Faculty Reflections on Teaching During COVID-19: Mark Verbitsky on Teaching Remotely and Using Video

Spring Bike

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Dear Faculty Colleagues, 

The importance of community has been highlighted for me now than ever before. In the face of a global pandemic unseen in any of our lifetimes, we must band together to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on individuals and the community at large. We are faced with both personal changes (no more handshakes! Social distance!) as well as institutional changes which necessitate a move to remote teaching. As a faculty member myself, I feel that hearing the teaching plans and reflections of our colleagues can bring us some comfort and even inspiration. As we work to teach in new ways and to continue to support our UC Davis students, I share here the reflections of our colleague Mark Verbitsky of the Department of Political Science. 

Best, Andy Jones

In normal circumstances, faculty get a lot of support when designing an online course. They might get a course release to give them preparation time, they might get grant money, they might get personal hands-on technical support. Now, faculty who had no desire in teaching online are going to get a week to get ready.

ATS has put together a really great website collecting resources for teaching on “Keep Teaching,” but I thought you might find it also helpful to have some streamlined advice.
  • Go easy on yourselves. Online teaching takes a lot of preparation and adaptation. I’ve never done it, but at least I have a lot of experience with recording lectures, so I’m feeling moderately prepared. We can’t be fully prepared; do what you can, but accept that this will not be ideal.
  • Get help. Take advantage of the support services such as ATS and reach out to fellow faculty who are also doing this for the first time. Also consider turning to your TAs for some advice. They’re quite likely more tech savvy than you and could be really helpful.
  • Go easy on the students—keep in mind there’s a world pandemic, but even barring that, our students didn’t sign up for online classes. Many of them won’t have proper technology or internet access. Plus they might be displaced, living in non-ideal study conditions, and they may have a lot going on, so I encourage you to be more lenient in terms of assignment structure. Consider having smaller weekly or biweekly assignments to encourage students to stay on track, and perhaps allow them to drop some scores as they might not be able to complete everything. [Editor’s note: Most of our students are also paying Davis or UC Davis rent while living at home with their parents.]
For videos, I have the following advice: 
  • Starting or improving your Canvas page. You’re about to teach online, so your material needs to be accessible online. If you haven’t used Canvas before, I have some very basic tips in this video tutorial, and if you have used it, I still have some tips to make your page more accessible. 
  • Pre-recording lectures. The primary virtue here beyond you controlling everything is that students can pause a video, re-listen, or read closed captioning, so they may understand the lecture more. Here are my tips on how to record a lecture with Zoom.
  •  Hosting live online lectures/seminars. The primary virtue here is interactivity: students can clarify issues to help them understand the lecture more, and by interacting with real people, they will have a stronger sense of connection. Main emphasis: if you’re delivering an actual lecture, try to have a TA or helper to collect “chat” questions. Here is a primer on how to host a live Zoom session.
We thank Mark Verbitsky for offering these perspectives and resources. If you have equivalent advice on another teaching tool that our faculty colleagues can use to improve their students’ experience while teaching remotely, please let us know so we can share it on The Wheel.