Embracing the New Frontier of Online Teaching

Submitted by Sabrina Spannagel Bradley on

Article by Sabrina Spannagel-Bradley

During this pandemic, remote teaching is the “new normal” for faculty. A year and a half ago, however, all classes were face-to-face, with first and second-year language classes meeting five days a week in the classroom. This is a convenient routine for students living on or near campus, but not for all students. Last year, I identified an unmet need for some non-traditional students trying to fulfill the language requirement by taking Spanish 103. During many years of teaching the course, I have had students with long commutes, jobs and family obligations that made it a challenge and sometimes a hardship to travel to campus every day. With these students in mind, I proposed a hybrid model for Spanish 103 to department leadership, and shortly thereafter, applied and was accepted for the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Technology Teaching Fellows Summer Institute.

The Institute was held during one week of the summer, with three days held in person at Odegaard Library, and two days remotely, which modeled the kinds of classes envisioned by participants from a myriad of disciplines across campus.  There were a variety of sessions presented, which illuminated the many modes of delivery and instruction that could be used to teach hybrid and online courses. Course design, technology tools, as well as techniques for creating community and promoting equity and diversity in an online environment were among the important topics addressed during the week. All participants met later in the year to share their new course and give peer feedback. This collaboration helped me put the finishing touches on the design of Blended Spanish 103, which I piloted in Winter 2020.

The greatest challenge of designing the course was to ensure the same rigor and student engagement of the traditional course. The class of 24 was divided into two small groups and I taught each group in back-to-back blocks in the classroom.  Online, students collaborated in Canvas and Zoom, recording oral interactions, researching cultural topics, creating group projects and meeting with me.  They also participated in global partner chats with students in Spain and Mexico throughout the quarter. Student feedback was uniformly positive regarding what they had learned and would take with them, and many expressing appreciation for the balance the schedule provided them.  Several were motivated to continue their study of Spanish at the intermediate level.

 An important take-away from the training is the recognition that our students are “digital natives”, while we are not, and they are innately comfortable in an online environment. Our challenge as faculty is to adapt and find fresh ways to engage and motivate students. I was featured in the faculty spotlight in the Center for Teaching and Learning newsletter in May with comments about the workshop. I encourage anyone with a hybrid or online course in mind to explore the opportunities offered by TTFI.