers during classtime. Obviously, students shouldn't have been messaging each other about non-course-related content during the Zoom sessions anyway, but if it is something they relied on, this may be an issue to raise during the first day of classes. Ask your students, "Did you private message each other a lot during classes? Were your conversations mostly about the class, or did you talk about other things as well? Do you think you will miss being able to instantaneously and privately talk to your peers? Is there anything I can do to help you transition to not having this ability?

    That's a lot of questions. But, I'm curious to know the answers. 

  • won't miss the renewed collegiality of instructors and staff -- because we're going to make sure that doesn't go away! 
    I've been at UD in one way or another since 2008, and never in my time here did I get to know and work with so many people and such a short span of time. Not only did I meet instructors I'm sure I never would have interactive with, but I also met staff members from different areas whose path might never have intersected with mine. The pandemic was isolating, yes, but I felt more connected to more parts of UD than ever before. I'm thankful to have met so many hardworking, caring, and collaborative individuals, and I'm looking forward to strengthening those relationships while continuing to make news ones as we return to campus. 

Now that I've started us off with the things I've thought about, it's time to think about what instructors and students are going to miss. 

  • Students are going to miss the ability to "multi-task" during class. While I have great faith in our students, I'm certain that many students were doing other, non-course related things while attending class remotely over the past year. I think students will initially welcome what is hopefully a less distracting environment in the classroom, but as time wears on, I can imagine them itching to be browsing the web or finishing up homework or yes, perhaps playing games or spending time on social media. I think this transition might pose a real challenge for many students. Again, I think instructors should address this up front at the beginning of the semester. Ask your students if they think they'll have trouble focusing more than before. Ask them what you can do to help them stay on task. There might not be much instructors can do to solve this problem, but integrating more interactive learning into your class session could help. 

  • Relatedly, I think students are going to miss recorded lectures. As a student right now myself, I know I sure do rely on those lecture recordings because I really love being able to review sections of the lecture or activity that didn't quite make sense to me. And yes, perhaps to review something when I tuned out a bit (shh!). Honestly, back to the point above, reminding students that the class is in fact NOT being recorded could help them stay more engaged. It's easy to tune out when you know you can always check the recording later. If the class isn't recorded, the students will have to pay more attention to ensure they are taking good notes and focusing on what the instructor is saying. 

  • I think some instructors will miss the use of Zoom breakout rooms. Complicated to understand at the beginning of the pandemic, I think many instructors grew to love this feature in Zoom, especially as it became easier to have saved groups and randomly assigned groups from session-to-session. I know there was a lot to be desired with this tool (like being able to monitor the rooms from outside the room to ensure students were actually working - my personal dream feature), but I heard many instructors say that Zoom made this kind of group work easier to accomplish than in the classroom. I also know they didn't always work out well for instructors, so I'm sure many won't miss them at all! I think the main takeaway is to continue to find ways to group students together in the classroom. The Randomly tool in Isidore can help you create those random groupings of students. 

I know there are many other things like this out there, so I'm interested in hearing readers' thoughts! To that end, I've created a collaborative Google Doc where you can begin adding in your own thoughts and ideas. The document is set to allow for anonymous contributions, so make sure you are logged out of Gmail if you wish to anonymously add your ideas. 

Again, the point of this exercise isn't to extol the virtues of remote teaching/learning/working, but rather to just start think about some of things we might not expect as we transition - and how to handle those things. 

I look forward to reading your thoughts and ideas! 


 

*I want to acknowledge that many at UD never or barely ever worked remotely, and I thank those individuals for their service to UD to keep everything up and running. 

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