Skip to content

In my last blog post, we talked about the role of structuring an instructor's presence in asynchronous online classes. Today we will talk about how to develop a sense of community among students.

For some instructors, having students get to know each other in a face to face class might not be a goal, but it is for me. I teach at a small school and was vexed when, years ago, I was talking to a student who did not know "Joe" in our class. This, despite that "Joe" talked a lot in class, and I call on students by name. After that conversation, I set as a goal for every class that I teach that all students interact with each other and get to know each other. While it might seem like in an online asynchronous class that would  be harder to achieve, I have found the opposite to be true.

My classes always begin online with a "get to know you" week of introductions. The discussion boards for that week include prompts to get students  to introduce where they are from, their major, and why they took the class. While this is not the most robust of conversations that I'll likely read during the semester, it sets the tone.

I tell my  students that they must show a "sustained and persistent  presence in the course through their posts  in the discussion boards." They must answer the discussion prompts for themselves - their idea - and then also comment or ask questions of each other in a way that shows their engagement both with the content of the course and with fellow students.

I have had many faculty ask me - and students ask, too - if there is a "minimum" requirement for this. I resist this. I know that this is the Age of The Rubric and that assessment has ruled our teaching plans for many years. But I think it makes for a more authentic  discussion when students are led by their interest and curiosity in their posting and commenting. I want them to keep coming back to see what so-and-so said in response to what someone else said. I want the discussion to keep moving forward. I don't see how it can do that if a student says "well, I did my five comments; I'm done." I  explain all of this in videos and in a READ ME FIRST course guide that explains my ideas. Generally, once that explanation is given students understand and accept it.  Sometimes they ask me if they are "doing enough," and we have a conversation about that in the learning journal area.  And some students complain. But I hold my position, and last fall, I had robust and wonderful conversations among the students in all three of my classes. Sure, a few of them do not participate as much. They are graded accordingly with feedback about how they could improve.

Another issue is: should you, as the instructor, comment on students' posts?  There are many  ways to deal with this, but for me, I don't. The reason for this is that I want it to be their community  space. If they go off the rails on a topic, I will sometimes post an additional question. I keep that to one or two per module, and I don't always need to do  it. If there is something weird being discussed I don't want to "pick on" one person, so a rephrased question can often do the trick. Sometimes a short video correcting the discussion is needed. I had to do that one year, when students started talking about the "unicorns" in cave paintings in southern France. I was like, "Unicorns? Where did they get that idea?!" Because, of course, and sorry if this is a spoiler, there are no unicorns! I finally found an image on the official site of the Lascaux cave that called the painting "l'unicorne." Clearly the quotation marks had no effect. The students took this image to be an image of a unicorn. This is important since the main point of the cave paintings is that these people were representing elements found in their environments to elicit some control over their lives. And if there are no unicorns...

"Unicorn" by scorpiorules58 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Found through Creative Commons.

Discussion  boards are the heart of any asynchronous class. Some faculty hate them because they can not "hear" their students. But to that I say, in a face to face class, how many students do you really hear from during a discussion?  Five? Six or seven? Ten? Unless you work something into the class to make it happen, you likely do not hear from everyone.

With discussion boards, you do hear from every student. Every single one. So "Sue," who sits in the back and doesn't often answer because it takes her longer to  formulate a response, has just as many contributions in the class as another student who can think on her feet much faster.

To me, this equalizes the class and doesn't favor those who can think and speak more quickly than others. Discussion boards are not perfect, and it's important to design questions or prompts that will get a robust conversation going (quick tip: no yes or no questions!). But it's worth it. Because for me, hearing from every student one of the best outcomes of an asynchronous class.

In my last post I talked about the importance of grouping material  into modules. It helps organize your class and students can more easily navigate where they are in the course. If  you go by weeks only, it can seem to a student that it's endless and they might not see the cohesion  you have planned.

After setting up the modules and goals for those units and the course as a whole, you need to think about different "presences." Today we will talk about Instructor presence.  How do you, yourself, connect  with students In an asynchronous course when you are not "live?" Since you will not be  requiring all of your students log onto their computers to gaze at you in a box, you have to find other means to engage with your students and to be present with them. The good news is that you can.

