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Spring Teaching and Zoom: The Student Feedback

30 Jun , 2020  

Last weekend I sat down and read through the student feedback from my spring quarter Biomedical Marketing courses.

Reviewing student feedback is always a strange experience. There are the positive comments, and these are delightful. It is a pleasure to hear from students that they learned something and valued all the effort that went into the course. Then there are the negative comments, and some of these really sting. Like many of my colleagues, I tend to focus a lot on these critical points.

This quarter was particularly noteworthy for me because the courses were all on Zoom. Like most instructors, I went from teaching in-person to teaching on Zoom and made the transition in just a few weeks.

How did it go?

I am happy to report that things went pretty well. My scores were better than average for Kellogg, and better than spring 2019, the last time I taught this topic. I don’t put enormous weight on the scores, however, because students might have been gentle in light of the transition, thinking “Well, it wasn’t much of a course but he at least was trying with a difficult transition.”

Things That Worked

There were several things that clearly worked well. Students really like the break-out room exercises. They appreciated the insightful and experienced guest speakers. I had one guest speaker Zoom in from Germany, and that was unusual and fun. Another joined from Minneapolis. Another, remarkably, spoke from her car in the parking lot of a Starbucks near the Smoky Mountains (it was a great session!). Students also appreciated the overall energy.

I was surprised that students really valued cold calls. I find the silence of Zoom to be highly frustrating; I really don’t like it when I seem to be just talking away at my computer. I like interaction! I couldn’t count on getting students to use the hand-raise function on Zoom, so I called on students quite a lot. It wasn’t perfect – there was the inevitable delay before the person responded, and sometimes they never managed to get the technology sorted out — but cold calling generally worked. It kept things moving and forced everyone to pay attention.

Things That Didn’t Work

There were a few things that didn’t work as well. This quarter I added a final exam, and then asked students to create a video for the final project instead of doing an in-class presentation. I kept the final paper. This was too much work at the end of the quarter. Creating a video was more time consuming than I anticipated.

Students liked the break-out rooms but I didn’t always manage them properly. If there wasn’t a clear question, the break-out discussions were unsatisfying. I also learned that I needed to appoint a spokesperson for the group – it worked better when I said, “The team spokesperson will be whoever owns the largest pet.”

Time management was a challenge. This isn’t a new thing; I always struggle with timing because I worry that I’ll run out of things to say so I dawdle around and get rushed at the end of a class session. Zoom increased this challenge. Things take longer on Zoom!

I also found it difficult to surface complex and delicate topics on Zoom, and some students found this frustrating. I didn’t dig into the question of whether promoting use of anti-depressants was good or bad, for example, or whether identifying and marketing new disease states was responsible behavior. I don’t love controversial topics in any environment, but I found Zoom to be particularly challenging. It is very hard to read student body language on Zoom. In class, you can tell if someone is really angry or upset. Not so on Zoom. If a student is on the third gallery page, you don’t see them at all.

Overall

My overall conclusion: Zoom works! While I didn’t wish for the spring quarter experience, it has opened up a remarkable world. I can now host classes on Zoom and be confident that they will be fine. I can invite guest speakers from all over the world. If I’m not in town for a class session, I can Zoom it instead.

I suspect Zoom will be a regular part of my teaching. Just like with in-person teaching, there is always more to learn. I’ve now done over 50 class sessions on Zoom. I feel like I’m just getting the hang of it.



One Response

  1. Mark A Jenson says:

    Tim, great to hear that things went well for you on Zoom! I teach at the U of Minnesota and your findings concur with what my students told me. They loved that my classes were synchronous as this kept the energy and the community going from the first part of the semester. I feel confident about teaching this way in the fall and I love to see all the various resources that schools/professors are providing to help us all get better. Keep up the great work and I always enjoy seeing your posts.

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