The Optional Zoom: Connecting with students (while reducing your grading)

With the quick shift to online class last semester, I didn’t feel comfortable requiring synchronous class. Many of my students were struggling to keep their jobs and have moved home. At the same time, I was very worried about losing my connection with students who needed and wanted to discuss our class material. I also had to cut down on the amount of grading that asynchronous learning can produce, especially in a class of 70 students.

For the Spring gen. ed., I decided to offer 2 optional Zoom sessions per week. Monday’s session served as a “come and chat” office hours set up. My one request was that they shared something that had brightened their week. Wednesday’s session focused on discussing specific concepts and materials, therefore counted in lieu of the week’s post on the class discussion board. Students could choose which option (Wed. Zoom or the discussion board) every week and didn’t need to notify me in advance. Those who participated in the Zoom earned credit for discussion.

It worked surprisingly well. I had a core group that showed up regularly, even for the Monday chat, and then a few students that alternated between options. This approach helped me to connect with students and for them to talk to each other.

With my summer class, I built the optional Zoom into my course syllabus for my small seminar on television and culture. For every discussion post topic, there’s a choice to do a Zoom session. To earn credit, students must log in on time, write their names into the Chat window, and participate in the discussion. This is how I lay it out in my checklist:

Discussion Activity Assignments

  • Introduction post, due May 27th
  • Topic Announcement, due May 29th
  • Reflecting on TV’s Place & social injustice, due June 3rd (Zoom option)
  • Reviewing Television due June 5th
  • Music in Television due June 19th (Zoom option)
  • Adaptation due June 22nd (Zoom option)
  • Fandom due June 24th (Zoom option)

The Zoom participation has reduced the grading of discussion posts by more than half. Even more importantly, the students and I feel much more connected to each other and the material when we get to talk about it together.

I could have just required the Zooms, but I don’t believe in assigning a class time that wasn’t part of registration. This framework gives students flexibility without omitting the opportunity to get together. It’s also helped me cope with the loss of the in-person classroom. I miss real discussion. For now, I will take the Zooms.

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