December 8 Day 640: The Key is Flexibility

It’s the last class meeting of the quarter and students presented their projects in small groups. I reserved three study spaces/meeting rooms that were in close proximity to each other. Everyone had the schedule, the presentation rubric, and knew when and where they had to be. It felt like attending a mini-conference.

I’m glad that I reserved the rooms in advance because study space is at a premium during the final days of the quarter. I gently warned studious occupants, 30 minutes in advance, that I had reserved the space and asked for permission to set up the rooms. For the presentations, I needed to log into the desktop computer for the first time, load the Zoom software, join the class zoom session and enter the breakout room dedicated to each physical location. The intention was to record in each room, so I could view all the presentations later and float as needed during the class.

There were some problems.

One of the rooms was missing its camera and microphone. Thankfully, the first presentation was a prerecorded PowerPoint. It was played while I looked for a solution.

The isomorphic study space next door had a camera and only one occupant. She was kind enough to switch rooms with us at the transition between speakers. But the microphone didn’t appear to work. For the second presentation, I recorded using my iPad. Between the second and third presentation, a clever student fixed the camera (and the microphone.) It was a classic disconnect-reconnect the equipment solution. Things went more smoothly after that.

The second challenge was the Zoom recordings. In breakout rooms, there is no choice—everything is a local recording. I vastly prefer cloud recordings. Here’s why:

  • Cloud recordings automatically transcribe the dialog.
  • With cloud recordings, once the class is finished you can log off and the recording conversion continues in the cloud.
  • With a local recording, once you leave the meeting, you need to wait for the recording to be converted before logging off.

Math question of the moment: If 36% of the zoom recording was converted at 3:42 pm and 58% was converted at 4:14 pm, when does Jenny get to go home?

Answer: Not yet!

Lessons Learned:

  • Begin the time for the space reservations 30 minutes prior to the start of class to allow for enough set-up time. Don’t rely on the kindness of strangers (even though they were very accommodating.)
  • Precheck equipment in advance so that alternatives can be identified and purposefully implemented rather than created on the fly.
  • If you are going to be recording locally, extend your space reservation to allow for the conversion time.

In the end, it was a successful day. I was proud of my students, their hard work, and their flexibility. It has been a hard quarter for many reasons. The desire to return to ‘normal’ remains at odds with current status of the pandemic. There were so many moments of uncertainty when we were ready to change modalities based on external situations. It was exhausting. For example:

  • A student testing positive for COVID in class,
  • No power on campus leading to cancelled operations,
  • No access to the Canvas Learning Management System (America wide) because of an issue with Amazon Web Services, and
  • A network outage right before the final class of the quarter where I was heavily depending on the network.

Creative solutions in high stress situations are possible with a flexible mind. I’m looking forward to the end of this quarter. Just grading and finals to go.

And for those that are wondering, yes, I am giving oral finals next week—in person. It won’t look much different from the first time I did it online (June 11 Day 95: Finals. Part II) except students will meet me in the Teaching & Learning Center for their 30 minute interviews.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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