I’m precisely halfway through teaching my third term in the pandemic. Thanks to DePaul’s quarter system, I’ve had a Spring, Fall, and now Winter term conducted completely online via synchronous Zoom sessions. I’m fortunate that the introductory programming classes I teach transition well to Zoom, which has made the experience much better for me than for many of my colleagues. I’m very grateful for this.

Nevertheless, there are many things I miss, most notably my students’ faces. I never require students to turn on cameras, but a few of them consistently do. And it reminds me that no matter how interactive my class is, no matter how many times I randomly call on students (and thankfully have them answer), and no matter how much they use the chat to communicate with each other, teaching on Zoom just isn’t the same as teaching in a classroom. I will be happy to return to the Loop campus again whenever I can.

That said, teaching synchronously with Zoom has shown me that I can improve the live experience in some small but important ways. So I give you a list of the things I will keep when I return to the classroom after the pandemic:

  • Mini videos for non-interactive material: While the majority of my class sessions are interactive, in the before times there were some instances when I would stand up in front of the students and just review something. That might have been a review of material they were supposed to have learned in a previous class. Or maybe a discussion of the solution to a lab or assignment. Once I switched to Zoom, I wanted to keep the time we had together for purely interactive experiences. So the review sessions and homework solutions became short, recorded videos that I posted on the course management site. The students who are interested can watch them, and those who are not can skip them. And I think my classes are better because of this. The students who really need or want the review can now watch as much and as often as they want. And we spend more time in class problem solving together.
  • Sick days: All of my hand washing and social distancing have kept me healthy for an entire year now. But what I have learned during the pandemic is that going into teach when I have a cold or the flu is a terrible idea. (Yes, I should have known this before). I used to hate the idea of skipping a day of teaching, so I taught even when I should have been home. Only something severe like the stomach flu kept me out. But I can clearly see now that teaching classes remotely works, and while it’s not perfect, it does keep my germs to myself where they belong.
  • First-day ice breakers: Being online is more isolating than being in a physical classroom, so I’ve taken to starting the first day of class with an icebreaker. The one I’ve stuck with asks the students about their preferred name, their personal pronoun, and for a boring fact about themselves. And while it eats up about 30 minutes of the first day, learning something personal about each of them is revealing and worthwhile.

As small as these things may seem, I think they’ll make the post-pandemic classroom better. And I still have at least another 15 weeks of synchronous Zoom teaching ahead of me, so I may add to this list later.