University of Washington - Bothell
Cover photo by Jason Leung
Table of Contents
Chairs and Zoombombers
and Easy To-Do Stratgies to
Promote Online Engagement
About Viral Epidemics
During a Pandemic
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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