Online UU theologies class

For an adult religious education class on Unitarian Universalist theologies, I recorded four short videos. I’ll get to the videos in a moment, but first, a word about online teaching….

Like so many educators, I’ve been trying to figure out how to adjust to our new reality of distance teaching. We feminists have criticized patriarchal pedagogy as disembodied; patriarchal education keeps everything in the head, ignoring the reality of the body. But how do you do embodied teaching when all you see are a bunch of tiny images of people’s heads on your computer screen? A great many pedagogical tools in my feminist-educator toolkit are useless in online learning.

I was talking over this problem with someone I have a great deal of respect for, a feminist who has been doing online teaching for a decade now — she moved to online learning because her subject area is quite specialized, with the result that her students are spread out over the entire North American continent. She said what has worked best for her is to record short videos, of under ten minutes, with lectures outlining a topic area; after showing one of the videos, she moderates an open discussion of the topic.

I’ve been teaching a biweekly adult religious education class — with mixed success — and I decided to try this approach for last night’s class. I was scheduled to teach an hour-long class on Unitarian Universalist (UU) theologies. I focused on four UU theologies, as exemplified by five different persons, prepared four short talks, and recorded four short videos. The class went reasonably well, from my point of view. While the videos were playing, I was able to monitor the chat in the videoconference call, and I could look at the video feeds (of those who left their video on) to monitor facial reactions. The videos were followed by a lively discussion — though with 21 log-ins, it was less than spontaneous, since everyone had to stay muted except for me and one person making a point or asking a question.

Making the video lectures took more time than I would have liked. Yet by recording these short lectures in advance, I could trim out all the times I coughed (with all the smoke in California, I’ve been coughing a lot), and if I stumbled verbally, I could trim or re-record the part where I stumbled. I could also clean up the sound while editing the video, and control the lighting and composition of the visuals.

Another benefit to pre-recording the lectures: I can post them online, where they’re accessible to people who were unable to attend (e.g., due to child care responsibilities). And I can re-use the videos to teach the same class in a year or so, because the discussion that followed the lectures will always be different; plus, with several short videos, I can record new videos on the same topic.

My final conclusion: Although this method of teaching is nowhere near as good as in-person teaching, it was still the best approach I’ve yet tried for online teaching.

In a subsequent post, I’ll include a link to one of the videos, followed by the text of the lecture.

4 thoughts on “Online UU theologies class”

  1. I’ve been teaching online for awhile (10+ years), and find one of the most interesting aspects of teaching –in my case, creative writing — is that often the students who are writing the most interesting stuff are more willing to “talk” online than in a face-to-face setting. If we were in a real classroom, sitting in a circle, facing one another, the shyer students find all kinds of ways to hide: looking down, not making eye contact, doodling, hooked into their ipods, all that. But in an online setting, they don’t have to hide, and they do have time to process ideas, time to think about what they want to say, and time to put those thoughts into writing.

    My classes are also asynchronous, as my students are all across the country, and often the globe, and a mutual time to meet is difficult at best. And, as instructors we are beholden to teach asychronously so students can be online whenever they find it most useful, or convenient. There’s a weirdness, a lag time, to that which takes some getting used to, but, I do find that students are in fact used to the idea of posting writing, posting comments, and then checking back to see what has happened.

    Like you, I also use short videos to cover content; I encourage students to do the same (most do not). There is also an asynchronous tool called “Voice Thread” that is worth looking at. Rural bandwith currently makes this unusable for many, but in urban areas you might have some success with it.

    One caveat I’ll say about creative writing teaching is that it’s just as hard online to get students to pay attention to the comments on other students’ writing, just as hard as it is in the classroom to make that cognitive leap that what is said about someone else’s problems with X apply to their own problems with X. But that is teaching.

  2. Dan – We now use “Canvas” and it’s okay. It’s the third one I’ve used, and it’s more intuitive than Blackboard and OnCourse; it also — at least our version — has a lot of embedded apps that are useful: VoiceThread, Kaltura (a video recording thing, which can generate half-decent video captions), a chat function, etcetera. I’ve noticed that students get up to speed much more quickly with Canvas than other learning management systems, and that helps a lot. So, on balance, Canvas is solid.

  3. Thanks. Canvas is out of our price range, but good to know about it. We’ll probably wind up with Google Classroom, since the congregation already bought into GSuite — not that that’s necessarily bad, since it gets good reviews.

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