It was March 13. I was enjoying another lazy day by the pool in Palm Springs. We go each year to see my parents who live in a wonderful golf community. The pandemic was just starting here in the U.S. The NBA had shut down. March Madness was next. People were starting to work from home. And, then I checked my email over lunch. The University of St. Thomas was going to distance learning for the foreseeable future.
And just like that I had to learn how to teach remotely.
Never mind that I don’t really know how to teach AT ALL. I’m an adjunct professor–I’m not a trained teacher. But, here we were, in the middle of a global pandemic and I needed to figure out how to guide this class from my home office (probably for the rest of the year).
The day we got back (Sunday, March 15), I signed up for a class St. Thomas was offering to learn Zoom. I had no previous experience with Zoom but had obviously heard about it, and knew it was going to be my primary teaching tool.
It didn’t seem that tough. Zoom was built right into Canvas, our teaching platform, so things appeared to be pretty easy. I was going to give it a shot on Monday and just jump right in. Now, five weeks in to this teaching adventure, I can safely say I’ve learned a ton. Some of it has been tough. Some, depressing. But, for the most part, I’ve actually found it invigorating! A new challenge. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A chance to teach through history.
Along the way, I’ve had my ups, downs and sideways glances:
Up: Just start–figure out the rest later
This approach fits my personality nicely. Since starting my business, I’ve really adopted the “test and experiment” mindset. And, that is custom-made for this type of situation. I knew I needed to dive right in on that Monday and just try Zoom out, and see how it went. I had no idea what I was doing. Again–I am not a trained teacher! But, I also know the worst thing I could do would be to over-analyze the situation and try to be perfect. So, I jumped in. Head first. I read a few things about teaching via Zoom and I just started.
Down: Bring (way) more energy on Zoom
Remember Ignite (for you Minnesotans reading)? I remember going to those early events and learning a ton about presenting. No tip was more valuable than watching Meghan McInerny bring an insane amount of energy to her presentation one particular year (for the life of me, I cannot remember the year or venue). My takeaway–bringing a lot of energy can make a substantial difference in how the audience reacts to you. That’s been a big lesson for me on Zoom. Plus, consider the circumstances. Students are living at home with their parents (mostly). They can’t see friends. They can’t go to parties. They can’t do sports or other extracurricular activities. Not surprisingly, they don’t feel great about that. So, they really haven’t been their normal selves in class. Me bringing more energy is almost essential to teaching and getting through to them.
Do everything you can to use video
I’ve been lucky. From the get-go, most students in class have used the video functionality on Zoom. They didn’t have to. They could have just gone audio. But SEEING each other three times a week makes a big difference. Even if we are all wearing sweatshirts and sitting on our couches. That visual communication makes a difference. And, I think the kids sense that. I haven’t forced or asked them to use the video, but I do think you should do everything in your power to make that happen. I can tell you from being on many audio-only calls the last few weeks, seeing people makes a big difference.
Inject more fun into learning
One of the pivots I made when we went to distance learning was to, generally, add more fun to the class. I try to make my class as fun as possible anyway. But again, considering the students’ circumstances (keep in mind, these seniors won’t get to walk across a stage to get their diploma in May), I think adding fun is almost a must. Part of my job, as I see it now, is to keep their spirits up. To pump them up a bit. This too shall pass, right? I keep telling them that! But, I also need to find creative ways to make class more entertaining. So, a week ago, I introduced Social Media Jeopardy! I did my best Alek Trebek impersonation, I found an awesome Jeopardy template online, and we had some fun with it. Was it super bumpy and awkward? Yep. But, did it induce some laughs and smiles from the students? I think so. Totally worth it. And, I’m thinking of other things like this I can do in the last four weeks of class.
How can you help the students even more
One of the big ways I add value as an adjunct is to bring that real-world perspective to the classroom. I’ve done this in many ways this semester: We attended a Social Media Breakfast event in Feb.; and I bring in guest speakers on a regular basis. I had other ideas, but they were derailed when we went all online. Now, with COVID tanking the markets and internships and job prospects for these kids drying up faster than you can say “novel coronavirus”, I knew I had to look for different ways to bring that real-world perspective to them. So, I made another pivot. I suggested we use a bit of class time over three class periods to go over how to use LinkedIn (and social media, in general) to find a job or internship. Then, I offered up my time (above and beyond class time) to help them one-on-one, if they had questions/concerns about the job hunt process for the summer. I’ve already had three of these meetings, and I think they’ve been helpful. We had our first session on LinkedIn last Friday. My job is to teach them about social media marketing. But, it’s also to prepare them to enter the job market. This change in “curriculum” is helping me do that–and, hopefully, add meaningful value to their lives right now.
That’s my quick update on how “distance learning” is going for this adjunct professor. I’ll have a final update after mid-May when class winds up!