Harkness in a difficult time, part I

The new school year has started and here we all are adapting. I am teaching remotely, as are so many of us around the world. (While some of the Exeter students are on campus, for now all classes are remote). To be honest, I kind of enjoy the creative challenge of adapting to new constraints. But it’s still exhausting. And of course classes don’t feel nearly as good as when we are around the table together. But we have plenty to be thankful for here in Exeter, NH.

This fall of course also brings additional challenges to all schools, and particularly to humanities teachers, particularly those engaging in student-centered, discussion-based, remote teaching in the humanities. How shall we engage in discussions about anti-racism, economic justice, and – in the US – this election…while remote?

I know we’re all working on how to build community as our first task in this fall’s remote classes. Checking in, laughing, hearing every voice, getting close to the screen. And setting some expectations.

Everyone’s Zoom expectations will have their own flavor. Mine were written with my particular course in mind. This is just the etiquette part – my next post will be on difficult conversations. What are you doing to set Zoom expectations? I’d love to hear from you!

Some Zoom etiquette for our class:Basics


Video on unless you really can’t (reach out to me)

Sitting up – not in bed – dressed for class

Resist the urge to have a side text going – think about how that would feel…

Preferably you are on your computer so you can engage completely

If from phone, please be stationary, or we get motion sick

Have your print materials ready with you for class

2. On Being yourself

Choose a virtual backdrop that you like

Make sure the name on your “box” is the one you’d like to be called

Jump in if we are mis-pronouncing or in any other way not hearing/seeing you

Let us hear you: Say something everyday!

3. On seeing others & Building Community

Lean in: positive body language; avoid passivity

Affirmation, curiosity, questions

Constructive use of chat function

Un-awkwarding of pauses, lags, interruptions, etc.

Remember the sentence stems that have always been your friend

-“That reminds me of…”

-“Back to Julia’s comment earlier…”

-“Is it OK if we move on to…”

-“There’s a line in the text that I think we should explore…”

-“I’m not sure if this is right, but…”

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