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Explorations on

Teaching Online

University of Washington - Bothell

Learning Community

May 2021

Cover photo by Jason Leung

Table of Contents



Chairs and Zoombombers

Gavin Doyle



and Easy To-Do Stratgies to

Promote Online Engagement

Becca Price




Sarita Shukla



New Places

Mark Chen



About Viral Epidemics

During a Pandemic

Susan McNabb

Gavin Doyle

May 27th, 2020

Of Chairs and


With COVID, much of what I’ve relied on for

my teaching—immediate interactions with

students, a close community of supportive

learners, and hands-on exercises—felt like

they’d be lost.

How was I supposed to teach ACTING over

a webcam, for instance? I’ve been unsuccessfully

arguing with UWB for years that

I needed chairs in the Performance Studio

because good scenes and monologues—

good theatre—needed to be “grounded”

with a sense of place. It can’t always be heads

floating in space on an empty stage.

Empty chair on stage

And yet, I was now faced with the

prospect of teaching an entire class not

only without chairs, but without a room.

Or any bodies. We were just voices heard

through crackling headphones and jagged

pictures seen through a screen. It felt like

punishment for sins committed in a prior


But, yet… we persevered. We adapted. And,

more than that, we learned.

Working over Zoom, my students stayed

engaged and interested in the work. They

formed close bonds with their virtual

classmates. They were supportive of each

other. We did regular check-ins at the start

of each class. We did breakout rooms for

small group discussions and workshopping.

We used shared Google docs to jointly create

characters and write monologues with peer

support. The students’ weekly journal entries

in Canvas showed careful reflection. Things

had not fallen apart.

Sure, it wasn’t perfect. Our first class had

Zoombombers, our second class had me

kicked out of my own session several times

due to poor internet, and much of my “go

to” warm-ups were just impossible. Half

the students kept their cameras off. Not my

preference, but I didn’t want to push it—I’m

teaching from by bedroom closet (with my

clothes hanging behind me), so I intimately

understand their desire to NOT showcase

their own bedrooms.

I had plans this quarter for the personal

webspace our LC purchased for each of us,

but COVID derailed that. Instead of creating

a personal site, I used the space to create an

online 5th Grade classroom for my son. It

was actually a good learning experience for

me. I found myself using Wacom tablets and

digital whiteboards to explain math concepts,

sharing google documents to start “round

stories,” and integrating forms to collect quiz

answers. And so, while I was not making what

I’d originally intended, I was practicing a new

digital language.

And, I think, that’s what I’m taking away

from this quarter. Things may not have gone

to plan. It’s not been a polished draft. But the

work has been there, and my vocabulary has

expanded. Chairs? We don’t need no stinking

chairs. We’ve got the open web.

I can’t say that I’d now voluntarily transition

to all-remote Acting classes. But, it was far

from a disaster. I’ve learned new ways of doing

things digitally that I will continue after we

return to “in-person” teaching. For instance,

I routinely have logistical/space problems

when I want students to simultaneously work

on lines, or show scenes to each other. The

problem of how I can have twelve different

scenes being practiced in the same classroom

is now solved for me—Zoom breakout rooms

worked really well.


We don’t need no stinkin’ chairs.

We’ve got the open web

For my non-performance classes, I’ve been

recording mini-lectures, using Canvas

discussions, and requiring student blogs—

though, with the help of this LC in past years,

those are tools I’ve used in the past. And so,

they were not as shocking to my system as

Zoom has been.

Quick and Easy To-do

Strategies to Promote

Online Engagement

Becca Price

January 9th, 2021

I went back to school.

This seems somewhat odd at first, given that I’ve been in school since

I was 5, traveling an academic path that went from K12 to college to

grad school to postdoc to faculty member. But I recently had occasion

to present talk to the principal and vice principals at my kids’ school. I

was so nervous to be back in that context! I had to go to the principal’s

(virtual) office!

In our school district, spring and fall (and now winter) quarters have

been taught remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The principals

helpfully held a meeting to speak with parents about how their kids

are learning in these strange and stressful times. One message came out

loud and clear: students and teachers are overwhelmed and overworked.

None of them are prepared to work in a remote environment.

A fundamental component of teaching is the assessment feedback loop.

You teach something, and then you see how well students understand it,

and then you use that understanding to help the students achieve even

deeper dexterity with the topic. But when teachers are falling behind on

their grading, and when they can’t see students’ faces because cameras are

all off, and when students aren’t submitting homework because they’re

overwhelmed, and when chat is being used as a social tool instead of a

learning one (long story—and big mistake on the part of the district),

the assessment feedback loop breaks.

