Unconditional Teaching

a living manifesto for healthier relationships in education

Teaching into the void: Musings on online teaching during a pandemic

Jessica Koch | 2 Jun 2020 | 1 comment |

Working from home has its perks but teaching can become quite a frustrating, lonely experience when asynchronous teaching is involved.

Teaching in times of Covid-19 has made me wistful in a way that I never thought teaching could. While I enjoy working from home for the simple fact that it provides me – a hyper-vigilant, fidgety introvert – with a sense of security and calm I seldom get to experience, I miss my students terribly. I am recording sessions for a lot of my classes and upload them to the university learning platforms and while I believe that this format makes some sense for most of my classes, it is still unsettling, awkward, and frustrating to teach into the void of my laptop, pretending I am talking to somebody when, in fact, I can never be sure whether or not my students will actually listen to the recordings and if they do, when they do it. It feels like postponed or delayed one-way communication. It makes me feel hungry for discussion but leaves me with an empty mouth.

It makes me feel hungry for discussion but leaves me with an empty mouth.

More frustrating than the loneliness of teaching like this, however, is the fact that my way of teaching does not translate well into this asynchronous online style. I am a big fan of teaching as guided exploration, i.e. to venture into a topic together with my students and instead of lecturing them about the topic, facilitating their own journey by asking open questions and giving them time to explore every nook and crevice of an academic issue in their own time. When I am recording my sessions and don’t have any live interaction, this becomes impossible. I have to revert back to lecturing which poses one central problem for the content I am presenting: While I as a literary scholar insist on the idea that there is no such thing as the “correct” interpretation and that there are, in fact, a multitude of possible meanings that can unfold in varying contexts, lecture-style teaching always insinuates that the interpretation I am presenting is the “correct” one. And instead of having produced this interpretation through a community effort with my students in class, I am simply presenting them what I think works. I am talking at them, not with them. It is not how I think teaching works best and it is not how I think I want to teach for much longer.

While I will not change my teaching organisation this semester simply because I don’t want to disrupt the fragile routine my students have developed with their classes in these times of insecurity and constantly changing demands and conditions under which we are working in academia under Covid-19, I will have to reorganise a lot of my classes for the upcoming semester in case teaching online will remain the modus operandi for public health reasons. Even though I am aware of the way in which live online teaching via online platforms is much more exhausting for both teachers and students, I will definitely give it a shot next time around. And who knows? Maybe it is not as chaotic as I envision it to be. I already know from one of my smaller online seminars that it can work out if everybody – teachers and students alike – work hand in hand to turn the class into a success. Maybe it can work just as well for very large seminars. I will let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.



4 Jun 2020

Dear Jessica,

maybe a motivating experience with huge Zoom meetings:

I had a Zoom Q&A with my favorite band after an online concert and there were 988 people inside and it was possible to ask questions even if there were so many people! It is not the same as face-to-face but it is the best at the moment and we students also think it is desperate not to have the possibility to interact directly if we have questions (at least all I talked about). Even in these crazy times, it is nice to be possible to interact with the lecturers and other students and not just sitting alone with all the stuff. So, if you prefer Zoom meetings - go ahead 😊

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