Monday, August 17, 2020
On Saturday, I taught Business Planning to the Class of 2020 Professional MBA (ProMBA) Students in the Haslam College of Business at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I have taught business law topics in this program for a number of years now and thoroughly enjoy it as a change-up to teaching law students. This class is no exception. And two of the students from this cohort plan to go to law school at some point in the next few years.
The class sessions on Saturday--four hours worth--were taught in a hybrid format, with some of the students in the classroom and some participating in the class remotely through Zoom. Starting Wednesday, I will be teaching my Business Associations class sessions in a synchronous hybrid flex format with half of the students rotating in and out of the classroom in accordance with a predefined schedule. The ProMBA program uses classrooms with technology different from that available at the College of Law, did not afford me Zoom hosting privileges that I have at the College of Law, and allows eating and drinking in the classroom. Nevertheless, parts of the teaching I did on Saturday are analogous to what I will be doing at the College of Law in my Business Associations course. Given that some of you also may be teaching in a similar format, I offer a few observations on Saturday's hybrid teaching experience here.
- Sanitizing: An abundant supply of sanitizing wipes were made available. The course administrator noted that she had sanitized my work station (podium, keyboard, mouse, mic) before I had arrived, but she was not offended when I also sanitized everything. A ziplock bag with a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer was given to me for my use during class (although I had brought my own). That was a nice touch.
- Hosting: I wish I had asked for hosting or co-hosting status for the class Zoom meeting room. I wanted to offer a short poll to the remote students, but there was a miscommunication between me and the program administrators. As a result, my poll had not been added to the meeting in advance. Also, when the course administrator put the remote students into breakout rooms for a class exercise, I was put into one room as opposed to being able to easily move between rooms. I worked around these issues, but I would have been able to smooth over these bumps in the class plan execution if I had been the Zoom meeting host or co-host.
- Producer: The course administrator served as a "producer" for the class session--a term that is being used to describe the person who is monitoring remote students for participant hand raises, questions, comments, technology issues, and course and college compliance. She sat in the back of the room and raised her hand when a remote student had a question or comment. At my request, she also conveyed information to the remote students through the chat. This worked well, although the chat comments and questions sometimes were predictably a bit out-of-sync with the instruction.
- Acoustics: The voices of the physically present students did not carry well in the room or through the room mics to the remote students. I tried to summarize or repeat the questions being asked or comments being made in the physical classroom since I was mic'ed.
- Masks: Mask-wearing was a somewhat sloppy/noncompliant. The masks of some students appeared to be too small to cover their mouth and nose. Students sometimes (inadvertently, it appeared) pulled their masks down off their noses or even down below their chins. They seemed to be unaware they were moving/removing their masks. When students wanted eat a snack or have a drink, of course, they had to at least move--if not remove--their masks to do so. For the most part, however, the students were not close enough to present a marked danger to me or each other. And there was no belligerent or other refusal to "mask up."
- Gathering: Humans are natural attractive magnets. During the in-class exercise, while most students in the classroom did as I asked and stayed in their seats or in other "eligible" seats in the classroom, I did caution one group to adjust their masks and distance themselves from each other because they stood up and moved to within six feet of each other. They seemed unaware that their masks may not have been fully covering their mouths and noses and that they had closed in on each other's space. (This incident occurred near the end of our third 75-minute session.) But I admit that the students did not look overly concerned that I was offering them cautionary instructions . . . .
I am sure there is more that I could think of if I put my mind to it. But this is the core of what I noticed. I did not sense that I was exposing myself to an uncomfortable level of risk. Teaching in a hybrid format with these ProMBA students (who by now know me reasonably well) was challenging. In the end, it was neither a bad teaching experience nor the best teaching I have ever done. But teaching and learning were happening during the class sessions. I hope that when I am teaching in my home space--with familiar technology, as the host of my class Zoom meetings, with no eating or drinking permitted in the classrooms--things will go a bit more smoothly. Fingers crossed!