By Sarah Parsons, Ph.D.
Remote learning has been a challenge for many instructors this year. Assessing how best to engage students in a virtual space has involved a lot of experimentation, as well as patience. Instructors can find themselves feeling unsettled when they get blank stares from students on a Zoom meeting. Are they paying attention? Are they doing other tasks on their computer while in class? Without body language to help instructors gauge response from students, knowing when students are internalizing concepts can be a guessing game.
However, many instructors are coming up with ways to involve students and create dynamic virtual learning experiences. One method that has been adopted by instructors, including myself, has been guest “drop-ins” on Zoom. Dean Ashby highlighted her experience dropping in on my Writing 101 class and other classes in a recent Duke Today article. I invited Dean Ashby to my class to welcome students to Duke. In another class section I invited President Price to visit. The goal for these visits was not necessarily to discuss writing, but to help students feel included in the Duke community. First-year students this semester had few opportunities to interface with other members of the Duke community. Thus, I explored bringing the Duke community to them. The students were excited about the guest visits. They prepared questions to ask and came to class attentive and engaged.
In addition to the short visits from Duke administrators, I also invited other speakers to discuss writing with students. To provide advice on an op-ed assignment, I invited editors of Duke’s Chronicle to talk with students about the “do’s and don’ts” of op-ed writing. To provide guidance on a policy memo assignment, I invited State Senator Mike Woodard of Durham-area District 22 to talk about expectations of a policy memo. During both sessions, students came to class prepared with questions and participated in great discussions with the speakers. Overall, I thought that the Zoom “drop-ins” introduced a new and welcomed dynamic to the classroom that helped elevate engagement and participation. As we navigate another semester of virtual learning, Zoom drop-ins may be yet another tool instructors can use to foster community and increase engagement for our students at Duke.