Saturday, March 28, 2020

Putting Humanity First

When you unfortunately need to go to a friend’s funeral, you also have to figure out how to get there.  You need to make arrangements for hotel stay, travel, find out exactly when and where the services will be.  Maybe travel won’t go to plan, and there are things you can rightly complain about. But the main reason why you go to the funeral is for your friend you lost. It’s about the celebration of life, not the travel details.

At present, we have a lot on our plates. Converting an in-person class to online/virtual format is a huge task, and all the more challenging under the weight and stress of a crisis. But in the big picture how we deliver our content online is like the travel details to attend a friend's funeral. We have a lot of huge issues now that we never had to deal with before.

Lots of things don’t compute right now, since coronavirus arrived. I don't have a lot of answers. I do have some thoughts. Our whole world, our daily lives, even potentially our very own health and the health of loved ones are threatened. We are witnessing leaders call for trading lives to save the Dow Jones average. We are hearing reports of healthcare workers on the front lines, without proper equipment and support. Family businesses are going out of business. We are also seeing racism against Asians and Asian Americans.

In light of this, going on with business as usual with our teaching is for me something I am struggling with. I know this is a personal viewpoint. Some may need to dive into the details of a class to cope and distract. I get that, and I’m not arguing against what others are doing in this same situation.  What I am saying is that I personally can’t just sit back and say nothing or just teach my spring quarter class just like I did the last time. The world has changed, and so have I. In April, May and possibly beyond, we’ll be in the midst of toughest part of the first wave of the coronavirus. You can’t just ignore all the bodies in the corner, while going on about integration by parts without acknowledging what’s happening.

At the same time, we can’t lose sight of the goals of our classes. We still need to educate. Students still need to learn and build up for their lives and careers.  I’m not advocating for not teaching content either.

The world has far too many damaging, false dichotomies. Choosing between lives and the economy is the latest, terribly inhuman example. Others suggest we must choose between skills and conceptual understanding. Some suggest, falsely, that the choice is between helping underrepresented students or white students, as if kindness and inclusion is like pie. False dichotomies are red flags. It signals an agenda, bias, lazy thinking, or unwillingness to dig into the details of a complex issue.

The question for me at least is whether we will choose to be responsible to each other and ourselves and behave like grown ups.  Responsible adults study the data and evidence, and get on with solving problems in this new normal.

Specific to education, teachers can inspire and attend to basic skills, as well as ask students in earnest, “How are you doing?” Teachers can be flexible with lessons because the news we all just received is truly bad. Teachers can keep the door open, create space in class and in office hours (even virtually), check in on students, and show their own humanity, reasoning, and maturity in the face of a global crisis.  We are all scared. We all feel a range of emotions, and none of us have it all figured out or know what the future holds.

I’m teaching integral calculus online starting in about a week, and I plan to create spaces to build some community and have time set aside for us to discuss the global pandemic and how students are dealing with it. We (students and instructors) all have smart things we can share that will help others, and we can teach and learn to be better to one another. I'll also spend a lot of time developing an assessment plan that is standards based/mastery based, so that the stress of testing is taken off. The focus should be on learning (as always and even more important now).  That in a nutshell is how I'll try to be a responsible adult in my role as a math instructor. I teach students first and foremost, with Math as the context.

Yes, we can teach the usual things, all the while putting humanity first.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Thoughts On Human-Centered Virtual Teaching (Coronavirus)

My head is still spinning. We're living through the start of a global pandemic. I've had to do so much at home and work to prepare, that's it's been tough to even get enough sleep and take care of myself. Or fold that giant pile of laundry that's been sitting in the corner for days.

On to teaching... I've read many posts on twitter, in email, and articles about what to do to go virtual with our teaching. These discussions are great, and I've already learned a lot. People are stepping up and sharing really useful, real-world advice.  In this post I'm going to focus on one aspect of all this. I call it human-centered teaching.

When we teach in person, it's easier to get to know your students, mentor during office hours, run into students on campus and have a conversation. All these things are part of the package of student-centered instruction and being on campus, and many of these things are harder or nonexistent or must be recreated in different way in online settings. I have not figured this all out by any stretch. I don't think it's something we should feel bad about, and I know over time we will develop and figure some of this out.

I'm on quarter system, so we actually start spring term in early April. But even if we were on semesters I'd do the same thing I'm going to mention.  On the first virtual meeting day, I have two main goals. One is to meet and set virtual class norms (e.g. everyone turns on video, raising hands, muting), and practice using the technology. All of this is new, so we're going to need to get comfortable with our new normal routines.

The second goal is to open up a space for students to share some of their thoughts and feelings and make human connections with their classmates and me. This is the most important thing, in my opinion, to accomplish on day 1 (and keep going). The context surrounding us is a global pandemic. Millions will get sick, and globally many will die or lose someone close. This is hard stuff, and it's desperately real. Students who are young and just at the beginning of their adult lives are dealing with the uncertainty and turmoil of an enormous natural disaster, all the while going through the disruption of having to move home and be separated from their friends. In light of this, it's even more important to try and create a team spirit in our classes.

