Conveyer Belt Teaching

I found this while exploring some of the previous semester’s GEDI blogs: I loved reading about someone’s experience as an outsider visiting my alma mater. I love Hollins and to this day I will occasionally go to Roanoke just to knock on the Dean of Student’s door to chat with her about something. I am also one of the alums who provides a lot of volunteer support to the institution.

It is my experience at Hollins that has led me to where I am today. It also is an added challenge for me as an instructor at a school so different from Hollins. As a graduate student who is also an instructor of record, I do not have an office entirely my own to meet with students. All graduate students who teach share a space. Being more physically accessible for students is something I wish I could do. There are so many ways in which I wish I had the chance to connect with students more. I want to see them grow even past the one semester that I have them in my course. I want to be one of the instructors that is accessible to my students, like I had as an undergrad. I am just not completely sure how to do so when I have a new group of 80 students each semester and am teaching online.

I feel like I am not truly getting to know them. I can see their work, but they are staying anonymous. I feel like all I am doing is helping them check off these CLE classes so they can graduate. I am seeing some growth and development throughout the semester, which is good, but I do wonder how much is sticking with them. If they are struggling with something outside of class, or even something that affects their schoolwork, I often have no idea and very little way of helping them once they leave my class. I guess one way to look at it is I am trying to reconcile some of my small, liberal arts school ideals in such a large university. There is the question posed to students as they are looking for which college to attend about whether they want to be relatively anonymous in a large school with large classes or known fully in small classes and even as an instructor I would love to know my students more fully. I am trying to find ways to do so in these large online classes, but am definitely not satisfied with how I am doing with it and probably never will be.

I found this article as I was thinking about a lot of this recently: I also tweeted about this article. The article discusses how students desire instructors, faculty, and administrators to notice them. To have a human connection with them. The author, James Lang, talks about providing plates of knowledge without truly looking at those we are handing the plates to. In some ways, that is the way I feel. But the analogy that I see is more like a conveyer belt. I deliver the goods to the students and help them check this requirement off of their to-do list. But am I actually reaching them? Is what I do and what I require of them making a difference? How am I to know when I never see or hear from them again?

Last semester I participated in Connected Courses, where in conjunction with the international MOOC, a group here at Virginia Tech met regularly to discuss what was being taught and talked about in the bigger MOOC. It was a group of graduate students and faculty who had a special interest in connected courses. It opened my eyes to a lot of pedagogical discussions I had not previously known about. It also allowed me to begin developing a network of other budding professors who share some of the same values in teaching that I do. I left knowing so much more and having so many ideas, yet not completely sure my what next step with these ideas should be. One thing that I am struggling with is how to use technologies for classes that I am not entirely comfortable with. I think that is something that will be slowly developed over the course of my career.

Something that I did come away with, however, is the acknowledgement of how amazing blogs can be to connect you with people far outside your institution and your discipline. I received a response to one of my blog posts ( that I have really taken to heart. I believe the person was from CSU-Chico, so approximately 3000 miles away from my institution. She said that every time she meets with a student she asks them how they are doing. It’s simple, but it can be so powerful. I am not always great at remembering to do that, but in a similar fashion, I think something that we can do is be more mindful in our interactions with students. One thing that I have been trying to do this semester is thanking the students when they e-mail me a question. I am also being a bit more thorough in explaining why I am asking them to do something. How it benefits them, their classmates, and sometimes, how it benefits me. Those two things have already helped to develop connections with students and we are only a week into the semester. I hope that as things become busier in the semester, I can maintain that, as I see the benefit.

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