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This week I tried a couple of different things with the Medieval class of 30 students, 20 of whom are on the football team. I was told that "conditioning" practices started on Tuesday morning (my class meets Tuesday and Thursday mornings). So they were tired. I was told this in a spirit of, "it's not you, Dr. McKay; we had conditioning."

I appreciated this word of caution/warning/explanation. But how much should it matter to me if they were slouching/yawning/sleepy?

I will be honest. Right now, that type of behavior bothers me a lot. As those of you who have been reading my blog know, I take my teaching very seriously. Each moment I have with these young people I view as a gift and privilege. One of the icons of our campus, Professor of Religion Ira Zepp, now deceased but always remembered (you can read about his amazing life here), called his classroom with students a "sacred space." I have come to view it that way, too. I always try to have a full hour prior to meeting my students to think through what we will be covering, to be present and focused on their learning. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about wanting to be more mindful before entering the classroom, this sacred space.

So, what to make of sleepy students, who do not seem very engaged in the material? Is it me? Do I need to up my game? Do I need to do more than I thought I did to keep them energized? Or do I realize that despite all my best efforts, despite all my innovations and creativity, despite all my energy and enthusiasm (and I bring a lot of that), sometimes students will be drowsy. And that it is not all about me.

I will be honest: I find it really hard to accept that. I continue to think: What more could I have done? And I will continue to think about the fact that there could be a million things going on with them that I don't know, won't know, shouldn't know, and can't know that could affect their behavior in class. But I will still try to do my best to engage them all!

How do you deal with a class that drowses despite your energy and planning? Students, can you tell me why you drift off, even when there is something to do and plan and execute?

This story from September 5th in Inside Higher Ed bummed me out. It's about a professor who "flipped, but then "unflipped" his class. But in my opinion, he did it all wrong.

First of all, taping long lectures isn't ideal. It is way worse to watch a thirty minute video alone in your room than being there. And I can't tell from this short piece if the instructor had them come to class to apply the information. But it's clear that he thought watching a long video lecture was the same as being in class listening to one. It's not.

Flipped classes can work if you have students watch some lecture segments, short, broken up, to get specific pieces of information. But it is then imperative that they then come to class and do something with it. That way, you can see if the students have understood the concepts by asking them to apply it to new contexts and situations. But just giving them the content and stepping away (which it is not clear this professor did, but it sounds like he did)? That is not an effective way to flip a class.

I have flipped my western art survey part one and now teach it in a hybrid manner, meaning that students watch videos online on works of art about which in the past I would have lectured. The ideas in the Standard of Ur are just as clear from Smarthistory/Khan academy videos as what I would say. I really don't have anything innovative to say about that work for an introductory level class.

But what makes the class work, and what I bring to it, is to come up with assignments in which students apply the information to a new context. This is what I, as the instructor, bring to the table that is innovative and can't be replicated as easily online. So, this year, my student will learn about the art of the ancient Near East and Egypt, and then design a digital exhibition. During the unit on Greek and Roman art, when we are in class together, they will take part in a structured debate that will take two full class periods and time outside of class to decide if the Elgin/Parthenon marbles should be returned to Greece.

What we do in the face to face class should be something that can't be easily replicated in an online environment. The hybrid format of classes allows more flexibility for students to learn factual information on their own time. Then we do meet as a class, I can lead them in something that is more active and engaging, and allows me to see how well they understood the content.

How might you shift your teaching so that your in-class time is devoted to making sure students understand the material rather than lecturing to them?

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