Dr. Julia Simon specializes in 18th-century French literature and culture, particularly the work of the philosophes, with special emphasis on the relevance of Enlightenment social, political, moral, and aesthetic theory today. She is the author of Rousseau Among the Moderns: Music, Aesthetics, Politics, as well as Beyond Contractual Morality: Ethics, Law, and Literature in Eighteenth-Century France and Mass Enlightenment: Critical Studies in Rousseau and Diderot. Her most recent book, Time in the Blues, explores the aesthetic form and content of representations of time in the blues from the 1920s through the present day, taking into account both artistic production and reception. Readings of songs are situated within a rich cultural context that interrogates conceptualizations of time shaped by the Jim Crow South, the Great Migration, as well as the influence of tradition.
This interview was conducted by guest blogger and UC Davis alumna Surya Jones.
Tell us about yourself and the sort of classes you teach.
I’m a professor of French, having taught an upper-division course for majors in the spring quarter. I also taught a Humanities (HUM) lecture course on the blues that has an interdisciplinary approach. Finally, I supervise all the language courses taught in French and work with a team of teaching assistants and associate instructors.
How did you adjust your instruction for remote teaching in Spring quarter?
Beginning with the French language courses, we increased the amount of activities students were completing in the online platform that accompanies the textbook. As much class time as possible was dedicated to pair and small group work in Zoom. We also increased the written assignments in first-year French. Second-year French followed a similar pattern.
In my upper-division French course, I added reading questions for students. Some of these were turned in as homework. The rest of the class runs as a combination lecture/discussion. Students also gave presentations in class, doing so via Zoom.
The biggest changes came in the HUM class. For that class, I recorded podcast lectures accompanied by PowerPoint slides. By recording the two class resources separately, I could maintain the sound quality of the music. For some special lectures, with live demonstration or important video, I held the class via Zoom. During the designated class time, I would hold a question and answer section. The online format allowed me to assign specific songs to analyze via Canvas–something I never did before for an in-class final.
Share with us your thoughts and concerns about using technology in new ways to connect and support students.
I am very concerned about losing the human connection. It’s hard to have a discussion and respond over Zoom. For students, especially in the foreign language classroom, it’s important to speak to other students. Over Zoom, even in the breakout rooms, there is often silence. Spontaneity is also lost. I ask a lot of questions in my HUM class, even in a large lecture class. I get great answers and it’s lively. Now, I have to do all of the talking in podcast lectures. I miss the input and ideas from my students. That crucial engagement runs the risk of being lost when we teach asynchronously.
What advice have you heard or offered regarding remote teaching?
I have advised graduate students and faculty to use an asynchronous approach to teaching: I recommend that they provide materials and exercises that students can do at their own pace and on their own time. We should try not to rely too much on Zoom. It’s hard to pay attention to a screen for more than 20 minutes. Technology also crashes–I have lost my connection to my class at least three times! Asynchronous teaching also requires more feedback from the teacher. I collect homework assignments and then provide more feedback on papers to make up for less in-person class time. More feedback on written assignments has led to better writing.