Cari Vos

What I Learned in Autumn Term

When I started to think what I could write about for this blog post, all I could think about was what I could possibly add to the conversation. What perspective do I have that others may not? What insights could I offer? And I began to consider the insanity of this last term. Over the past 11 weeks, I had three roles: I was a student, an instructor, and a staff member. If you had asked me during week 7 how things were going, this is probably what my response would be like:

Now, after having the time and space to think about the past term, I realize how much it taught me about how to integrate and balance my roles as a student, instructor, and a staff member. Being a student taught me how to tune into how I learn best. Being an instructor taught me how to best interact with my students to ensure they learn well. Being a staff member taught me how to design my course and efficiently incorporate technology into my classroom. Yet—more specifically—each role forced me to ask a question of myself.

As a student, how can I help myself succeed in this course?

Stay organized

When you are receiving an abundance of materials and instructions for your classes (readings, handouts, assignment sheets, etc.) it is easy to lose track of things. Even as a graduate student, I have to remind myself to create and continue good habits. I use a binder with 10 sections to divide my content by week (one section per week). Not only do binders help keep my materials organized, but using a planner like this one really helps me keep all my due dates in order.

Subscribe to material

At our institution, we use D2L (Brightspace) as our Learning Management System (LMS). This system has the option to subscribe to materials from your courses, such as news items and discussion posts. You can even subscribe to page changes: the system notifies you when a page has been modified. Not only is it helpful to stay informed about updates to your course site, subscribing to material allows you to be notified via email about important news announcements that you may otherwise miss. Whether or not your institution uses D2L, I highly recommend looking into subscription and notification options for your LMS.

Check your email often

I cannot stress this enough: Check your email. This is a primary source of communication for instructors, departments, and institutions. If you don’t check your email, you may miss the news item that your instructor posted about a new extra credit opportunity (because you’ve already subscribed to email notifications, of course). If you don’t check your email, you may miss the notice from your department about new scholarships available to graduate students. If you don’t check your email, you may miss the announcement from your institution that the university is closing early for holiday break. The best way to help yourself succeed is to be informed about things that are going on. One way to do that is to simply check your email often.

As an instructor, how can I help my students succeed in this course?

Stay organized

How can I expect my students to be organized if I am not? As an instructor, I need to keep track of not only due dates, but also when material should be posted, when I need to give a lesson in order for students to have optimal time to prepare, when I should hand out assignment sheets, etc.

The only way I was able to make sure my students could stay organized and on top of things, was to do so myself. As an instructor, I used the same planner I use as a graduate student. Using colored pens, I made color-coded notes to myself. Notes in red were due dates for my students. Notes in blue were assignments that needed to be handed out. Notes in purple were assignments that I needed to grade that night.

Use the calendar feature

It’s very likely that your LMS has a calendar tool or feature. Use this to your advantage! You can use this tool to help communicate to your students when due dates are, when events (like a peer review session) are happening, or when tests and exams will occur. This allows students to see a holistic view of your course. Even better? Most LMSs have the option for students to see all of their courses’ calendars in one view. If each instructor uses the calendar feature, the student will be able to see deadlines in relationship to one another.

Communicate consistently

Be consistent in how you communicate with your student. Do you make all notifications through news items? Great. Do you send all announcements via email? Cool. How you choose to communicate with your students is entirely up to you, but for the sake of your students, be consistent in the medium you choose.

If a student is trying to remember that announcement you made about class next week, where are they going to look for it? If you use three different modes of communication, it will be difficult for students to know where to look for that announcement. Using just one method makes it easier for your students to find information quickly and easily.

As a side note, in my classroom, I used a system called Remind. It sends announcements as text messages or push notifications, which was appealing to my tech-savvy students.

As a staff member, how can I help the faculty I serve—and their students—succeed?

Stay organized

Seeing a theme here? The only way to help everyone succeed is to be organized in a way that allows you to see everything that’s going on. As a staff member serving faculty (and in turn, students), I use Asana to help keep all of my tasks straight.

Not only do I help answer off-the-cuff questions from faculty, but I also assist faculty in the course re-offer process. Each term, I help upwards of 50 instructors set up their course for the upcoming term. The only way I can keep all of my tasks for each instructor straight is by using Asana. In this case, I use their new “boards” feature. Each instructor is given a “card” with the subtasks built right in. With this view, I can see at a glance which instructors still need my help.

Ensure accessibility

This tenet comes out of our attention to the Quality Matters program (and QM+ from our very own Sharon Guan). A basic right of students in online classes is that they can access the material. This includes providing links and information in a clear, organized fashion as well as ensuring that students with disabilities are accommodated accordingly. This may mean including captions for videos, text-to-speech readers on certain pages, or making sure that the colors you use to design your site are color-blind-friendly.

Each of my roles informs the others. My role as a student affects how I teach. My role as a staff member affects how I interact with instructors. To take some inspiration from John Donne and my past life as an English major, no role “is an island entire of itself,” every role “is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Each role you take on is a part of you and each role exists among the others.

Cari Vos

About Cari Vos

Cari is an eLearning Content Developer with FITS. She received her B.A in Psychology and Linguistics from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI and came to DePaul in 2015 for her M.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse. She started her tenure at FITS as a graduate assistant, but quickly became enamored with Instructional Technology and recently joined as full-time staff. In addition to her position at FITS, Cari also teaches and conducts research in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse department here at DePaul. When she's not on campus, she enjoys traveling, baking, and spoiling her niece and nephew.

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