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RIT Ready: Moving Forward Into Fall
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Blog » Teaching in the A/B Mode

Rebecca Johnson--On Wednesday, October 28, 2020, Michael Starenko from the Innovative Learning Institute hosted a panel discussion on teaching in the Blended A/B Mode, featuring

  • Elizabeth Reeves O’Connor (ERO), principal lecturer, School of Communication, College of Liberal Arts
  • Andy Lawrence (AL), lecturer, Department of Management, EMBA Program, Saunders College of Business
  • Mike Strobert (MS), senior lecturer, School of Design, College of Art and Design

This post summarizes the panel discussion.
Q: Describe the classes you’re teaching right now and how you promote interaction.
Andy Lawrence (AL)

  • He's teaching A/B synchronous in all sections of his management classes.
  • Lecture happens synchronously through Zoom. Asynchronous work lives in myCourses.
  • Facilitates small group work with face-to-face students by using Slack and Google Docs and Jamboard.
  • myCourses is used as the digital hub for all asynchronous work. All materials, grades, and assignments are posted and submitted there. He has not used the individual sections of the A/B splits, preferring to use the main shell.

Mike Strobert (MS)

  • Teaching two graduate classes. One course has two sections and meets twice per week--one day is lecture (online synchronous) and one day is studio (in-person and online synchronous for remote). The other course, with an A/B split, meets once per week.
  • The graduate course with two sections has one cohort of students who are in Rochester. Some Rochester students are face-to-face, some are remote. Another cohort of students for this class is mostly outside of the United States, in places such as China, India, and Lebanon. For the sections of this class, he teaches in person and online synchronously at the same time.
  • The second graduate course is split with half the class meeting in person every other week. Whether students are in person or remote, they are all logged into Zoom. That is where the class “happens.” myCourses is also the hub for content, and Slack is used to facilitate conversations across sections.
  • Admits that keeping track of the different varieties of A/B hasn’t been very useful to him. He teaches who is in front of him, and as long as students are doing their work regardless of where they may be doing it, he’s happy.
  • Posts a weekly agenda in all classes with content broken down by day. All students are expected to participate in the course every week, regardless of when they are scheduled to meet in person. He thinks that the clear information on what to do and when helps his students keep up with the work. These are posted in myCourses, but he has found third-party tools that manage collaboration in more robust and disciplinarily appropriate ways.
  • He teaches in the School of Design and so he has his students working in tools that they may encounter in industry: Figma is used for prototyping and collaboration. Notion is a wiki space that students use to post their work and receive feedback.

Eliizabeth Reeves O’Connor (ERO)

  • Teaching three sections of public speaking, and described the challenge of teaching public speaking in the A/B split mode. Her goal was to provide as many opportunities as she could for students to speak publicly in person.
  • In her MWF classes, one half of the class meets in person on Monday, the other half on Wednesday, and then all students meet online on Fridays. If a student is learning remotely, they need not log into Zoom during their remote day.
  • She recommends that students work with the Expressive Communication Center in the Wallace Library as much as possible.
  • She is not providing the flex option for her classes due to the emphasis on face-to-face public speaking. Even so, at the time of the panel she had approximately 15 students attending class remotely.

