Spotlight on Remote Teaching: Wants, worries and woes: Starting the semester on the same page

Image Credit: Markus Spiske Unsplash

In this Spotlight on Remote Teaching post, Kirsten Jenkins Lecturer in Energy, Environment and Society within the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies group and incoming Programme Director of the Energy, Society and Sustainability MSc., describes the importance of creating equity in the remote classroom in terms of both engagement and opportunities to succeed. 

When you think about it, the online programme and course descriptions offered by all Universities are helpful, but they don’t really say a lot. They don’t describe exactly what the content will be, exactly how it will be framed or approached, or what it will feel like to sit in the classroom for the first time trying to decipher what comes next. Add to that the fact that students entering the classroom may be coming from different disciplinary, personal and socio-demographic backgrounds; age groups; friendship groups, and different places in terms of personal and professional life experience, and it’s easy to see why day one can be quite dissociating.

For many, life under pandemic conditions is only going to heighten this feeling of dissociation. Students may join classes remotely or be separated by social distancing measures, have to balance a range of personal and sometimes professional circumstances in new ways, and muddle on with a new sense of disquiet over what “normal” life really looks like. More than ever, then, we need to try our best to equalise opportunities to engage and to succeed, starting the semester on the same page.

This is important both pedagogically and pastorally. Pedagogically, we must know both where our students are coming from, what their misconceptions of the teaching they’re about to experience may be, and how we can shape our content to fit their interests, where possible. Pastorally, it reminds us that as teaching staff, we each play a critical role in making sure our students are happy, fulfilled, and comfortable in the classroom.

This is where the “wants, worries and woes” exercise comes in useful. In day one of my classes I handout a small piece of paper (though this could easily be done in a remote teaching setting by asking students to write responses on whatever they have available) and ask students to spend 3 minutes reflecting on:

  1. “What you’re expecting to learn during this course (or programme)”
  2. “What worries you about the course (or programme)”
  3. “Anything you’re struggling with at University so far”

In a classroom setting I then ask students to then discuss their answers amongst their peers or in small groups, something that Blackboard Collaborate can easily support through the “break out room” function.

From the student’s perspective, the purpose of the exercise is simple: it gets them to reflect on their own pedagogical and personal positionality in the classroom, and it helps them see points of similarity and difference with their peers, whether they relate to wider anxieties, course-based ones, skills or content. For staff, it shows us where we need to intervene. For our Science, Nature and Environment course, for example, previous responses to question one have said, “the relationship between society and science and technology in relation to the environment”, which we do cover, and “overall knowledge about scientific methodology”, which we do not. Moreover, we can provide targeted support for any worries highlighted about the course and flag pastoral care and University services for wider University-level ones, as well as fostering peer-to-peer support networks.

At the end of the session I collect all answers anonymously, loosely group them, and provide a summary video that discusses my response. This, alongside discussing the outcomes in the class, serves as a record of the page we all started on, albeit a digital one.

Kirsten Jenkins

Kirsten is a Lecturer in Energy, Environment and Society within the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies group at the University of Edinburgh. Alongside current teaching responsibilities, she is incoming Programme Director of the Energy, Society and Sustainability MSc. Kirsten’s research expertise is in the justice implications of energy transitions and energy systems sustainability from a social science perspective.

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