Teaching Remotely CORE Deposit Party Recap 

MLA Commons recently hosted the Teaching Remotely CORE Deposit Party within the Teaching Remotely group. The goals of the week-long event were to spark conversation and to encourage members to share materials related to teaching during the pandemic in the group’s CORE collection.

This post will feature a few of the deposits received during the event and pose a few questions to the instructors who created and deposited the material. I chose to highlight these deposits because they showcase the realities of students and professors adapting to new methods of teaching and learning; the support and comradery that has come from this transition; and a sense of hope towards the future. Thank you to Sujata Iyengar, Nicky Didicher, and Scott Challener for their contributions! 

Hear more about their deposits, below:

“Cherishing ‘alle that is made’: Student Voices from the COVID-19 Pandemic Pivot at the University of Georgia, USA” by Sujata Iyengar 

Sujata Iyengar deposited a preprint of her contribution to “Journal of a Plague Year: Six Voices from American Universities: Part I.” A professor of English, Iyengar discusses the connections her students have made between literature and their own lives during the pandemic. 


What was your initial reaction to moving your class online at the beginning of the pandemic?

I was relieved that UGA had made the switch to remote learning in light of the pandemic, which I had been following since December 2019. I had already (in February 2020, before we “pivoted”) started offering hand sanitizer to students when we did group activities and wiping down our shared markers, book-binding tools, and so on!

I also felt thankful that I had taken up opportunities to develop online remote teaching and learning experience before the pandemic hit. I had co-developed a fully online, asynchronous class in 2015, then developed one of my own in 2016 as an Online Learning Fellow, and (later in 2016) unofficially piloted a hybrid course. Since 2018, I had been running remote team meetings across different states (using Zoom) for the Shakespeare journal I co-founded and co-edit, and from 2016-19, with the help of a series of wonderful PhD students and some keen undergraduates, I coordinated a series of remote and in-person meetings between researchers and students in the South of France and researchers and students here in Georgia, as part of a multi-year international grant I won. So I was already familiar with the idea and execution of remote, hybrid, fully online, asynchronous and non-asynchronous learning technologies—and actually kind of looking forward to seeing how it would all work, and especially to reassuring other teachers that it could not only work, but also work WELL.


How has the experience of teaching during the pandemic changed your approach to teaching?

You could group my changes under three headings, I suppose: 1. Modular or “flipped” approach to class discussion 2. Thoughtful, historicized “presentism” 3. Foregrounding social-emotional learning.

  1. I took the pandemic pivot as a chance completely to redesign my second-year survey, which – apart from adding or removing a few authors, and updating my own knowledge – I hadn’t really changed since I began teaching at this institution in 1998. I know many people detest the “modular” or outcomes-based approach that much online learning uses, but I found that I liked it and could use it to make my unstructured, open-ended discussions more effective – along the lines of the “flipped” classroom model. The online or hybrid model also let me provide additional “catch-up” materials for students from non-traditional high-school backgrounds so that if they felt they were missing essential background knowledge that their peers learned in high school, the resources were right there for them (I also scheduled additional workshops or optional class meetings on these topics for those who wanted them.)
  2. I tried something I’d long wanted to do, which is to lay present-day texts alongside historical ones, and something that students have been asking me to do, and that seems harder to do because of the historical and geographical focus of the course on the peoples of the British Isles and because of the kinds of texts that have survived and been included in standard textbooks—to include more writing by racial, ethnic, and sexual minority authors and women authors (the first step is always for me to historicize ideas of race, sexuality, and gender, of course!). I have written about how that worked out in another paper on MLA Commons, “Decolonizing’ Spenser and Milton through Diasporic Responses”! I felt it important to let students find something that spoke to them in the literature, especially during this distracting, overwhelming time, and then to use that interest to engage them in the history, analysis, and writing that are the heart of the course.
  3. Along those lines, I reduced the mandatory reading and writing load during the pandemic and experimented with a “labor-based grading” or “contract grading” approach. I felt it important to acknowledge that we are living through a hundred-year-event and that the pressures on all of us, especially on young people, have been overwhelming. I replaced traditional timed “ID” exams with a series of quizzes to make sure everyone had the facts and then reflection papers and journal entries, which they could revise more than once, to measure their growth as readers, writers, and learners.


What do you plan to keep the same in your classes this fall, and what are you planning to change?

This Fall I am just hoping to keep my head above water; I am very worried (since, at the time of writing, my institution is requiring neither vaccinations nor masks, nor even permitting instructors to require students to protect themselves in these ways) that we’ll have an outbreak of this Delta variant on campus that will make unvaccinated students quite ill. We have been told that we may not pivot online if students get ill, but we are supposed somehow to accommodate them—it’s not clear to me how. Although I am fully vaccinated, I am worried about the possibility of my being incapacitated by a breakthrough infection, because I am the only Shakespearean in my department right now and have a full load of courses, with students on the waitlist also trying to get in.

