No plan survives contact with the enemy (or students)


When I first heard that we were going to switch to online classes, my first thought was that this will be a lot of work, but it’ll be easy, mindless work: I’ll just lift everything I do in class and plop it down on the intertubes, and I’ll send stuff home with the students so they can do their lab work there. Straightforward. A nuisance, but no, I don’t need to change my approach at all.

That lasted about 24 hours, and then I took the radical step of talking to my students. First casualty: nope, no way am I going to raise flies in my house.

Then I learned that some of my students get online routinely…but through their phone or campus computer labs. I’m sitting here in my home office with two big monitors and a fast internet connection, they might be only getting online intermittently and peering at it through a tiny screen. Whoops, no big productions of my hour-long lectures. No required online sessions.

So, today, I rethink and refocus. I’m going back to the syllabus and figuring out exactly what concepts I have to get across to the students to prepare them for the next course in the curriculum (for introductory biology) or grad school/professional life/existence as an informed citizen (for genetics). I have to deliver those concepts to the student who has minimal internet access.

That means – oh no – I have to rely much, much more on the textbook. I have to be the guide, rather than the source, of the information. I can’t expect the students to absorb knowledge on a schedule, but instead, have to point them to information and tell them what my expectations are, and give them the freedom to meet them on a flexible schedule.

It’s a lot of compromises and not entirely satisfactory, and I look forward to someday returning to the normal world where students and I actually see and interact with each other in person. Until then, though, I have to make sure the goals of my courses are reached, somehow.