How will I try to do this? I plan to set aside class time for students to share their thoughts on the coronavirus pandemic. One specific strategy I used to get people to participate online (zoom conference calls) is to use a google doc with a 3xN table (N= number of students +1).  Here's a hypothetical example:

Students pick a row and are paired with another student with the same number.  I give them a pronpt, and they type at the same time, while I observe and make comments. (Using this strategy also needs to be normed.)

Further, I plan to create a chat space on Canvas for discussion strategies for how to study, self care, random questions or comments. I'll send out regular emails to keep the door open for students, and invite students to virtual office hours (or 1-1 meetings) to discuss math, learning, be a mentor, just be there to listen. I'm sure I'll have to adapt and add more things, but these are my initial plans to setup a framework for human interaction.

Another important mindset I'll focus on is keeping a healthy perspective for myself. We are not trying to recreate our in-person classes. Almost all of us are going online for the first time. Trying to cover everything just like before and in the same way is not going to happen. My focus will be on being present in each moment, trying my best, and working to improve each and everyday (Shokunin Spirit).

Lastly, I'd like to mention that we should be gentle on ourselves. We all going through a lot, and we should allow ourselves to be human, to make mistakes or not have the "best" class session. What truly matters is that we care and our students know we care about them. If it doesn't go like we planned, it's ok.

That's my initial plan for implementing human-centered virtual teaching. Sending positive thoughts. Stay safe and healthy!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Draft Plans for Running a Virtual Class

Let me frame this post first with some initial thoughts... Sometimes life throws us all a curveball. Coronavirus is here, and CDC and others have warned us that major disruptions are coming. This is a very serious situation with a lot of levels, nuances, emotions, and sadly tragedy. People have and will suffer, and first and foremost I am wishing you all the best and hope you can stay strong and safe.

Some basic things I'm doing now to help keep my students and myself safe:
  1. Inform my students about what they can do.
  2. I bring cleaning supplies to class daily to clean desks.
  3. I also bring tissues and will bring hand sanitizer when it's in stock again.
  4. I've adjusted my attendance policy, and am asking students to stay home if they feel sick.
School closure is a strategy used in country for social distancing. This is used to flatten the epidemic curve to slow spread, provide necessary time and capacity for medical care, and a necessary part of battling a disease to keep people safe.  I'm for whatever keeps us the safest.

What this means is many of us may have to teach virtual classes. I'm on quarter system, and we are wrapping up winter term. Spring term starts at the end of March, and that could be when things change significantly. People on semester system might need to switch in the middle of the term, so that brings its own set of issues.   

A bit about some of my relevant background. Many of us have not taught online. I haven't, at least not a fully online class. I have taught hybrid online here and there, and have run faculty development workshops using zoom and a couple other tools.  Tools like zoom are going to make this easier, and I think the tech is there to make this work well enough. 

I'm sharing my own draft plans via google slides (linked HERE and embedded below). These are my draft thoughts on how to organize class via a simple framework, which others might find useful as a starting point.  I'll update this regularly as things develop. I know there are much more experienced people on this issue, so find and share resources you have.

At the bare minimum, an instructor can give lectures via zoom at the scheduled class time, and setup office hours via zoom. I personally will do much more, since I use IBL methods, but I think it's worth sharing that switching to virtual is not that scary, and certainly worth it given the situation.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Summer 4-Day IBL Workshops 2020

AIBL is offering a range of IBL Workshops in 2020. This post is about one of the types. Other types of workshops will be posted here soon. 

Our "classic" IBL Workshop is a 4-day summer intensive workshop. We've been running these since 2006, and have developed these over time to make them as good as we can. A summer intensive workshop is one of the best ways to get started with IBL or sharpen up your IBL skills. Our main target audiences are math instructors at 2-year, 4-year, other graduate degree granting institutions. We especially encourage faculty in the early stages of their career to attend one of our workshops. Community college math instructors are also welcome, and I want to point this out specifically. 

Why attend a workshop? The main benefit is that it supercharges your teaching. You get to work with experienced facilitators and join a community of math instructors going through the same type of transition to active, student-centered teaching. It's fun, you make new friends and colleagues, and you could teach in ways that transforms the learning experience for your students. 

Our motto is People First Professional Development. We don't have specific curricula or a set model of IBL. We work with individuals and put at the center of our work you, the participant, and your students. We work from that starting point to help instructors find a good solution within the IBL framework.

Workshops are funded generously by the National Science Foundation (NSF DUE 1525058). Most of the cost of attending is paid for by the grant. Participants are responsible for paying the registration fee, some meals, and travel costs. Early-career faculty (e.g. postdocs, new instructors, assistant professors) are eligible for travel scholarships of up to $500. We work with you and your department to figure out how to get you there.

The LA Workshop is June 16-19, 2020 at the Staybridges Suites in Torrance, CA.
The DC Workshop is at the MAA Carriage House, Washington DC, June 23-26, 2020.

For those who cannot travel, we are planning a virtual IBL Workshop in July. More details are forthcoming. We realize that not everyone can travel and that work travel increases significantly our carbon footprint. We are working hard to develop and provide "next gen," sustainable professional development.

More details about traveling workshops and workshops for courses for future elementary teachers are coming soon.  Hope to see you at a workshop this year!