How can you still be present when you can't be in person?

Yesterday I was talking to a student who had one of my classes in the fall and  is in another one this coming spring. I told him I'd teach it the  same way, asynchronously. He tilted his head back and said, "Thank GOD! I wish other faculty would stop making us Zoom!" So take that for the anecdote that it is.

In any case, I plan to make my presence known in several ways. After deciding on the content of the module, I will figure out what is lacking or what ideas or images are particularly difficult, thorny, or if there just isn't enough information out there  to fully cover the artist. Unfortunately, I am finding that is the case with many African-American artists from the nineteenth century (like, no smarthistory.orgentry on Edmonia Lewis!? Come on, now!). Thus, I plan to make a narrated PowerPoint presentation on some artists for whom I have not found enough material to cover completely. But most of the content IS found on smarthistory.org and other educational sites. There  is a lot of  content out there, for free, if you take the time to search for it.

I will also record  videos of myself  introducing the course and each module. I also end each module with a  wrap up, but do not record those until I see what comments  students make as the class begins and rolls. These videos are a way to get your personality across and connect with your students.

But perhaps the best way to connect with your students  is through the learning journals. I find that this is one of the most important  elements  to an asynchronous class, especially at the undergraduate level. This is a  space where students reflect on their learning, ask  questions,  or just comment in general on how their experience in the class is going. Last semester I had many students on  my evaluations (yes, I know, I still read mine) talk about  this  feature as very important to feeling connected to the class and to me. I offer a few prompts, but usually I want students to set the tone and the topic. I want them to feel free to write anything - and I mean anything. It can be content; it can be personal. And I answer  every single entry. Every. Single. One. It's  a lot of work, but since my classes  are completely ready to go on Day  1, I don't have to "prepare" for each day the way I would for a more traditional face to face class. My time is taken up with responding to these learning journal entries. I learn so much about my students in this format; it's so important!  If you have not  tried this element of an online class, I urge you to do so, but you must make the commitment to write back to the students. Otherwise, your presence will not be felt.

Next time we  will talk about how to create a community presence among students through discussion boards and how to make them work and function well.

This is the first post about how I design my online classes for asynchronous delivery. This coming Spring semester of 2021, I will be teaching all three of my classes online and will deliver them asynchronously. I will be teaching a 1000-level History of Western Art II (from the Renaissance to Modern), as well as a 2000-level class in  Medieval Art and  a 3000-level class on African American  Art. This last is a new class for me; I have never taught it before at all so it may be the one that gets the most posts about the course design.

However, all three classes will begin with the establishment of learning goals. While that may sound like someone who has been dipped  too long into the waters of the River Styx (also  known as the Waters of Higher Education Assessment), they are key to establishing a sound online course. I learned about this when I took my first  online course - which was about best practices in online teaching - back in 2013. It had a profound influence on how I approached ALL of my courses, whether face-to-face, hybrid, or online. I started to think more about WHY we were covering the topics. For instance, it was time to teach the art of Emperor Augustus in Roman Art,  but what is the key to teaching him? What is the most important  element about his art that I want to get across? The answer to that question becomes a learning goal: students will understand the propaganda that Augustus was communicating through his sculptural and architectural works in the city of Rome.

Learning goals for a course come at different levels. There are overarching goals for the entire course, as well as for a class. We have a "Multicultural" requirement in our general education plan, and those courses must consider marginalized groups in the US, analyze the factors that led to that marginalization, and study the culture of these groups. My African American Art course will do all of that, but it's important to break all of that down into specific goals for each module.

Yes, module. I know that many of us have designed syllabi by the week. That made sense, I guess. But it's not the only way to design a class. In online courses, it makes much more sense to group topics and unify them for students with a theme. Thus, while the overarching goals remain, I come up with learning goals for each module that I will create with content, discussions, and assignments. I will have about 6 or 7 modules for my 14 week class. Module 1 will consider the roots of African Americans. The learning goals for this are to: 1) consider of the time of enslavement and its impact on the making of art; 2) examine the art made by African Americans; 3) examine contemporary black artists reference themes from the time of slavery,  reconfiguring them to say new things.

