Reverse office hours, reasonable workloads, and remote services

Although we’re physically separated during this global pandemic, we and our students share a common experience: trying to cope with the new reality and somehow get our work done, too. Checking in on how our students are doing helps to re-establish connections that support their learning, and it demonstrates our care for their well-being. David Kirby, poet and FSU professor of English, shared an inspiring idea for reaching out to students last week:

Teachers, many of your students have lost their jobs or have been sent home to live with relatives they hoped to avoid or are simply depressed that they won’t be able to go through the graduation ceremony they’ve been looking forward to all term. You might try Reverse Office Hours: instead of waiting for students to come to you, write as many as you can individually and ask them about a project or recall a good interchange you had with them or comment on something they wrote or even inquire about a personal detail only you know about. Years from now, they’ll remember you did that.

Making contact in this intentional way would be personally meaningful for each student you reach; even more important, perhaps, it might help a student in difficult circumstances decide to persist rather than giving up on the semester, so if you can’t get in touch with everyone, this is a great time to reach out to those who seem to be struggling. Getting a sense of our students’ new life circumstances can also help us make more informed and compassionate decisions about our teaching. We can all strive to first “do no harm” by eliminating obstacles for our students. For example, synchronous class sessions may be impossible for some to attend now. Others may not have access to or proficiency with certain tech tools. We can help our students instead by building as much flexibility and accessibility into our courses as possible; by communicating clear instructions and expectations; and by ensuring that the workload we’ve assigned is reasonable.

Assigning a manageable workload may be easier said than done, though. As we shift what would have been both in- and out-of-class work online, estimating how much time it will take for students to do each task may be challenging. In many instances, the work we’re asking them to complete in place of class time is actually more effortful or time-consuming than attendance, and students feel that their courses are suddenly requiring “extra” work. Even in normal circumstances, instructors often gravely underestimate how much time it will take students to read complex texts, solve problems, write papers, or make videos. Assigning work is one of the places where our expert blind spots trip us up. We forget what it’s like to be a novice, for whom each step takes conscious effort, and we accidentally deplete students’ cognitive bandwidth. We may also simply demand more time than they have to give.

The CTE at Rice University developed a calculator to help estimate the amount of time the tasks you assign are likely to take students to complete. Especially now, when students are fearful and distracted, we need to avoid imposing “busy work,” or piling on challenges. Instead we can focus on helping students make the most of the time they spend on the course. We can do that best by reminding ourselves of our priorities for student learning. What should they be able to do because they’ve taken this course? What should they master? What’s most important? And what do they need to practice? If you’d like some support as you prioritize, please reach out.

Several colleagues have asked how CAT will continue to provide support for teaching now that most of us are working remotely, so we wanted to share our plan with you. The following is a list of most of our regular services and the methods we will use to continue to provide them. We look forward to working with you!

ServiceDescriptionMethod of Working Remotely
ConsultationYou can work one-on-one with a CAT colleague on any aspect of teaching and learning.Email to make an appointment. We can meet by Zoom or cell phone.
CAT Feedback on TeachingWe can observe any aspect of your course, provide expert feedback, and offer ongoing support.Email us to request this service. You can share your syllabus, assignments, and other course materials with us, or add us to your course on Canvas.
Student Feedback on TeachingWe can help you gather feedback from your students and use it to make adjustments.Email us to request this service. We can help you devise survey questions and use Canvas or Qualtrics to collect feedback from your students.
Workshops & SeminarsWe facilitate workshops and seminars on a wide variety of topics. See our menu of offerings here.Email us to plan a workshop. We can email materials to your group and meet by Zoom.
Reading GroupsThis summer, we will offer reading groups remotely. Look for the call for participants soon.We will read ebooks purchased by FSU’s libraries and discuss them in a series of Zoom meetings.
Grade Norming or Feedback NormingWe can help groups of colleagues who assign the same paper, project, or exam within or across sections of a course to develop common grading and feedback practices.Email us to plan a grade or feedback norming session. We can email materials to the group and meet by Zoom.