For lecturer in LAS, structure aided transition online

Karen Leick
Karen Leick

As a veteran educator who has written and edited a number of books and publications, Karen Leick knew to make the most of the transition to virtual learning last semester she would have to structure and organize her classes as quickly as possible.

The lecturer in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was teaching two professional writing classes and a literature class this spring when, like everyone else, she had to make the transition to virtual classes.

She put together a remote learning syllabus that maintained a similar schedule every week that would add a little structure for students. The weekly scheduled was divided this way:

  • Monday: Zoom session with discussion. Discuss assigned reading and go over assignments for the week.
  • Wednesday: Discussion board. Activities might include: Respond to assigned reading. Comment on a peer’s post. Post an article and explain why you chose it. Respond to an interview / video of an author. Ask a question / post a problem.
  • Friday: Turn in writing assignment.

While she maintained the weekly structure of the classes, to keep student’s attention she mixed up the kind of assignments students were required to do. Sometimes students had to find a reading on their own and sometimes they had to listen to or watch something and respond.

For every discussion board, students were required to respond to a peer’s post, so they were able to see what the rest of the class was doing, said Leick, who required everyone to participate. She would respond to some of the posts and participate in the general discussion.

“Discussion boards were interesting and lively,” Leick said. “I liked that some of the quiet students were more comfortable posting online than speaking in the classroom.”

She had less success with discussions on Zoom, where she tried to use breakout rooms so students could lead their own discussions. She would move from breakout room to breakout room to try lead discussions but found it difficult to keep up with the rooms. Classwide discussions also were difficult because many students were too shy to speak up.

I had more luck with encouraging them to comment in the chat. Then I would read the comments out loud — that worked a little better,” she said. “Participation on the discussion boards was high so I heard from all students.”

Ultimately, she liked best about online teaching was that she was able to get to students to write.

“I was able to get the students to do more writing, which is good,” Leick said.

Alicia Perez, whose goal is to graduate with a communications degree next spring, had transferred to UIC in the fall and was getting accustomed to a larger campus when learning went online.

Alicia Perez headshot
Alicia Perez

She was happy to know that UIC was lending laptops to students like herself who needed computers. She missed interacting on campus but liked that teachers would record classes and allowed students to view them on their own schedules.

“It was really reassuring to me when my professors gave us all the material and resources ahead of time instead of posting it during the time we would typically meet in person,” Perez said. “Posting it all at once helped me balance out my work without feeling too stressed.”

What she learned during this time was that she made the right choice to attend UIC.

“I would definitely recommend UIC to people,” she said.

“Even before the announcement was made, staff and faculty were aware of what was happening and the chances of classes moving online. All my professors brought up the issue and asked in what ways UIC could help the students with resources to be able to make the change easier. They all showed that they wanted what was best for their students, especially given that this was also new to them.”

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