For this module there will be links to a site called Smarthistory, which was started by a grant from the Mellon Foundation to create an  online free video art history "textbook." The videos and written  pieces are shared by art historians from all  over the world and always growing. Here is one of the videos I will use in this first module of  this course: a Face Jug from Edgefield county, South Carolina, c. 1860. We will consider more than this one piece in order to have students think about the realities of living as an enslaved person.

A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby' at the Domino Plant - The New York Times
From NYTimes, May 11, 2014: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/12/arts/design/a-subtlety-or-the-marvelous-sugar-baby-at-the-domino-plant.html

For the contemporary exploration of these themes, we will consider Kara  Walker's A Subtlety which you can read about here. The term "subtlety" refers to confections made in Europe and were, essentially, edible art. In the seventeenth century and the early American colonial period, the increased desire for sugar led to an increase in enslaved laborers in the sugar fields. The slave trade was fueled, in part, by the demand for sugar, which is discussed in this video which will also be a featured assignment in my class module.  Walker's piece explores all of these themes. It was constructed in the late spring 2014 in a defunct Domino Sugar warehouse in Brooklyn, NY. It was as big as a football field and five stories high. Our class will look at this piece, after looking at pottery, quilts, and other works of art uncovered in archaeological digs to achieve the goals of this module.

Now that we have established the learning goals for this module, I can start to think about what students will  do: what will they read? Watch? How will they engage  with me? With each other? What assignments will they create? These will  be discussed in future posts.

For now though, consider this. How could you rearrange your class into modules? What learning goals could you establish for them?

Please leave a comment if you'd like to have a conversation about these  ideas.

 

2

This was a tough semester. For students, for faculty, for staff. For everyone involved in higher education. However, I am convinced that learning happened. While many might not consider this the most rigorous of assessments,  many students in my classes noted in their own reflections, unsolicited, that they were amazed at how much they learned in courses they  took with me this fall semester 2020.

This learning happened despite a compressed semester comprised of two 6.5 week  sessions crammed back to back with one day in between. Students were encouraged to take no more than two four-credit classes each session, but some couldn't help but have more than that, especially seniors who had less choice in what courses they needed take. I heard more stories of stressed out students than ever before in my twenty-three year teaching career. COVID, lack of regular social  interaction, the presidential election, as well as the compressed semester itself all contributed to the angst.

And yet learning happened. I am more convinced than ever that the asynchronous approach to online teaching is the way  to go. Yes, students noted that they missed  in-person classes, but I also heard from many about how Zoom wasn't like in-class either. My students who told me how much they learned in my classes also recognized that the discussion boards allowed us to hear from everyone - unlike in a Zoom discussion or in a face to face classroom. Please do not get me wrong; I can't wait to be back in the classroom again. But rather than teach in a classroom with students physically distanced from each other and masked up, I will continue to design and offer asynchronous classes for the coming semester.

Many people have asked me what I do or how I approach course design, and I have decided to blog about the steps I take to create my classes over December and January. Our semester begins on Monday, February 1. If you or your colleagues are interested but also flummoxed about how to teach asynchronously, feel free to pass these posts on to them, or ask them to sign up on my blog to get my new posts.

I am not saying I have all the answers. But my students were very positive, some enthusiastically so, in sharing their thoughts even when they were not solicited. I think I am doing something right and want to share in case it could be helpful to others. I have benefited greatly from faculty development opportunities that my college has made available. I feel that posting my course design process may help others who were not afforded the chance to learn about online teaching until recently, or at all.

I will be blogging about how I build three classes for the Spring 2021 semester: History of Western Art II, The Art of the Medieval World, and a new class for me, African American Art. I'll be designing them all for asynchronous delivery.

You're most welcome to follow along!

The last time I posted to this blog was the Fourth of July in 2019. Wow. A lot has happened since then, huh? Yeah. A lot.

In 2019, the Art History major was eliminated at my school and only the minor remains. One of my colleagues in the department was let go.  Another retired. I am the last Art Historian standing. Odd that.