A big disappointment for me has been that, given our low vaccination rates in Georgia, and the fact that I am not currently allowed to require students to attend any event or activity that requires vaccination, I won’t be able to return to what was previously a core requirement for my Shakespeare courses, and one that students loved—live theatre. I am also disappointed that (again, given our low vaccination rates and absence of a mask mandate) I won’t be able to invite guest speakers to class, except remotely. So I suppose remote theatre and remote visitors will continue to be the same as during the early days of the pandemic, along with the online reading quizzes (much better than doing them in real time in class) and, I think, the regular online journaling. I still plan on doing a lot of group work using Google docs to set up our discussions, since I think Gen Z welcomes the greater structure and does well with it. The biggest differences will be that rather than watching the videos, etc. out of class time, students will have me there live to talk to them and they will be able to work on their Google docs while in the same classroom as each other!


What inspired you to create this resource?

I was so proud of my students’ reflections and how maturely and wisely they were dealing with the pandemic pivot that I wrote a reflection of my own and posted it on social media (Facebook), where during the semester I regularly post about my teaching days, good, bad, and indifferent. Then I was approached by a researcher in Germany who wanted to publish my social media post and to commission other, similar pieces from US scholar-teachers in the Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, the oldest philological journal in Germany (founded in 1846). I told her that my students’ work was more important than mine as a testimonial to what they learned and that if my students were interested, I’d agree to edit and comment on my students’ responses and turn that into an essay. I also said that I needed to publish an open-access version so that my students’ parents and friends could read their work if they were interested, and she agreed (the open-access version is available on the English Department website and also, of course, on MLA Commons!) My students were gratified and granted us permission to publish their words (though several of them didn’t want their names to be used), and so the essay was published. I loved that the reflections then became what we call “authentic” learning assignments—students had written material that was edited and published for others to read in an international, peer-reviewed venue. Not bad for your first year of college.


What inspired you to share this resource with MLA Commons, and what inspires you to participate in communities such as MLA Commons?

I wanted everyone to read my awesome students’ work! Gen Z has had it hard—give them all the props! More seriously, several people commented on my social media posts and our Center for Teaching and Learning asked me informally to advise them about potential pitfalls of the remote pivot, since I have piloted different kinds of remote and online teaching tech. I realized that sharing this work might reassure faculty unfamiliar with remote learning and hybrid or online modalities that not only could they themselves comfortably learn to use such technologies but also their students could end up with appropriate outcomes: I hope the quotations from student work show that my students learnt to read deeply and analytically, to contextualize literature historically, and to identify the effective, creative, and expressive ways in which writers from all eras use language—as well as to see themselves as part of a world-wide community of readers and learners.



ROCK Your Semester by Nicky Didicher

Didicher’s deposit is an infographic giving advice to instructors for creating virtual courses. As a University Lecturer at Simon Fraser University, Didicher has used her position to advise and encourage others during the pandemic.


How has the experience of teaching during the pandemic changed your approach to teaching?

My Canvas shells are much more organized and user-friendly. I’m posting weekly checklists of things to read and things to do, plus announcing what’s new in Canvas. (I’m putting off doing so for next week by writing this.) I’ve learned to enable auto-transcription when recording synchronous Zoom discussions. I still sometimes forget to press “resume recording” after a breakout room session.

But those are tech details, not my approach. I’m trying to be more empathetic and compassionate. I’ll keep that, but give up being available to students evenings and weekends.


What do you plan to keep the same in your classes this fall, and what are you planning to change?

I want to go back to the way it was before, frankly, and I don’t feel sorry for saying so. I love in-person teaching, the rush and energy of a roomful of people all thinking hard about the same issues and questions, the ability to wander around the room and hear all the conversations instead of having to click from breakout room to breakout room. I’ll probably organize my Canvas shells better. I may keep the weekly checklist for first-year courses. My late penalties will be lower, and, in a course without TAs, I’ll waive them if the student brings a draft of the assignment to a meeting for feedback and support. I sincerely hope my students will not now expect me to record lectures, use Jamboard and Padlet and Kahoot, and so on.


What inspired you to create this resource?

I created the infographic as part of my responsibility as a Faculty Teaching Fellow for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Simon Fraser University (the Teaching Fellows help to organize events and programs to support instructors in the Faculty). I had been planning to put together a tips sheet for coping with the stresses remote teaching had placed on both instructors and students. And the mnemonic occurred to me during my masked once a week walk outside my apartment, to the local grocery.


What inspired you to share this resource with MLA Commons, and what inspires you to participate in communities such as MLA Commons?

When I got the email invitation to the deposit party, I thought to myself “can I take another online group figuring out how to do this thing, or am I totally sick of sifting through tips and ideas for remote teaching that I can pass on?” And then I thought about the grading and prep for Zoom classes I should have been doing and used the MLA group as constructive work avoidance.



