Last week, I tried a new tactic to engage with my students. I was inspired by two workshops I attended during Conestoga’s annual E3 (Employees for Excellence in Education) Conference. The first workshop covered how to write good assignment prompts, with clarity and purpose in mind, and the second covered strategies for writing for online courses. In the course I manage online, my students were preparing to submit their first major philosophical paper, and historically my students do poorly on the writing side. I largely attribute this to it being their first time trying to write a philosophical paper and their only exposure to this point was either essays in high school or non-philosophy essays for other courses in college. After sitting in on these two workshops, I reflected on what I could do, in an online course, that would improve my student’s ability to write. It’s challenging to engage with online students for two reasons:
- first, you (almost) never meet your students face to face, so you lose the ability to use tone, voice, inflection, and body language to convey information, and
- second, online courses are atemporal, which means you don’t engage with your students at the same time.
An idea I’ve been kicking around for some time is creating a video for my students as an added bit of content for the course. The problem with this option is it’s still fairly static and easy for students to skip if they feel it doesn’t contribute to improving their assessments. It also goes in one direction, where I speak at my camera rather than engaging with the students.
However, I’ve been mulling over another option. I have borrowed a web camera from my podcasting partner, I have a good microphone, and I delivered a webinar with a live Q&A in the middle of May. I considered running a livestream last semester, however when I offered the option to the students, I had no requests for it. But this semester, I decided to set it up and run it, regardless if students attended or not. At worst, it would be a wasted hour of my time. However, the benefits would be two-fold: my students would have a chance to interact with me and ask me questions about their assignment, and it would give me practice with a new skill set.
I picked a date and time, figured out how to broadcast (in the end, I went with Twitch, but next time I’ll test out YouTube Live) and went for it. I had 4-7 students drop in, which is fairly low engagement, however the questions were really good and I had a lot of fun actively engaging with students again.
One unfortunate thing was I didn’t set up the system to auto-record, so I don’t have a copy of the livestream to review or upload. I ended up recording a second (static) video to cover the main points so that my students had something to reference when they were completing and submitting their essays this past weekend.
It was a good experience and I plan to run at least one livestream per semester moving forward. I have yet to grade the papers, so I don’t know if I had a material impact on their performance, but in time I hope that my students will get better with the added direction I can give them. I also now have a video that I can post to help them think through the process of writing a philosophical paper. If nothing else, it’s good to build handy resources and have them available for your students. My goal is to help my students improve their thinking and writing as a result of taking my course. Even if their papers are 1% better as a result of my direction, it’s worth it.