When teachers are in the classroom talking to students, moving around

the room and fielding questions while students work, and constantly

checking in with them, they are assessing student learn. It’s a critical part

of the K12 assessment feedback loop. I wanted to talk to the principals

about strategies that the might help teachers collect these same kind of

data, but in a remote context.

Here are some of the strategies I mentioned:

Use the chat and collaborative documents like google docs —

Expect all of the students to answer questions, and immediately gauge

where they are

Continue with classic interactive learning strategies like the jigsaw —

Have the breakout rooms take notes in google docs. Each group could

have their own doc, or there could be one doc with students writing in

different sections. I’ve used both strategies, depending on context.

Minute paper are tried and true —

Ask students what they understand, and what they’re confused about.

They can write for a minute. This could be in chat, a google doc, and or

a bulletin board app like Padlet.

Try collaborative notetaking —

I’ve done this with—you guessed it—google docs, but I’m curious what

it’s like to use a mindmapping app like Coggle.

And it turns out principals are pretty cool. I had

great fun talking to the team, and I’m reminded

once again that my kids are in good hands.



Sarita Shukla

January 25th, 2021

20/20 vision indicates good visual clarity, much like the year 2020

has done for me. 2020 made me look very closely at what the teaching-learning

process was truly about. I wondered about the affordances

and challenges of a brick and mortar school, the unique challenges and

opportunities presented in sudden shifts, and about online education

more generally.

These wonderings were manifest especially in one undergraduate course

that I lead in Spring 2020. In a typical quarter, undergraduate students

enrolled in this course would spend time at internship sites and write

essays/create multimedia presentations based on reflections from their

experiences. The suddenness of the shift to online learning and the lack

of internship opportunities was the driving force for reimagining this


The urgency of this task coupled with what was happening in the world

at the time forced me to think about teaching-learning like never before.

In this post, I will share some insights and also wonderings about two

questions: How can students take charge of their own learning? What can

instructors do to facilitate learning especially in times of abrupt transitions?

I articulate how students and instructors may approach each of these

bulleted points. Here the terms, students and instructors are not used

as binaries. Rather, students and instructors are viewed as being on a


Get support when you need it

Students: The shift in modality meant that the way that students are

‘seen’ by instructors shifts. Hallway conversations about family situations,

late assignments and happenstance encounters could not happen.

Instead students have to be purposeful and ask for help. Writing an email

to an instructor might not have been required in the past but reaching

out with questions/concerns/clarifications became more imperative

than before.

Instructors: Find opportunities to connect with students and really try

to hear. Reach out to students when you see anything amiss!

Find opportunities to connect with

class peers

Students: Building connections with peers through online communication

and reaching out via online interactions; responding to each

other’s discussion posts, small group participation during synchronous/

asynchronous class work, participating in class forums became all the

more important to develop a sense of community. Building a sense of

connection and reaching out to peers with diverse experiences and backgrounds

does not happen automatically even in a face-to-face classroom.

However, being more purposeful and connecting with peers through

these virtual modalities became all the more important.

Instructors: Be thoughtful about creating opportunities for meaningful

peer connections. It does not happen ‘naturally’ so be purposeful and

articulate about ways to make this happen in online classes.

Plan in some way

Students: Learning online can be overwhelming. The present moment,

family, childcare, other obligations might push class work in the background.

Finding a way to organize yourself and keeping tabs on what

is coming up helps. This is especially important for pacing yourself

with regards to your assignments. This prevents you from getting overwhelmed

while juggling multiple responsibilities.

Instructors: Provide some wiggle room for late work. If your learning

management system allows, put due dates on the course calendar. Share

how you organize your own work — shows your humanity while also

normalizing your student concerns about assignment submission timelines.

Share how you give yourself some grace in your own work!

Vision 2020

When need be, step away

Students: Class meetings online can be exhausting and if the content

you are learning seems to get overwhelming, take a breath and step away.

Give yourself grace as you are working through unprecedented times,

take a moment, gather yourself.

Instructors: Allow students to turn off their cameras and carefully think

about attendance policies. If possible, record your class meetings. This

allows students who might not be able to engage in the moment, engage

with content when they can and are able too.

Create some sort of routine for yourself

Students: While there might be no apparent need to get up at a certain

time or do tasks at a certain time, creating a routine helps develop

rhythm. It gives a sense of calm and being in control while also allowing

you to accomplish tasks.

Instructors: Set your courses so that there is some predictability; for

instance, assignments due on the same day every week. This reduces

stress for students while also helping you set your own grading routine.

Celebrate mini-victories

Students: Rewarding yourself for accomplishing mini-goals will help you

stay on task without getting burned out. So if you complete all the work

that you set forth for the week –viewed required videos, completed course

assignments, take some time off for doing something that you enjoy.

