When I planned for my retirement to begin at the end of spring semester 2020, I expected to continue to teach my International Business Law and Sustainability class “as usual.” I had no idea that our academic world would shift drastically with the pandemic, compelling me to learn significant new skills. I have learned to use many tools on Zoom and our MSU learning platform called “D2L” (Desire to Learn). That learning took dozens of hours.
I also retooled my teaching methods. This has caused me to devote nearly twice as much time as normal to teach one course. I have done my best to be resilient, and my students have joined me. Fortunately, we have found unexpected silver linings within online teaching and learning.
Online teaching affords me the opportunity to divide the class into groups of varying sizes. Alternating on various days, I lead the entire class in session, convene teams of ten in “breakout groups” in the midst of a session with everyone, or split the class into two groups, each meeting for half of our regularly scheduled time. Online teaching makes it easy to communicate with individuals informally.
Would I prefer to be face-to-face with my students? Yes, of course. But there have been some silver linings to being online. For instance, I don’t have to stumble as I try to learn names. And within a large college such as ours, students seldom know more than a few others at the start of the semester. Online, students can see each other’s name. In some ways, while online, students get to know others on their team better than they would in an in-person class.
Also, students attend class when they might otherwise not be able to do so. This semester I have seen my students “attend” class from cars, airports and even outdoors. Attendance levels, overall, have been high. We all enjoy the time saved from commuting to campus, finding a parking space and walking to class.
There’s also something to be said for seeing another side to one another. We see each other’s pets — all dogs and cats so far. Seeing my students’ pets online provides a welcome touch of humanity during these unusual times. When I introduced my puppy, Maya, at the end of a couple of sessions, there were lots of smiles.
None of us chose to be online this semester, but there are benefits. When we return to in-person teaching and learning, I will integrate some of my new teaching tools and methods with those I have used for many years in the classroom. My students and I are changed in long-lasting ways in classes and beyond.