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C'est la Z

Turning a good class into a bad lecture

I've been teaching in person for about a month now so I thought I'd give a quick update on how it's going. I've written before about my feelings on how Hunter started the semester (TL;DR - I was very displeased) but that's not the point of this post. As of today, I believe every student has been required to be stabbed at least once and on October 11, all students must be fully vaccinated to be on campus.

So, off to the report. Going in person sounds great but now that I'm doing it, I'm having second thoughts. Let's leave safety precausions out of it, I'm having second thoughts just in terms of how the current situation and related restrictions have affected my teaching.

Here's the low down. Students are supposed to wear masks at all times and I wear mine as well. We're supposed to socially distance but that's not possible given class and classroom sizes. Students are also supposed to keep the same seed all the time, ostensibly for contact tracing should anyone test positive.

To start, day one in person was important - I still haven't met my students from last year in person and I'd really like to. This years students, at least I've seen all their foreheads.

That's actually an issue. At least for me, the masks make it MUCH harder to know my students. Can't get to know a face when you can't see two thirds of it and names are going to be even harder for me.

Online, at least for those who put on cameras, we could at least see each others full faces and expressions. Zoom doesn't carry the same nuance as in person but neither does a masked face.

The masks have another negative. You can't hear anyone. I do my best to actively project but students rarely do. This leads to me having students repeat themselves multiple times and I also have to adopt a conference speaker approach of repeating and projecting what the student said so everyone can hear. This absolutely kills interactive discussion and even question answer chains. It really pushes a lesson more towards a lecture which, well, sucks.

The social distancing and keeping seats also negatively impact the environment. I can't get in with my students like I usually do. Even when in lecture mode, I'll move to different locations of the room for a variety of reasons - that's pretty much out. I also can't just get in close to support students. Likewise, group work can't happen in the same way. They can kind of sort of work with their direct neighbor but I can't have them work with each other as I'd do under normal circumstances.

Don't get me wrong. I won't compromise safety for convenience but the safety protocols do a good job in turning a good class into a bad lecture.

Online is also lousy in many ways but as long as the students are willing you can all see each others faces and you can do all sorts of interesting groupings and group work. I think my code review lesson worked pretty much as well and maybe even better online last year than it did in person the year before but I'm really at a loss on how to do it as effectively in person in a few weeks with the safety precautions.

Ideally, I'd like the freedom to mix and match. We were in person week one, but let me decide when we'll be in person and when we'll be remote. Let me use the best platform for any given lesson. This would be a bit of a drag on the students depending on how their instructors scheduled things but if students could use the rooms that they'd be in person for as locations to work remote from it wouldn't be too bad.

As usual, the ideal would be to trust the teacher and let them do what's best for their students but as we all know, that's never the way. Regardless, the interesting thing to me is that while I was clamoring for a safe in person return, the truth is, given sensible safety precautions, in person might just not be the best way to go. At least not all the time.

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