Oh, Jane Eyre

I read and fell in love with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë when I was in seventh grade and it’s been one of those books I return to again and again. It seems there are many people who agree that “Reader, I married him” is one of the most satisfying quotes in the book—one has only to look to Twitter or Pinterest to find many threads dedicated to this very quote.

My goals this summer—after a hectic spring term and the stress and uncertainty of emergency remote learning—focused on self-care. I planned to take time to relax, spend more time in my pottery studio, garden, exercise.

If Jane Eyre were to evaluate how I’m doing, I’m sure she would say,
“Reader, she failed.”

On my behalf, I will say that I have not failed completely. I’ve spent some time this summer fending off a family of groundhogs gardening, swimming, reading, watching our hummingbirds, and even getting back on the pottery wheel. What I have also done, though, is complete a week-long Global Online Academy Design Bootcamp course, serve on our Hybrid Learning Committee, and start to redesign the New Student Seminar (NSS) course I teach.

So at this point, it’s more a case of:
“Reader, I married my work.”

REDESIGNING FOR HYBRID LEARNING

One of the highlights of my job as the research librarian at Kent School is the opportunity to teach two sections of NSS, a signature program required of all our new incoming 3rd and 4th formers. This fall will be my third year teaching the course, but since it is only offered in the fall term, it will be my first year teaching it in a hybrid setting. This means if I want to be ready for the fall term, I need to rework (or begin reworking) my course over the summer. I know from prior experience that designing and teaching a hybrid course is A LOT of work. Much as we need to recognize it will probably take our students two to three times as long to complete work in an online classroom, we also need to accept it will probably take us that long to create student-centered lessons that can quickly pivot from an on-ground to an online modality with the least amount of friction or disruption for our students.

In my work on the Hybrid Learning Committee (comprised of faculty, Department Chairs, the Director of Information Technology, and Director of Studies), the twelve of us have met weekly to create a framework for our teachers to address working with students who might be on ground or learning remotely, whether synchronous or asynchronously. One of the areas we discussed and worked on outside of our meetings and that will inform much of our teaching moving forward was to identify and expand on a set of guiding principles listed here:

  1. Relationships are key to creating an equitable learning environment.
  2. Process takes precedence over content.
  3. Student agency and independent learning are central to engagement and a positive outcome in an online/ hybrid learning environment.
  4. Flexibility and innovation are required for the creation and assessment of equitable learning experiences.

So my challenge this summer is to really think about how I might re-design my current course to:

  1. Encourage the development of strong, positive relationships with my students and among my students.
  2. Focus on the most important goals or competencies.
  3. Provide opportunities for voice and choice in every lesson.
  4. Incorporate what I’ve learned through professional development courses and reading.

WELCOME PAGE WITH BASIC ELEMENTS

I started by redesigning the welcome page on my LMS to set the tone for the course. Previously my landing page—not really a welcome page—consisted of an image. One of the challenges at the GOA Design Bootcamp was to create a welcome page that was, well, welcoming. Here are their criteria:

1. Create and Add Welcome Video
This video was a quick introduction to the course—simple, informal, and personal. I talked about the course briefly, how much I was looking forward to meeting them, and that I would touch base with them prior to the start of the course. This last part of the message is especially important for our remote learners.

2. Add Contact Information
Although I am basically camera shy, I did add a photo of myself and my contact information: email, Zoom room link, and link to my Calendly. In the spring when I was collaborating with other teachers, students loved that they could check my Calendly and see when I was free to meet and schedule a time to Zoom.

3. Add a Course Description
I added a description of the course under Key Points and also a link to the syllabus in the right column.

4. Add Navigation Information
PowerSchool isn’t the most user-friendly LMS—it’s actually quite clunky so a “How to Use PowerSchool” video that shows students where they will find lessons, assignments, and how to submit assignments will be especially helpful to my remote learners.

5. Add Information on Tasks to do Before Class Starts
I let my students know I wanted them to read about the course and watch the navigation video prior to the first day of class.

WELCOME PAGE WITH OPTIONAL ELEMENTS

While the five elements above are the basics that GOA recommended, I ended up adding a couple of optional elements that would help my students navigate my course through visual thinking (course icons) and give them an opportunity to connect with their classmates before the start of school. Since my students are new 4th formers, it’s important for me to help them develop into a strong cohort group providing a supportive base from which they can join the larger school community. You’ll see descriptions for the elements I added on the right with corresponding numbers on the screenshot on the left.

Next on the agenda, redesigning Unit 1: Academic Orientation. Now, enough of work—I’m off to check on my groundhogs garden …

3 thoughts on “Oh, Jane Eyre

  1. This is wonderful, thank you, Nancy – I am in the middle of a similar course, however I am building a fully virtual version of AP Research. I was pleased to see that I’ve got a number of the elements you identify here, but not the clearly valuable ‘Contact’ piece- I appreciate this nudge! I’m right with you on the need for self-care and simultaneous failure to maintain some kind of balance this summer. Strength and fortitude, particularly on the groundhog front 🙂

  2. This is so helpful, Nancy! We use Google Classroom at my school and I need to play with it to see if I can accomplish the incorporation of your excellent look/feel/flow of information. I just taught two Senior Bootcamp virtual classes, preparing the students to launch on their year long capstone project, and I wish that I had frontloaded my Google classroom with some of the elements you mention.

    One benefit of the virtual environment, I found, is the ability to record your entire lesson and screen share. The students who were not able to attend your class can then see what their classmates saw and have a similar experience, without the live chat or ability to ask questions in real time. It’s a silver lining and one that we may want to incorporate into our regular practice once the vaccine is found, to share with kids who are absent or who want/need to review prior to an assessment.

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