Instructors: Acknowledge student work. Be timely in your feedback.

If possible, share how you are taking care of yourself. Self-care is not a

luxury but indeed important to allow us to continue doing things we love

(teach!) with care.

Stay focused

Students: Distractions while completing learning tasks are prevalent

even in physical classrooms but this can be even more daunting when you

could watch a video, read materials unrelated to class content, do other

tasks that are required (folding laundry?) but can take away from your

learning in the moment. Finding ways to allow yourself a distraction-free

learning environment; both mentally and physically can help accomplish

the goals you have set forth for yourself.

Instructors: How can you leverage online tools for increasing engagement

with learning? Consider providing authentic learning activities

where students can see the meaning and importance of tasks. This can

be a strong motivator for students to be focused with their learning.

Stay positive

Students: Worrying about your own health, your loved ones, your family

members and friends can and does take a mental toll. Acknowledging that

this is ok and expected but still finding ways to look forward to something

that is coming up, finding ways to connect with your inner self and

staying positive helps.

Instructors: If possible, consider providing some outlet for students to

share what is happening in their lives. A quick check in at the beginning

of your synchronous meetings, journal writing, or other course activities

that allow students to process what is happening can help.

Remind yourself of things that make

you happy

Students: Often things can seem overwhelming in the moment, it might

appear that this will NEVER go away. At times it might seem like there is a

huge hole and digging out of it is impossible. At times like this, reminding

yourself of something that makes you happy ( a vacation you took, your

loved ones) will help you put things in perspective. Reminding yourself

that this is a moment in time and this will pass while reminding yourself

of good memories can be helpful.

Instructors: How can you provide opportunities for students to share

something that is important to them? How can you help celebrate the

small accomplishments? How can you be authentic in your praise? How

can you build student self-esteem?


New Places

Mark Chen

May 26th, 2020

This year has been an exploration of a couple of

new platforms for me since we had to transition

to online-only courses. Most of my courses were

already using online tech pretty heavily so the

transition was an opportunity to try some more

extreme ideas.

Like many, I had to figure out a good work-fromhome

office set up and invest in a new webcam,

and, along with that, I checked out a couple of

apps to add special effects or that let me mix in

multiple video feeds to a virtual camera that is

fed into Zoom. Namely, I use XSplit VCam which

lets me use a custom background, its settings

more flexible and reliable than Zoom’s built-in

one, and OBS and ManyCam to let me do things

like picture-in-picture. Oh, and also an app

called APowerMirror to let me plug my Android

phone into my computer and into my

computer and mirror its screen on my monitor,

which could then be used as a video source for

ManyCam and OBS.

The most extreme thing I’m exploring is meeting

students in games and virtual worlds instead

of or alongside Zoom, as my course on interactive

media sort of lends itself to experiments in

said media. I’ve tried World of Warcraft, which

sort of works but also sort of doesn’t work in

that the novelty might be getting in the way of

doing anything productive. I’m also torn about

whether to make it an official meeting place. The

free version is sufficient, but it’s still a sizeable

download, and I’m not sure if it’s reasonable

to ask students to install it on their laptops or

desktops, and anyone using a phone to connect

would be out of luck, unfortunately… This

summer, I’ll probably start with a poll to see

what people have access to.

I’ve also tried to just stream from within a game

on Zoom, attempting to play a game that doesn’t

take 100% attention to attend to while discussing

readings or other topics for that week. This

has mostly been used once in a while during

our optional Zoom days (for my courses this

quarter, I’ve only been making one day a week

the official meeting time and reserving the

other day as virtual office hours). Again, we’re

not really “working”, but for the students that

show up, it seems to be a welcome diversion

from everyday crap. Most of the optional days

feature just a Pandora music station to have

in the background sort of like a virtual coffee

shop where we’re all doing our own things, and

there’s a small handful of students who seem to

join every week for that.

Surprisingly, my courses this Spring Quarter

seem to be doing quite well, maybe because

of these things that I’m trying to do to build

community, but also probably because they’ve

been more vigilant reading emails and structuring

their lives around the milestones and

synchronous class times, etc. I’ve been trying

to stay in communication with them frequently

and being transparent about course decisions

and adjustments and emailing individual

students who seem to need more help than

others, etc.

Also, the web course I teach, in particular, is

benefiting from the Zoom format with me and

various students sharing our screens to troubleshoot

code; it seems to work better than doing

it in a classroom setting.

Other than those things, I’m still doing the

same things I tried last year: using Slack and

hypothes.is for online discussions and having

students in my web design course register their

own domain name with Reclaim Hosting.