And then: 2020. The Pandemic.  I was on sabbatical for the first months of 2020,  but it was still all weird. I wrote a book during the first six months of 2020. It's now being read by peer reviewers. I should  get some  comments back in early  winter. The book, not surprising to blog readers, is about how Division III institutions  can better  support their student  athletes.

Classes have been  completely online since the fall  term began, for me, in the middle of August. I teach them asynchronously (which I will talk about on this blog in future posts).

In the middle of October I joined the Department of History. As I am now the only Art Historian at my college, a colleague who knows me well reached out to ask if I would be interested in teaching in and building a Public History program. And I was. So, we  are now the Department of History  and Art History.  I'll still keep  my office, but I am excited for this new role and teaching these new courses. There are exciting  overlaps between art history  and public history and I look  forward  to exploring them all.

And what about those student athletes? Well, as at many places (Notre-Dame and Clemson not withstanding), there are no sports on our campus this fall. Some of the teams were finally able to start practicing together a few weeks ago. But there are no competitions. Will there be  some games and matches in the spring? I hate to say it, but I'm not  holding my breath.

And I miss them. I miss the players. Zooming with them is not the same. Not Tweeting them Friday nights before their games is sad; it's a ritual I miss. And Saturdays? Oh, don't even get me started on the first crisp Saturday afternoon when  I realized I would not be traveling to campus for a game. It hit me like a brick. I finally watched an NFL game later that weekend, and I found myself stuffing my feelings with wine and Dorito's. It was a sorry sight. I knew the football team had become a big part of my life, but having it gone? It was really and very truly difficult.

So, that's news. I'm craving connection that Zoom can't bring. I'm hoping to use my voice, my words, my blog, to make some new connections and remind everyone who follows this blog that I am still out here, even if it has been radio silence for awhile.

And this is also  to remind everyone that like the football team and student athletes  everywhere, we need to continue to develop and demonstrate the resilience that they show every game, every practice, every season. Even in this crazy year, when they are not playing at all.

Hang  in there, all.

 

 

 

4

This is a post about Joy. The year was long and hard, but as I look back on it, there were many moments of joy. In my reflections since the semester's end, I realized that many of my most joyous moments involved my students. So, this post is my post of Joy.

The picture that sparked this post was this one below: a student sent me a picture in front of a painting we studied over the past semester. And he sent it while he is still in Paris (below, Ben Igo in front of Raft of the Medusa by the French Romantic artists Géricault).

Another current moment of Joy was seeing a text from student with whom you are currently working over the summer. It's joyous to see his excitement - and maybe even joy? - for the opportunity:

Then there is the Joy of graduation, which is the culmination of changing students' lives and helping them to achieve their dreams. It is always my most cherished day of the year. This year it was especially full of Joy. It was the first group of students graduating who I was privileged enough to help as the mentor to the football team.

John Chamberlin (with me, Left) finally mastered human physiology and his hatred of tests to get his degree. And Trevon Haynes (below, with me Right) finally beat FRENCH to earn his degree and go on to graduate school in graphic design. Félicitations, Trevon!

Then here is TUCC!!! Former center, Mike Martucci will be missed. He struggled having changed majors and yet he made it! He took my class in 2017, too, which was a joy. And seeing his senior Sociology poster was also an honor, and that picture is here, too (below Left).

And then there is the Joy of Angelo Payne. I am proud of all of them, but Angelo is super special to me. I saw his mother when I entered the gym where we hold the graduation exercises. She grabbed my hands and joyously cried, "He made it!" And I know I helped, and that is a huge joy. He presented undergraduate research at a conference this semester also, which is just amazing. He has big dreams and I know he can achieve them.There are frustrations as a professor. Students often don't read. They do not come to class prepared. They take your classes "only" for the requirement. But you know what? It's true that they might take your class "just" for the requirement, but they also might end up in the Louvre, snapping a picture to send to you. They might become better writers and end up presenting at a conference, even if it's not your field. They might go on to coach other players, or they'll go on to learn more.

But my truest hope for them is that they will go on to a life full of Joy. They brought Joy to my life and my sincerest hope is they experience Joy many times over in theirs.

