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to synch or not to synch?

After polling my students at the quarter-term point, more or less, I decided to modulate my ENGL 252, so to speak, shifting from all synchronous meetings to a split schedule, with synchronous Mondays and asynchronous Thursdays. The first asynchronous session was last Thursday, and I’ve just finished evaluating the work that came out of it.

To make a long story short, I wrote and recorded a brief (25 minutes) lecture on the reading–a few chapters of Ellison’s Invisible Man–and built a writing prompt out of the lecture. Based on the students’ work, it seems to have gone pretty well: the experience of moving directly from the lecture to the prompt seems to have encouraged students to connect the conclusion of the lecture–Ellison’s critique of historiography and desire to bring marginalized peoples and events back into the “groove of history–to more far-flung moments in the text.

But there were problems, too, from my perspective. First is workload. Like many of us, I’ve never lectured regularly. Like many of us, I’ve never recorded lectures, much less done the kinds of post-production splicing in of images, diagrams, whiteboard scrawling, etc. that makes for a good online lecture. Like all of us (please lordy geezus) I hope to return to face-to-face teaching that puts students’ spontaneous talk at the center of the classroom. So this is an awful lot of work for what one hopes will be a one-off, even if it does kinda sorta work.

Second is more technical: I don’t really know how to record myself. I know there are apps like Screencast-0-Matic and VoiceThread that are optimized for talking over slide decks. And you can just have an empty Zoom and record that to the cloud. I opted for an even more minimalist approach, using Apple’s native QuickTime and just talking at it from my script. Not exactly must-watch TV, but it worked.

I did try to use Apple’s native iMovie to splice in a couple of images, Ken Burns style. But it was too frustrating, and I gave up after 20 minutes. Like anything, a bit of Googling and YouTubing would have gotten me there (I mean, if I can YouTube my way into replacing a toilet flapper, I can figure out how to edit a video), but how much time do any of us have for this?! And I’ll be curious to see whether students faced issues with bandwidth/file size, file format, etc.

Finally, I wasn’t sure how to deliver the goods. I’m using the Academic Commons to host my course site, and there’s a 500MB limit for media. So I uploaded my video to Vimeo and dropped a copy in Dropbox as well: the former is free but has monthly limits on how much you post; the latter is a CUNY wide resource that gives faculty something vast, like 2 TB. I think I’ll just use Dropbox going forward, since it seems to allow users to play the Apple .mov format with no problems, and it’s easy to share the content with students privately.

Those are my quick thoughts. You can see the assignment/lecture here if you’re interested: I’d love to hear from anyone who has any wisdom on this topic in the comments, since the next Thursday is rolling up fast!

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