Peter Melville on Teaching Poetry Online

Thu. Jun. 25, 2020

What is it like to take English courses online? We asked Professor Peter Melville to comment on his experience teaching this spring, when COVID barged in and we had to learn to communicate with each other from a distance.

Can you tell us something about how you communicate with your students when you’re teaching online?
PM: Communicating with students has become more important than ever, now that we've migrated to teaching online. The various platforms on Nexus offer good communication tools (Announcements, Calendar, Email, etc.) that help me deliver information that students need in more organized and effective ways than I did before moving to teaching online. I still use regular email quite a bit, and face-to-face Zoom meetings are great for getting to know students; but being forced to rely so heavily on Nexus has shown me improved ways of communicating with students that I will no doubt take with me when we finally return to the physical classroom.

And how can students communicate with you?
PM: I find that holding regular office hours while teaching online doesn't make as much sense as it does when students are on campus. I encourage students to contact me by email or through Nexus to arrange face-to-face Zoom meetings according to everyone's busy schedules. If the matter is minor enough to be handled with an email reply, then that also works well. I respond to email messages as soon as possible, usually by the end of the day, or at most within 24 hours.

Do you feel that there are advantages to teaching and learning online?
PM: While I believe that in-class learning is best, I've discovered there are some real advantages to teaching online, especially with the "Live Lecture" format over Zoom, which is my preferred method for online teaching. I frequently use PowerPoint slides to throw poems or other texts up onscreen for close analysis during lectures, and while this works well enough in the in-class learning environment, I feel that Zoom offers both instructors and students a more immediate engagement with this kind of material. Zoom's Screen Share function allows me to see the material at all times, and I can switch applications (from a slide to a video clip to a pdf) without ever having to pause and walk to a media cabinet and back again. Using technology in the online teaching experience has been for me a far smoother and more pleasurable experience all around. I will definitely miss this aspect of Zoom teaching when we return to campus.

Are there any other observations you'd like to make about working with students during this strange time?
PM: I taught a course on poetry during the Spring 2020 term, when many of us (instructors and students alike) were experimenting with online learning for the first time. I found there was sense of camaraderie among participants as we faced so many unknowns, even when we couldn't always see each other's actual faces. I really enjoyed discovering new aspects of teaching in an unfamiliar format and learning from my students' experiences with this strange new reality. My hope is that this spirit of generosity and collegiality will not fade as online learning becomes increasingly normalized. Even as we look forward to returning to campus and seeing each other in real life, I feel that teaching and learning online have much to offer. There are many lessons we can take from it that will help improve the in-class experience when we return.

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