I've not been writing much on the blog and to my subscribers, I apologize. It's been a long, agonizing year, with an "academic program prioritization" process that led to my major being cut from our college. I will continue to teach, albeit not to art history majors. Now we've made it to the end of the Difficult Year and I'm resetting the blog and my priorities in my position at the college.

Today's post is about setting assessments that don't match learning objectives. I did that for my "finale" for my nineteenth-century art class this past May. I did not want a memorization exam. Although such exams remain the bedrock of much of higher education assessments, especially for art history, I don't find that it tells me much about how much students have learned from my classes, particularly the nineteenth-century art class. In that course, I emphasize that I want them to learn visual analysis: to look and to observe and by doing so, to come up with a thesis of potential meaning just from the formal elements in the painting. For instance, in  Courbet's painting The Stonebreakers (seen below) the meaning of the painting can be gleaned from visual analysis.When we examine this painting in class, I ask the students to tell me what they see. They answer with such observations such as: their backs are to us, so they do not seem like individuals; one seems young and the other older; they have frayed work clothes; they are doing hard labor of breaking up stones; they seem in a closed-in space where the only light is in the upper right corner, and out of reach.

All of that is correct. And what that leads to is a thesis for the painting that is this: the men are trapped, in a sense, in labor that will continue. The younger man will continue working until he, too, is like the older man, unable to carry heavy rocks, and instead will kneel to chip them into smaller rubble. The cycle will continue, for there is no "escape" spatially in the painting for these men. There is no social mobility, no "changing careers" or "moving up."

That is all learned by visual analysis, and trusting that observations can lead to these kinds of potential meanings. Of course, art history is more than just this, and we talk about how one would solidify such an interpretation:  by researching to find out more about when roads were built, who built them, what was working culture like around 1850 in France, etc. But you can get started with interpretive analysis from just looking.

For the "finale" of the class, I decided to make a "Jeopardy!" type of game. There are lots of free templates on the web that will allow you to make a game of whatever topic you desire. We played, and I was dismayed. They did not remember titles of paintings, or some of the dates, or some of the names of painters.

But then we got to "Final Jeopardy." Each "team" was given a painting and they had to tell me everything they remembered about it, using visual analysis. I gave each team a chance to talk about the painting and then we had their answers.

They remembered so much. When the assessment matched the learning objectives - it seemed like magic.  Of course, it was not magic; in class after class after class I  structured our time to give them chances to build their visual acuity and trust that they could - and would - learn what the paintings were seeking to tell them just by looking, carefully, at what was placed before them.

I will admit to not being an assessment guru. My assessments often miss the mark in terms of what I have been teaching them. But this time the starkness between "trivia"-like answers versus visual analysis of entire paintings helped me see that it is so important to line up assessment that will focus on what you were seeking to have them learn. I really do want to know what they have learned. It's just so often that the assessments I have been told to use don't do that.

Do you teach and have an assessment that works well? How does it match the learning objectives you have for your course?

Students: how would you like to demonstrate what you've learned in a class? An exam? Something else? I would be curious to know!

There has been a litany lately of stories, commentaries, and op-eds that basically sound the refrain that professors have a lack of trust in students. There has been a report of a professor at Howard University, who has a stated policy on his syllabi that if there is a family death/funeral on an exam day, too bad. Another story reopened the debate about laptops being used for taking notes (there had been other studies saying that hand-writing notes in class is better) and then the usual refrain about whether or not laptops should be banned. These are extreme stories, but they have at their core the same message: students are not to be trusted.

The core message is also: we as faculty know better than you.

But do we? Do we really know what students are doing when they are not in our classes? All that "outside the classroom reality" does impact them when they are with us for our 3 hours (or so) a week. Do we really know the familial, financial, and personal stresses they are balancing? Could we try to be a little more generous about why they are on the phones or why they miss class?

I am not saying that I am always understanding. I had a frank talk with my classes this past week about how distracted I get when a student is checking his or her phone in class. I am trying to connect with every student in every class (which may or may not be a ridiculous goal, but I hold to it anyway), and when a student is on his or her phone, I get pulled "off my game." My students seemed to understand that. I tweeted last weekend about how I view my students as collaborators in the classroom, that we are learning together. A student from one of my classes saw that tweet and "liked" it.

