Skip to main content

Never Going Back: What Online Teaching in the Times of COVID Can Add to Our Teaching Toolkits – Meredyth Wegener

Posted by on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 in News, Resource.

by Mohammad Meerzaei

With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the resulting shift to alternative modes of instruction, faculty and other instructors had to practice a form of adaptive teaching to meet the learning needs of their students. As the fall semester came to a close, CFT graduate teaching fellow Mohammad Meerzaei interviewed faculty members from across the campus asking one provocative question: How did this period of adaptive teaching make them better instructors? In this blog series titled “Never Going Back,” instructors reflect on their experiences teaching during this challenging year and share new teaching practices and beliefs about teaching that they will carry into their post-pandemic teaching.

‘Oxford Hours’: Time to Re-Establish the Class as a Community:                                    Dr. Meredyth Wegener, Senior Lecturer and Director of Honors in Neuroscience

Dr. Meredyth Wegener has travelled an exciting path with online teaching in the time of COVID. The initial challenge of teaching online has led Wegener to new prospects for making her courses diverse, inviting, and collaborative learning communities. Now she looks forward to implementing these new approaches in her in-person classes.

The first challenge Wegener faced when preparing to teach last fall was one of motivation. “One of the reasons I chose teaching,” said Wegener, “is that I really like the fact that you have to show up with a thing at a specific time and place.” The deadlines created by synchronous class sessions keep her on track, but that element is changed in an asynchronous online environment. “I can say ‘I am going to try and post it at this point,’ but if you don’t get to it, you don’t get to it, and things get shifted down on my to-do list. I felt I was always running behind and I wasn’t able to project the excitement or engagement or inquiry energy that I would like to bring to a classroom.” This made it difficult for Wegener to pre-record lectures in a way that can convey to the students the engagement and energy that she usually puts into teaching. However, her videos turned out much more useful than she expected. She realized that recorded videos can serve as a reliable resource for students throughout the semester, because they can refer back to them whenever they needed. This is one element of online teaching that Wegener will keep as part of her pedagogy.

The recorded videos had another benefit to teaching online: shifting her lecture material to videos enabled Wegener to focus her synchronous time with students on discussions of the social aspects and ramifications of the neurological topics in her course. For example, when discussing autism in one of her courses, she was able to discuss with her students not only the neurological aspects of autism, but also the social implications of whether autism should be considered a disease. “I think for a whole group of students who did not feel represented,” said Wegener, “it helped bring up issues through which they could find the missing representation. It also helped all students gain more awareness about certain social situations, for example, students who have experienced doctors not listening to them or dismissing their pain or health issues.” Wegener found a similar engagement when discussing data showing how different neurological issues or symptoms are treated by doctors based on the patient’s socioeconomic status or race or gender. “It was really validating for the underrepresented students,” said Wegener.

Not being physically present in the classroom can certainly affect students’ learning. But the increased time that students have for working on the course material individually led Wegener to rethink her assessment. The first assessment activity was inspired by an article on “understanding checkpoints” by Jennifer Schaefer in the Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education. “You give students a set of figures from a research paper,” shared Wegener, “and you ask them a series of questions about it. Then you provide them with the research paper and they have to grade themselves on their responses to the questions [using the full article]. I think this practice worked really well for the students because it met a lot of the core goals of the class, such as being able to interpret data figures and read and interpret primary research literature. It was more explicitly in concert with my goals of metacognition for the students and allowed me to really push them past simply checking the validity of their responses. The point of the assignment is to see where they could have done better, reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses.”

To make sure that the physical distance of the students did not lead to isolation, Wegener added a new grading component to her course. “I added a group grade component,” she said. “Students were required to fill out group evaluations every two weeks about how their group was going. The evaluation showed whether the students took group activities seriously.” The rubrics that she designed for this component all focused on preparation and collaboration. Although it was invented due to the demands of online teaching, Wegener found this assessment tool helpful for enhancing the sense of mutual commitment to the class as a learning community. She plans to use this tool when she returns to the classroom, possibly with some adjustments for the different context of in-person group work.

Wegener took another, rather unusual approach to building a sense of community with her students. She began to bring her dog, Oxford, to campus every Friday at a set time for informal outdoor office hours she called “Oxford hours.” During a time when both she and her students were feeling isolated and disconnected, this pandemic-safe practice helped her students feel more comfortable with her and each other. Wegener and Oxford plan to continue this new tradition when the pandemic is over.











Tags: , , ,

Leave a Response