This year, we’ve had to face many adjustments,

using our care and diligence for our students to

guide us. This is true for every year, of course,

and I’m continually mind-boggled that some

people feel like online instruction is easier or

not worth as much as face-to-face instruction.

Certainly, there are some courses and

disciplines that require in-person interactions

(and next fall will be a challenge as I teach an

ethnographic fieldwork course!), but I’m pretty

adamant in thinking that even though we’re

using an online-only format, we’re for the most

part still serving students to a rigorous standard

that I think UW is rightly proud of upholding.

“Most of the optional days feature

just a Pandora music station to

have in the background sort of like

a virtual coffee shop where we’re all

doing our own things…”

Learning About Viral

Epidemics During a


Susan McNabb

February 19th, 2021

During the last week of class this fall quarter, my First-Year students are giving

presentations on topics related to viruses. We are using PowerPoint and sharing

screens—sort of old school meets Zoom school. I am really impressed by how

the talks are opening up larger discussions, especially on the topic of social and

economic effects of COVID-19.

Here are examples of the things

they expressed —


Many UWB students have to work and some are supporting their families, as

their parents have been laid off. We know that students with financial need and

students of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID—my students feel

this impact. Unemployment increases financial stress and can lead to food insecurity

and even homelessness. It also can lead to or exacerbate mental health

issues in our students and in their family members.

COVID disease:

My students understand the many impacts of COVID. Some caught it this quarter.

Some had really strong disease symptoms while others were hardly affected. Like

many who catch COVID, they either got it from their families or worried about

spreading it to their families. Among their parents, some are elderly or immunocompromised

due to cancer treatment. Others worry because transmission to

other workers in the family could cripple family finances. This is stressful and

emotional for them.

An Honest

Conversation About

the Student Life

During the Pandemic

How to cope:

My students also have great ideas about how to cope with the pandemic—how to

stay safe and keep others safe (masks, physical distancing, staying home), how to

get tested for COVID, what each test can tell you and about the trade-offs between

expense and speed vs accuracy. Many are ready to roll up their sleeves for the

vaccine but also appreciate that they will not be first in line. They will continue

to mask up and stay in their bubbles. They can give you the number for hotlines

to call when the stress is getting you down.

Yearning for the “university experience”:

Most students would like to return to a form of normalcy—especially the “university

experience”. They want to be here on campus, meeting each other and their

faculty in person, going to labs, club meetings, the library, the ARC. They understand

that the current surge will delay a return to campus. They are thinking

creatively, and some have expressed a desire for hybrid courses in which those

who don’t feel safe coming to campus can have an online option. I estimate that

at least half of my students think that being in in-person classes would help their

learning process.

Thoughts on hybrid courses:

The hybrid option that my students suggested could work if adequate computer

access is available in the classroom. Right now, student teams meet in breakout

rooms on Zoom and they could still do so if students in class and at home are

all on the same Zoom call—as is done in some global learning courses. UWB

currently has only a couple of rooms with computers for each student; the maximum

number of computers is 32. These computer rooms could work for First Year

classes, which tend to be capped at 30 students. Is it time to consider creating

more workspaces with computers?

Learning About Viral

Epidemics During a


My reflections on learning in Fall

quarter 2020:

The importance of engagement:

The two things that encouraged student engagement most were (1) working in

teams and (2) having targeted projects. Working in teams was helpful on its own,

but adding the longer-term targeted project united each team around a common

goal. What didn’t work as well were shorter projects such as team worksheets

around topics such as vocabulary. While helpful at the beginning of the quarter,

the shorter projects were not as engaging as the longer-term ones (a debate and

a presentation). The logistics of getting to worksheets on Google, completing

them as a group, then uploading a copy into Canvas to be graded took too long.

For some students, just learning how to use Canvas was enough challenge, and

was reliable, so we tended to use it to access group work.

What is essential?

Teaching during the Time of COVID has made all of us consider this question. It has

been challenging to rethink courses that work so well in person–there is plenty of

room for continued improvement. But if there are silver linings to the pandemic,

one is that it has made me think more seriously about the answer to this question.

It, and the Black Lives Matter movement, are making me think about more about

how I can decrease inequity in the classroom and motivating me to find better

ways to understand and address what is essential in my courses.

Curious to know

what’s next?

Find us on our blog—

Teaching and Learning on the Open Web

All excerts originally published on “Teaching

and Learning on the open web” L.C. blog

Photograph credits (order as shown)

Photo by Allec Gomes

Photo by Amy Shamblen

Photo by Bartosz Sujkowski

Photo by Ambrose Chua

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