But to be truly co-collaborators with our students, we have to trust them. I know that sometimes they do not read for class. They procrastinate. I try to set up my classes so that they want to read article or at least see why I am asking them to do it. I want them to want to start the paper earlier. True, not every student will, all the time. But I am willing to trust them to do the right thing most of the time. If they sometimes "get me," so be it. In fact, it is they who are missing an opportunity.

At the end of the day, I make the decision to trust my students and if they are not doing what they should be in class - and to my mind that means coming to class, being attentive, engaging with me and others and the material - then I talk with them. Because in partnerships, both sides try to meet each other in the middle. Since as the professor I have more of the power in the relationship, I feel it's my duty to take the first step and demonstrate my trust of them in the classroom.

Students, I am very interested in hearing from you: how do faculty demonstrate trust to you, and if they do, does that affect they way that you learn?

Week one of our spring 2019 semester is in the can. I'm not going to talk about the internet outage, the snow day, the delays, and the fact that I got sick and needed antibiotics all in the first week of class (ok, well maybe I'll just mention it). What I do want to talk about is a mental shift that I realized happened this week after I met all three of my classes.

It was suddenly less about the content and all about the students.

Now I have faces, not just names, actual people, in my classes. It's not just a roster. It's not just about the number of butts in the seats; I spent so much time fretting in December and early January about having only 12 in one of the classes. Now it's full. I spent tons of hours this past January building my hybrid class both in terms of content online, activities in the classroom, and navigation of the site itself. For my face to face classes I similarly thought deeply about new ways to include more visual analysis. After reading How Humans Learn by Josh Eyler, and expanding on an assessment of understanding international cultures,  I thought about how to extend an assignment about learning disciplinary perspectives. All of that is still there. It's in the syllabus, in my course notes for the semester, and I will be planning everything out a few days before that particular class will actually happen.

But now that all of that seems secondary. Because now I have the people. The students are now telling me in discussion boards about how this is the last class that they got to choose before graduation, and they wanted it to be with me. Another said that he regretted not taking art history so far over his four years, and after talking to students who had taken my classes previously, did not want to miss out in his last semester of college. Some need the classes for the completion of their minor, or it's a requirement for the major. There are a dizzying array of reasons why students are taking my three classes (History of Western Art II, Roman Art, Romanticism and Impressionism for those keeping score). And they are what matters now. The enrollment, the course planning, the content (which I love; these are three of my favorite classes to teach of all time), and the exercises are all secondary to those individuals who trust me enough to allow me to teach them, guide them, and educate them. I barely know all their names yet (working on it) but their faces - and stories - are all in my mind as we complete week 1.

This week the party really starts. And I can't wait.

What kind of expectations should a professor have of her students? Of herself?

I am wrestling with both questions right now. I want my classes to always be engaging. I work very hard to find ways to not sacrifice content, but to have students more engaged in the material. I worry all the time about students "not getting it," and as I have posted previously, I am continually trying to think of ways to assess student learning not just for one class period, but how material is retained. And I'm not at all convinced that traditional exams lead to deeper learning or the retaining of information. I am a firm believer that that type of learning works for some students - mostly those who are already good students who master the material quickly and know how to take notes. Many of those go on to then perpetuate the same type of teaching method. But my experiences with engaged pedagogies like Reacting to the Past,case studies, debates and other forms of active learning have shown me how much more students can do if we give them a chance.

But that then "ups" my expectations for every class period. I want and expect deep engagement in every class period.  I don't want to lower those expectations. It would be much easier for me to lecture my way through 90 minutes than to sit and ponder how I could break up the time with something that the students do. And yet, I like to try to find new ways to approach the classroom and topics all the time.

Right now I am planning a hybrid class as well as two other classes that will meet face to face this coming semester which begins in one week. I'm trying to anticipate engagement with the material as well as finding out new information about the works of art I will teach.  I'm also trying some new game elements in the second half of the introductory survey course. I don't want to kill myself, but I want my classes to be the best that they can be.

Fellow faculty, how do you balance high expectations and making sure you do not blitz yourself completely?

css.php