Monday, March 22, 2021

An Academic Milestone

I’ve hit a milestone in my US2 class.

Unless I’m in the middle of a complete tear-down and rebuild for a class, which only happens every five or six run-throughs or so, most of the time this year’s lecture is just last year’s lecture with minor adjustments. I go through last year’s lecture and change things around – what worked, what didn’t, what can be left out, what needs to be shoehorned in, what needs to be moved – and every year it changes about 5-10% until the changes add up to too much for the structure to bear and I tear it all down and rebuild it.

My US2 class is on its third full iteration since I started teaching it in 1996 (plus two minor ones) and it’s overdue for a fourth – I had planned to do that two years ago now and even got a bit of a start on it before the pandemic hit but I’ve never quite had the time. I’ve even got a framework to put it all into, though it will require a fair amount of new material.

Maybe someday.

So this semester I’m going through the lectures from last spring and doing my “tweak and edit” routine – this year adding in PowerPoint images, because it’s useful and fun – and because I’m on a later semester calendar than last year I have just now gotten to the class I gave on March 13, 2020.

It starts with the rather laconic note: “Coronavirus update.”

I remember that day. It was my last full day on campus for over a year, and my last day teaching in a classroom even if my students were in four other classrooms two hundred miles away. I’d already moved to the next phase of my preparations for the pandemic – planning to teach the class from home, as Home Campus was shutting down the following week – though I still thought I’d get to teach that next week. That turned out not to be true. I had to rewrite the entire preparation plan on the fly after that, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world at the time.

“Take this seriously,” I told them, “but don’t panic.” Good advice, really. I wish the nation had taken it.

And that’s the last regular lecture I have to adjust.

There was a three-week gap after that, as the public schools shut down and the campus that is technically responsible for that course declared that no assignments or activities could be given until the early part of April. I took a survey of the students during that time to see how they wanted to handle the rest of the course – I could just fit in whatever we had time for, or I could record All Of The Material so we actually finished the course, which would mean four lectures a week instead of three for the rest of the semester but they could watch them on YouTube at their own pace. They went with Option B.

It took me a bit to realize that under that plan I was no longer limited to a 50-minute class period. I could end early if that’s where the natural break point was, and I could run long if necessary. This worked last spring, but it will make retrofitting these back into 50-minute classes a bit of a trick.

Tweak and edit.

On the one hand, it’s kind of odd to be doing all of that to a class I know I’m planning to tear down and rebuild at the first opportunity.

On the other hand, there may not be an opportunity any time soon. Teaching is one of the few professions that actually got busier here in the pandemic, and time has been short for a while now.

Maybe soon.

It’s an interesting milestone, and a sobering one.

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