02. Teaching

Fall 2020 Reflection

Overview & Acknowledgements

In a period of just few months, the pandemic totally altered the commonalities of everyone. Aside from the overwhelming health consequences for those directly affected by COVID-19, education was affected. We, the college, have been required to adjust back and forth to remote and on-campus coursework, setting major implications for certainty, direction, synchronicity, and how continuity in learning has taken place. This has affected how all of us have lived and worked as well as affecting our wellbeing in profound ways. 

 

For me, this semester specifically, has meant a split-focus on the time I have committed in service to the college and the challenges I have encountered personally from a random assault incident in October. This impact affected the my work and my personal wellbeing. As I write this, I will continue the months ahead with physical therapy for my hand and back, and as my progress has been above average, I am hopeful for a full recovery.

May I just say that during the face of this challenging time, the support, guidance, and resources that were sent out by my colleagues, the Dean, and the Provost made it helpful to sustain my instructional, research, and service duties in conjunction with improving my wellbeing. Thank you!

The toughest semester ever has come to an end, and a break has never been more deserved …by all!

 

Looking forward to the spring semester, I anticipate the status of the pandemic will require the continuation of public health measures and the hybrid course delivery that was used in the fall. I am optimistic that warmer weather in the spring and the availability of protective vaccines will allow us to start transitioning towards a return to our “next-normal” by fall of 2021.

 

Reflection

At the end of the semester, Dean Gretchen Galbraith said, “Let’s get together for a debriefing.” She invited all of the Arts and Sciences faculty to come, relax, debrief, and most importantly, connect. She said to grab a cup of coffee or a mug of hot cocoa and feel free to share pandemic teaching experiences at this low-key discussion. I attended with my tablet in-hand to take notes and some cocoa.

 

We discussed and exchanged ideas across Arts and Sciences, focusing on things that worked this semester, no matter how big or small, including topics like building community, tools discovered, student engagement, assessment, new ideas for spring, and things we, as faculty, would do differently.

 

Following, Dean Galbraith sent out an email summarizing the debriefing, including the five questions addressed at the discussion. Below, I have addressed those questions based on my own teaching and practices during the fall semester.

 

Question 1: What worked particularly well for your classes this semester. 

 

  • In general, the dance students may not have been as strongly affected educationally by the COVID-19 pandemic as I anticipated. In the big picture, dance, by its truest nature, gave students back their sense of spirit and wellbeing this semester. They found satisfaction, and even strength, as we reintroduced the option for in-person dance classes. They were moving again in a studio setting and, most importantly, moving together.  

 

  • Students were satisfied with: 

    • the overall quality of the dance classes –most rated their education  “excellent,”

    • the in-person components of the dance classes,

    • e-formatted course assignments,

    • submitting reflective self-assessment forms on weekly goals, progress, and personal outcomes,

    • sending written communications by email, chat, forums, and on Zoom as part of teaching and advising mentorships,

    • having dance spaces to rehearse and additional spaces to take Zoom classes –aside from in-person class.

 

  • Students were also among the front-runners in exposing their confidence in computer and media skills (booking rehearsal spaces, filming, editing, sharing digital content, using online collaboration platforms, etc.) 

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  • Students were satisfied that I providing multiple communication options in and outside of class:

    • asynchronous (chats, email, forums, social media)

    • synchronous (Zoom, phone, F2F)

    • online appointment book for students to schedule appointments with me     –picktime.com: automatically schedules Zoom meetings and email remainders.

    • a community hub website (cyndance.org) for students and others to network, find resources, and see events/presentations.

 

  • I was highly satisfied with the F2F course support of the PAC Facilities Manager Tom Grabowski with:

    • requested materials and support to get my classes up and running again,

    • preparing and providing distancing guidelines for studio spaces via classes and rehearsals,

    • cleaning and ventilating spaces as well as providing cleaning supplies,

    • providing initial support with audio/visual technology and network systems for streaming Zoom,

    • the overall positivity and kindheartedness to make things happen for me and the students.

 

Question 2: What did not work well for your classes this semester. 

 

  • The highest dissatisfaction was that students felt the pandemic “forced" them online when, under normal circumstances, they would take dance classes in-person and in the dance studios. 

  • Overall, by the opinion of some students, the idea of online instruction has damaged their perceptions of academic quality. (In some degree, this is actually a positive because, as we have already seen, students will really want to return to in-person classes when it’s safe to do so, again.)

