Friday, March 27, 2020

NYC day 9, with some thoughts on online seminar logistics

Moving forward with preparation for my first real online class on Monday. I'd been procrastinating on putting together the packet, but now that I've figured out a down-and-dirty technique (I am certain there is some more streamlined way to do it, but really this will work very well for now, one of these times when the fact that I'm lazy is really to my advantage!).

If you read my teaching logistics post yesterday, you already know that I'm offering a stripped-down reading option in that seminar for those who are having a hard time concentrating. Provisos: this was easy for me to do because (a) it's a small seminar and (b) I've taught the class once before, under circumstances that were conducive to keeping an unusually detailed set of notes. Each individual class will invite its own tailored solutions - I teach by looking closely at individual passages, so this should work really well for me.

(I partly saw it because of the wonderful session I had with one of my senior essay advisees on Wednesday afternoon. If what you want to do is look very closely through comments on a draft, the share screen Zoom feature is brilliant.)

For me, making the remaining weeks of the semester feel more manageable seemed clearly depend not just on reducing the pages but reducing format obstacles - all the student in this class really do have their books with them (and the critical readings are always online as pdfs), but I thought it would make sense to put the essential pages into a single PDF that you could, say, read on your phone lying on the floor if you felt like it. Otherwise they're reading pages not just from a primary source but from a couple different PDFs.

(If you are more adept than I, you can probably snip the relevant pages right out of those PDFs, but this is clearly easier for me for now. Never have I been more relieved that I am entirely slapdash rather than being at all a perfectionist!)

I'm planning to use the Zoom share screen feature to show each page we're discussing during class so that students aren't fumbling to find the right place, especially when I can't imagine most of them have dedicated desk or private table space under the current circumstances.


1. I upgraded CamScanner on my iPad (I've used it casually for photographing pages during archival research) to the Pro edition, which has much fuller functionality.

2. I used my beloved Brunnen book stand to prop up Gibbon and coursepack and photograph each page of reading (about twenty-five - I'm shooting to have weekly minimum reading doable in ninety minutes max).

3. I used the internal CamScanner feature to combine the page images into a single PDF.

4. I have a Windows laptop and had to fiddle a bit with easiest transfer of that file onto my laptop (Snapdrop for some reason wouldn't work for me), but emailing it to myself from iPad is simple and painless.

5. I uploaded it to Courseworks in a new folder that is basically going to be these "quarantine packets."

The goal here is to do what I can to foster highly efficient direction of intensive attention. One of the things I teach in all my classes is how to read smart rather than getting bogged down in large quantities of material (this especially matters if you're a slow reader), focusing on skills for how to know which parts of something you need to read more closely (a central question in my introduction to the major); in this case I am skipping that step altogether and taking the students straight to the parts that I consider really important and that we'll cover in class. These are the things I'd hope they might remember a year from now - it's not a time to ask them to slog through all the difficult pages and probably have limited retention of anything!

In other news, how many more days is "clean bathroom" going to stay on my secondary list of tasks before I give in and actually do it?!?

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