Last Minute Prep

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For the past several years – long before the COVID-19 pandemic began – I have taught Black History as an asynchronous, online course. Our department found that demand for the course was strongest among undergraduates from other colleges who were seeking to take the course at a time when it was not available at their own institutions. As a result, we typically filled two to three online sections every semester as well as during summer sessions. As we work to rebuild our on-campus community post-COVID we are offering one section of this traditionally online course on campus this fall. As of now, a week before we begin, this course has 11 enrolled students. 


As I evaluate what I have prepared from previous semesters I realize that the short (20 minute) recorded lectures that worked so well in an online course now must be modified for in-person delivery. I need to think about when/how students will participate within the course. And I need to consider additional preparation in advance of student questions. Let’s face it: the recorded lecture provides us with the luxury of insulation from on-the-spot queries. I am reminded in this process that teaching online is not easier or more difficult than teaching in person, it is simply different.


Perhaps most daunting to me is the enrollment of the course. Is it just me or do other professors feel awkward lecturing to small groups of students? I’m used to lecturing to 25 to 30 students at a time. I feel compelled with this class to emphasize the importance of class discussion – human interaction and debate, including recognizing one’s own role in fostering positive discussion. After a spring semester of “quiet” classes, I’m concerned that students have grown so accustomed to asynchronous learning that they are increasingly reluctant to engage. I’m combing the internet for suggestions about student engagement, especially small groups, and seeking ways that other faculty have worked with their students to overcome their isolated COVID-period educational experiences.


Help wanted! 

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About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.