by Aparna Deokar
December 14, 2020
To learn about the experiences that BUA teachers have had teaching this fall, I reached out to two teachers in different positions: Mr. Ford, a remote math teacher, and Dr. Taylor, an in-person physics teacher. Their responses to questions regarding communication with students, positive and negative changes in teaching this semester, the current teaching environment, and possible improvements are recorded below.
How has communication been with both remote and in-person students?
It’s definitely more challenging. I’m only in the building two days a week. In the past, you could see kids walking by in the hallway, and you could just grab them if you had to chat with them, but now it’s all via email. One of the big things is training everybody to check their emails and being able to do that. And particularly with remote students, you have to really make sure that they’re checking emails and reach out to them.
I think so far communication between in-person and remote students has been very good. I think it can be a challenge when you’re listening to people who are in a different location than you. So I think for me as a remote teacher, it can sometimes be a little bit hard to hear the classroom, but in general, I think the system is working really well, and I’ve been pleased with how well I’ve been able to hear students in the classroom. I know from talking with some of my colleagues that the reverse is also true — sometimes it’s difficult for them in person in the classroom to hear the students who are at home. But I again think that those issues are few and far between now. I think we’re doing pretty well with the system.
Has there been more reliance on technology?
Definitely. There’s Zoom, which we didn’t use before. In fact, in a meeting yesterday, we were talking about maybe using Zoom for other meetings post-pandemic. There’s email, and one other thing I use in teaching is the AWW App, an external whiteboard app that’s new this year. In the past, I would display the notes in class while I was writing on them, and then I’d save it as a PDF and still post it to Blackboard, which hasn’t changed. Trying to figure out ways to have students collaborate and meeting with students has definitely [led to] a [greater] reliance on technology.
Absolutely. There’s a lot more reliance on technology. For example, I can only collect homework digitally, and that requires students to scan their math homework. There’s a lot more need for students to be technologically savvy, and there’s also more need for teachers to come to grips with what technology is out there.
Have there been any challenges or any benefits?
Some challenges are the labs. How can I have labs that make it fair to remote students and kids in class, since we can’t have three students or four students crowded around a lab setup anymore? We don’t have enough for individual setups; we have about four, maybe five setups at most. Some of the upsides are that kids are at least now more willing to reach out to me via email or make a meeting with me on Calendly, which makes things more flexible. It’s also challenging trying to remember to make sure that the remote students are called on, especially if [in-person] classmates don’t call out that a person [on Zoom] is waving their hand. It’s harder than having all fourteen students sitting in front of me. The other thing is masks — they make it a lot harder for me to figure out if kids are confused, since you lose half the face with them, and I have to look at their eyes. The people at home can give me a confused look, but I can’t see that with the kids in class.
My biggest benefit is that I don’t have to commute. I enjoy not having a one-hour commute each way. Also, I feel like I’ve been able to stay pretty active. If I have an hour break between meetings, I’m able to go outside and walk around my neighborhood. So I think my physical health has actually really benefited from teaching from home. But I think there are also many challenges. It’s really emotionally hard for me to not be in the classroom with the students. I love what I do. I love teaching at BUA and not being in the classroom is a challenge for me. I think I really miss my colleagues as well, but not as much as I miss the kids.
As an in-person teacher, how has the teaching environment at BUA changed?
Now you can only see half of your colleagues when you come in. I don’t see the humanities people unless it happens to be a rare time I’m in the building on a Monday or Friday. The faculty meetings are via Zoom, but there’s just something about seeing your colleagues in person that you miss on Zoom. We can’t hang out at lunchtime or chat during free periods. It’s little things like that. On the other hand, we are having periodically small groups of faculty getting together and sharing some best practices technology-wise. We have a Slack channel that was active over the summer and last spring when we jumped into the pandemic, and though it’s tapered off quite a bit, we pass along things that we find. But it’s still hard to just get a lot of that sort of communication.
As a remote teacher, what is it like not being in the classroom, especially since most people are there?
So like you said, most people are there, but I think that the fact that I’m teaching from home gives the remote students a little bit of comfort in knowing that they’re not alone and that there are other people who are in the same scenario as them. I think that’s actually a very big positive. While interacting with the students in the classroom, I still think I’m able to really display how much I love teaching and how much I love math, and I’m still able to emote in that way. One thing that I wish I could do is see what they see — that’s what’s really difficult for me. When I’m projecting slides on the board, I don’t get to see exactly the same thing that students are seeing, so I’m relying on them to let me know if there’s something going wrong technologically. Sometimes I’m not able to fix it. I really am appreciative of the students who are able to help me with the technology needs in the classroom.
Looking to the future, are there any changes or improvements that you think could be made?
It’s hard to decide what can be changed, especially compared to other schools. The fact that we are in person and have the flexibility that students can choose whether to stay remote or come in is good, as well as the rapid testing and things like that safety-wise. I think this whole fall everybody was sort of trying to figure things out, but I think moving forward to the spring semester, a lot of kids understand how BUA is now run, and we have figured things out, although everyone does something different. I don’t know how much more we can improve: the only thing we are now waiting for is the vaccines to come out. I think we’re doing a pretty good job, certainly compared to public schools, and we have the advantage of only 200 students, BU access, and Blackboard. We have the resources, whereas you know a lot of public schools don’t, and they’re dealing with far more people. I think we are doing a pretty good job.
We’re always looking for ways that we can improve. In fact, I’m part of a group that meets every week to talk about the technology side of teaching and learning and if there are any things that we could be doing better. But the only way that we know about these things is to hear from students. I would really encourage any students experiencing issues, whether they’re learning from home or in the classroom, to come and talk to me. If there’s issues with how things are being presented or any issues that we might be able to address in terms of technology, I encourage them to come and talk, because we can’t fix things that we don’t know are wrong, but we have the time to [make fixes]. Overall, I think we’re extremely successful this semester. I think we’ve done a lot better than many other schools, and I’m really pleased with the resources that BU made available to us to allow us to continue giving such a great educational experience to the students!