Q: What will you do differently next semester?
ERO: Elizabeth has not required that students attend class in Zoom when they are remote, but next semester she will and she will keep the Zoom time dedicated to discussion and small group interaction as much as is possible. In her current Friday Zoom sessions, she has not required that students turn on their cameras unless they are presenting. She will keep that Zoom camera policy next semester to be considerate of students’ desire to not broadcast their surroundings.
One of the challenges is that in face-to-face classes, she knows her students’ names by week three or four. Now, though, she’s still not sure because she just hasn’t heard from them as much. Going forward, she’s planning on pre-recording more informational content and keep the discussion to in-person sessions.
Next semester she has a T/R AB split schedule, with A section meeting Tuesday and B on Thursday. There will be no required full class Zoom meetings. The "off" day will be for asynchronous online work. She does anticipate some small-group Zoom sessions scheduled throughout the semester, where she will encourage, but not require, that student cameras be on.
MS: Mike plans to record some of his lectures ahead of time. The course fluctuates so much from semester to semester for flexibility reasons, it has been hard for him to create a consistent approach to this class. In future, he wants to have some pre-recorded resources. He wants to still meet synchronously every session, but have materials to view offline so that he spends less time talking.
AL: In his normal approach to teaching, Andy tries to plan ahead as much as possible. He tries to make up teams to mix majors and years. It was impossible to do that this year without knowing who was online, who was in person. His college required seating charts, and having to create them was useful for anticipating a little bit so that team members could be near each other. Andy will once again offer his courses as flex in the spring. He figures that it doesn’t matter where you are—in person or online—because that’s how business is working now. However, he doesn’t want people to jump between in person and online, he wants students to declare whether they will be in person or online and stay there.
Q: The A/B mode is not popular among students. Why do you think that is?
AL: Andy says that his students don’t like it, and it’s confusing for them not knowing where they need to be. He suggested that Saunders is doing away with A/B and instead offering online synchronous or face-to-face.
MS: Mike's students tend to join online even if they don’t have to. He suspects that it’s an issue of worrying if you’re missing out. He likes the online synchronous mode. He thinks that the high attendance in his synchronous remote section is that those days that students are “off,” they’re missing community. Also, he knows that class size is a big issue. Luckily, he’s got fairly small classes, but thinks that if he had larger classes and he was only seeing students every other week, it wouldn’t be great. Synchronous online has been useful for him so that students don’t miss a week. He reminds folks that it’s important to recall that his classes only meet once a week and so his graduate students may be more motivated to attend remotely. Mike says that the for his graduate students, they seem to approach taking classes as more than academics--they are there to be part of a community and connect with faculty.
ERO: Elizabeth says that she needs a glossary to keep track of all of the mode types. She strongly dislikes the switching among modes, but she understands that there has to be flexibility for students who have to be remote. She also acknowledges that large class sizes in the A/B mode have been terrible. Her typical public speaking class is 20 students, but that was bumped up to 26 students this fall. The combination of having more students who you see less frequently is not great. Happily, they are taking maximum class size back down to 20 in the spring. In the spring, she will only be meeting with all students once per week, but she will require them to meet synchronously with other students in the class at least once per week.
MS: Mike describes the challenge of planning ahead even a few months because so many factors are out of our [RIT] control. He’s going ahead and planning for fully online classes as the worst-case scenario, and then will happily use any face-to-face class time he’ll get as “bonus time.” He describes how he’s been able to support online community by using Slack intensively. He also has asked students to claim their digital presence by putting up a profile picture or image—something that shows or describes who they are when their Zoom camera isn’t on.
Open Q&A

Q: How do you do over-the-shoulder instruction in a physically distanced classroom?
MS: Mike has had some success pasting content in Slack and responding to that. He also likes to create a “question room” breakout room in Zoom that he can use to meet with individual students and answer questions during class. He also uses Skype for office hours, and has for years. What he likes about Skype is that the chat history between him and students is saved to their interaction, so that he’s got a running record of their interactions and files that they’ve shared.
ERO: Elizabeth has had great success with breakout rooms for the online portions of the class as her in-class discussion groups tend to get a little loud, and they all end up shouting over each other. This problem doesn't happen in breakout rooms. She also loves using Zoom for office hours and has met with more students this semester on Zoom than she ever has.
AL: Andy has been using Slack for all interactions with students. He really likes that because they can ask him quick questions at any time.
Q: If you are creating course videos, do you include your instructor camera in the recording?
The panel generally responds that if being able to see the instructor is helpful, include your webcam view, if not, don’t include it. You can approach this with some flexibility.



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