  • A higher than usual drop in overall learning outcomes that particularly impacted non-dance students in DANC 110 Beginning Ballet. I don’t question their ability to do the work or the material and hybrid delivery. A lot of times when students struggle, it’s not merit, it is circumstances –including emotional stress, finances, and health.​​

  • Teaching hybrid dance classes, particularly DANC 110: Beginning Ballet to non-dance students was more like performing for 'theatre in the round' or even, at times, a three-ring circus. Some habits and/or distractions of these Zoom students included:

    • leaving and reentering Zoom for connectivity or personal reasons,

    • continually switching from on-camera to off-cameras for connectivity or personal reasons,

    • not having the camera on at all,

    • many of those students who did insist on being off-camera, their image square would linger on Zoom long after class was over.

 

  • Getting these non-dance students on Zoom to turn on their cameras in order for me to see how they executed movement and progressed.

    • Dance courses, by nature, require the student/teacher visual exchange because the coursework is physical, which, of course, requires the student's cameras to be on. Many non-dance students are accustomed to not turning on their cameras based on other courses, and asking them to do so, often resulted in an awkward exchange with minimal results.

  • It was challenging to teach DANC 110: Beginning Ballet to non-dance students on Zoom opposed to in-person.

    • All dance courses require faculty to translate movement and its quality through defining, explaining, and demonstrating followed by observing the student’s interpretation. Then, the teacher gives feedback, discussing the student’s progress toward physical and postural development. This is a fundamental structure in most classes that are hands-on, and when dealing with beginning dance students, this is tenfold. 

    • Putting it plainly, although I truly tried, I did not always feel that I could effectively guide these beginning students as well I did with the in-person students.

  • The amount of daily tech-work involved​.

    • There is no capability to feed both the microphone source and the music source into Zoom, having both be heard by the students. I had to purchase Loopback, a mixer to properly feed the audio.

    • The audio issues for Zoom would need daily adjusting.

  • Additional related Issues included:

    • while it was time-consuming honing in and assessing those little two inch tall human figures on the screen, the in-person students reported feeling left out at times because my focus was split on the two groups,

    • usually about that same time, technology would typically ‘chime in’ needing a tweak here and there, which would add yet another element of my  attention being shifted. 

    • I consider myself fairly tech-savvy, but it was tops on those days when I was trying to tackle technical mishaps, distracted students, and well, "teach." It definitely felt as counterintuitive as putting a square peg in a circle hole.

Question 3: What strategies have you used or are you considering for tackling challenging aspects of teaching right now?

 

  • With the challenges of success rate in students turning in assignments, choosing task-based projects seems to be the most successful. While leaning project themes towards their own interests, this has focused students toward achieving a goal and working with others. 

  • The in-person experience is perceived as higher quality by students. I will continue to provide this course delivery as much as possible.

 

Question 4: What new approach do you plan to try in Spring?

 

  • Being mindful of all dance studio safety guidelines and rights of the students, I will gently persuade beginning ballet students to attend class in-person, if they are on campus, as well as those in my other technique courses. The reality is that true learning in these classes come from face-to-face work, as it is a physical as well as visual course. Wish me luck!

  • Attendance: if students attend class via Zoom, they will be responsible for writing their name in the chat room 

 

  • Let students know earlier (at four weeks) that they showing patterns of or are failing.

 

  • Overall, keep driving new progress and ‘positive’ change with the goal of reconsidering the primary values, recognizing the transitions we all experienced in 2020, and continue building action plans that include all sectors of dance education.

 

Question 5: What problems do you anticipate for Spring that you do not have answers for, yet?  

  • Retention dropping (smaller class sizes and degree elective courses not going),

  • Dance student’s overall physicality and technique dropping, 

  • Getting more and more students to come back into the dance studio.

 

Reflection on Student Self-Assessments        

Empowering students to think deeper through weekly self-assessments can ultimately help them own their learning. To set goals, build on practices, look at their successes, compare their abilities to a final goal, and celebrate progress along the way is what I believe builds on the creative and critical process toward results. Giving students the chance to explore what they know and can do in their own words, enables them to thoughtfully track their own progress.
 

By developing my students into reflective learners, it also helps me better adjust my coursework based on students’ responses. These reflections provide me with the opportunity to know what each student is working on, which allows me to adjust my assessment questions and feedback along the way. I find myself spending less time giving feedback because I am not looking for everything, I’m looking for something specific. SEE MORE

 

20/20 Hind-Sight on 2020 Remote Education & Scholarship

This section includes the pandemic impact on teaching and students, my response to the impact, and incorporating 'lessons learned' into future teaching. SEE MORE

Conclusion

Like my fellow faculty members, it is my nature to be committed to student instruction, mentorship, and student success. For this reason, it should be no surprise that our restricted ability to engage with students has been a source of disappointment and frustration. Despite this, we, the faculty rose to the occasion, developing new ways to interact online, going the extra mile to mentor students, and converting previously face-to-face instruction to hybrid formats. 

© SUNY POTSDAM  REAPPOINTMENT 2020 by Cynthia DuFault