The New Border (Spring 2021) by Scott Challener

Challener is an Assistant Professor of English and Foreign Languages at Hampton University. Challener taught this virtual course last spring at the College of William and Mary. This deposit is a syllabus for a course that explores literature from the US-Mexico border from the 1980s to present day. This syllabus stood out to me because as a Spanish major, courses on contemporary and modern Spanish literature, especially from women authors, were always my favorite.


What was your initial reaction to moving your class online at the beginning of the pandemic? 

My initial reaction was a mix of confusion, anxiety, worry, and fear. I wasn’t especially worried about online teaching because I had already taught online in a variety of institutional settings. I was more concerned about the most vulnerable members of my broader family. In that category I include not only my partner and kids, my siblings, in-laws, and relatives, but also my students and their families, my colleagues and theirs, neighbors, staff, and so on. The pandemic revealed these extensive nets of relation, care, dependency, and vulnerability. We need and rely on each other. As our indebtedness to one another became more and more clear, the contradictions inherent in what faculty, staff, and students alike were being asked to do became more and more intense. Some students didn’t have stable internet access; others didn’t feel safe at the “homes” they were forced to return to; others went home only to become the primary caretakers in their families. As the crises compounded, these stressors pulled on all of these different lines of connection. I really felt that; and for these pressing social and material reasons, I wanted to make the transition to online classes as seamless, simple, and doable as possible. I kept asking myself: what matters now? What does—what can—teaching mean now?


How has the experience of teaching during the pandemic changed your approach to teaching?

Teaching during the pandemic changed the questions and objectives I start with and teach to. For example: before the pandemic, I used that important first day to do what you’d expect: establish collective norms and guiding principles; begin to get to know one another; introduce overarching frameworks for the course; review key parts of the syllabus. Now, we question the very idea of “norms” and “normalcy”; of coming together to study; of doing what we’re about to do. We ask what we ever wanted out of our ideas of the normal; we question how much we shared in those desires. We ask what’s necessary and what’s inevitable. The sense that what worked before will work again is gone. 

That’s not to say I don’t still call on a familiar pedagogical repertoire—I do, everyday. But I’m much more willing to question the prevailing assumptions entailed in that repertoire, and to forgo it or reimagine it altogether. And we still do all the community-building work we used to, but we start from a different intellectual and affective location. We spend a lot more time talking about the shared ground we stand on. We pursue Dr. Katherine McKittrick’s question—where do you know from?—and consider how the pandemic has changed our lives and our answers to that question. And we carry that question forward into all of our readings, asking where the authors we study know and write from, too. 

I’ve also made a lot of practical changes as a result of the pandemic. I assign fewer readings and work to ensure most required texts are available for free or at the lowest cost possible. I’ve streamlined my assignments and converted them into Google docs that students can comment on if they have a question; students can also copy the assignments and modify them for accessibility and usability. Everything, when possible, is hyperlinked (and checked for currency). To that end, I assign more “public-facing,” non-paywalled essays by scholars than I did before. I also began using GroupMe chats as a way to build virtual community, after a colleague, Alicia Andrzejewski, shared how she uses them in her courses. I digitized rubrics. I shifted to contract grading.


What do you plan to keep the same in your classes this fall, and what are you planning to change?

I intend to keep most of these changes the same. I anticipate negotiating more complex interactions between different kinds of experiences—in person and virtual, on-ground and online, print and digital. I hope this complexity will serve us (and not confuse us!) and deepen our understanding of the problems we live with. I hope more of our in-person discussions will filter in and out of blog posts and more formal assignments. That said, Zoom is exhausting, so I intend to use it as minimally as possible–and in very specific ways (for some office hours and group work, for example). I also hope to try out some new (or new-to-me) websites, like Google’s Jamboard. I like building different kinds of shared cognitive maps with students. New ways of representing and producing knowledge can help us reframe our questions and imagine alternatives. 


What inspired you to create this resource?

Sharing! Sharing isn’t just important to our lives. It is life. The pandemic revealed once again not only how much we share, but also how much we need to share. At the same time, we’re aware now more than ever how every dimension of sharing has been captured and corporatized.


What inspired you to share this resource with MLA Commons, and what inspires you to participate in communities such as MLA Commons?

To that end, I was inspired to join MLA Commons and contribute to it because a mentor and friend, Andrew Goldstone, pointed me to Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s excellent post “Academia, not edu.” I share in Fitzpatrick’s vision for MLA Commons as a not-for-profit alternative to academia.edu. Readers who are wondering why they shouldn’t keep posting their work there might also check out Jeffrey Pooley’s “Metrics Mania: The Case Against Academia.edu.” As Pooley writes: 

The university is already beset by market pressures and the imperative to demonstrate measurable impact. Scholars around the world experience the market’s impingement on their work lives through enrollment-driven budgets, customer-service teaching, contingent-labor contracts, and mandatory performance assessments. Less obvious, perhaps, is our own internalization of the audit culture’s values, one AuthorRank at a time.

It doesn’t have to be this way.


*Note: All responses are made by each professor in a personal capacity and not for the institutions that employ them.

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