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All Change: Reconfiguring your teaching during a Pandemic:

Here are a few thoughts about changing your teaching during the Pandemic crisis. It's by no means exhaustive, and I've obviously been thinking mostly about courses that I teach, which have substantial lecture components, written assessments, and experiential learning in the laboratory. The classes are also large, so my methods have to be scalable. My current class has 200 students in it.




In Quieter Times


Firstly, the Precarious Physicist method for developing a course in a normal situation, with time to develop a new course:


My General Principles on University Teaching and Course Design.


1. Who are you going to teach?

2. How do you want to teach?

3. How do you want to assess the learning?

4. What do you want to teach?


Usually, faculty only discuss item 4. Content rules over everything else.


Item 1


Know your students. What do they bring into class, in terms of experience and aptitudes. What are they studying? What are they interested in? How can you reach them?


Item 2


What form does the class take? Traditional lecture? Seminar? Discussion group? Group work? Small team project? Flipped classroom? Experiential learning? Synchronous or asynchronous delivery?


Item 3


How are you assessing what has been learned. External demand for grades? Mastery learning? Grading by student reflection? Traditional assessment by tests, exams, reports or essays? Presentations? Oral exams?


Item 4


The Content. What are you going to teach? Get all the other stuff clear before you start to think about the content.

But that’s in the ideal situation. Now we hit:


The Emergency Button




Moving to online teaching and converting an existing face-to-face course turns these steps around a bit.


The content is probably there. The students are probably from the same cohort, so you know roughly who is there. They may not be experts at online learning. It wasn’t what they were expecting.


If it's a new course, then you’d better check on your student cohort – enrollment in my summer course doubled. My usual pre-class survey suggested a similar demographic as usual, which made things easier.


Items 2 and 3 really need some thinking about.


  • Exams? Online or take-home?

  • Laboratory or other experiential learning? Bound to be different.

  • How do you replace in-class activities? Can you group people together in an online class and get co-operative work done?

  • How much of the old course structure can you keep?

  • Given finite time, how much can you change at short notice? This one is really important!

  • Consider how to implement your proposed changes

  • Do you have the tools to make the changes? Find out from your teaching and learning support staff what is available in terms of hardware, software, and local expertise. Depending on what is available, you might need to change your decisions.


The overriding principle in the whole of this process should be “How do I facilitate learning for my students in these trying circumstances?”.


So, how have I done this? Well, I'm going to leave this as the cliffhanger ending!


Get ready for the next thrilling episode of "Precarious Physicist: The Perils of the Pandemic".


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