Oct 1 Event Recap: Adjuncts Reimagining Digital Pedagogy without Burnout

Post co-authored by Adashima Oyo and Christina Katopodis.

On October 1, at 2 PM, Futures Initiative Fellows Adashima Oyo and Christina Katopodis led an online workshop, “Adjuncts Reimagining Digital Pedagogy without Burnout,” an event that kicked off our University Worth Fighting For series for this 2020-2021 academic year. As current adjunct instructors, Adashima and Christina designed this interactive workshop for adjunct and full-time instructors who feel overworked and overwhelmed, despite efforts to maintain engaging and innovative pedagogy. Participants shared their strategies and tools for online learning during an unprecedented time with the backdrop of COVID-19, police violence, Black Lives Matter protests, record unemployment, an upcoming presidential election in the United States and more.

We asked participants (and ourselves): how do we make online instruction engaging for students? How do we, as instructors, keep up our momentum and joy in teaching online? This workshop invited us all to reimagine social justice pedagogy while teaching online and to think together about how we ourselves, as educators, can remain engaged, focused, and energized during a very challenging semester. The techniques discussed focused especially on deconstructing and inverting typical hierarchies in the classroom and the academy, time management, working conditions and how to create online space where adjuncts can share their problems.

After opening remarks by Katina Rogers, Co-Director of The Futures Initiative & CUNY Humanities Alliance and Director of Programs and Administration for HASTAC, Christina began by sharing some of her most effective digital pedagogy strategies in the pandemic. Christina offers her students optional “Group Office Hours” after her synchronous class meetings on Tuesdays. These office hours give students an opportunity to share issues they might be struggling with—to realize they are not alone, that many of their peers are working through the same challenges—to support one another, and offer each other feedback. She offers additional one-on-one meetings if needed but these office hours give her the opportunity to advise students in groups and save a little bit of time in doing so. We know from peer-to-peer learning studies, that lessons stick with students longer when they learn from their peers, so this method improves student outcomes as well.

Another strategy Christina shared was something she does with her composition students. Many instructors complain that students don’t read their feedback on papers, so Christina built a “reflection” form in Google Forms to slow students down and spend quality time processing feedback. You can read more about Christina’s method here (this is a link to Christina’s blog on that includes the Google Form she uses for ensuring students use feedback in critical, creative, useful ways).

Next, Adashima shared her strategies for teaching in our social crisis. Adashima teaches research methods and health science. She recommends reminding students that instructors share many of their same concerns around time management, feeling overwhelmed and stressed and dealing with various social injustices. Before jumping into the lecture topic, Adashima offers “check-in” and “check-out” questions, inviting students to create the entry/exit prompts as well as modified questions and assignments for the semester (for example asking students to keep a COVID-19 journal). Journaling, in particular, has created a sense of community in her classes during the pandemic. Adashima keeps lessons fun and engaging: for example, she regularly uses BINGO or Jeopardy games focused around the lecture topics in her classroom. These interactive activities are for the students as much as they are for her to stay engaged with the teaching.

After sharing their strategies, Adashima and Christina handed things over to participants, asking them to share some of their strategies for effective meeting/teaching online, which included:

  • Structuring participation in discussion boards and breakout rooms; for example, using a Google slide prompt (to help encourage participation) for each breakout room to help get the conversation started
  • Using polls, Think-Pair-Share, and other group activities in synchronous Zoom meetings
  • Posting detailed grading rubrics so students know what to expect; giving copious feedback with embedded resources
  • Coordinating group assignments, hosting live group sessions on specific concepts
  • Having a phone call with each individual student to supplement the class
  • Using Google Forms to create a “Warm Up” activity in which students are asked to review prior knowledge at the very start of class

Educators also shared their struggles, such as “Participation as a whole has been a challenge,” and “Teaching to boxes on zoom is hard especially when there is no picture or anything.”

After we shared with the larger group, Katina facilitated organizing us into smaller breakout sessions. Participants in each breakout session (about 5-6 of us) shared what was working and what wasn’t working, offering advice and tips to help one another.

When we came back to report to the larger group, this is some of what each group shared:

Group 1

  • Problem: students in distance learning struggling with talking in breakout rooms
  • Suggestion: give each breakout room a different question, topic or Google Slide prompt to discuss in the breakout group and report back to the larger group.
  • Problem: discussion boards, asynchronous; consistently missing ⅓ of students
  • Suggestion: require students to post at least 2 replies to peers’ posts; students could prompt each other to engage more; allow students to pick some of the questions in discussion boards; allow students to prompt each other to engage more; assign fewer weekly group projects, have tighter-knit groups of 4-5 people for each discussion board; use Google Form via scheduled email right when class starts, then the class talks about it, everyone can see the results — all within first 15 minutes
  • Problem: cheating on exams
  • Suggestion:  give students all slides before an exam to help them study
  • Problem: being too hard on ourselves!
  • Suggestion: be more generous; discuss the option of more teaching support with dept chairperson

Group 2

  • Problem: students who turn off camera; teaching to a bunch of “black boxes”
  • Suggestion: if students don’t want to have their camera on, ask students to post their picture, use a virtual background, or select any image they like in lieu of having their camera on or using their real photo.
  • Problem: student cheating tends to happen on high stakes exams;
  • Suggestion: offering low stakes quizzes might encourage students to remain engaged
  • Problem: keep students engage; discourage students from leaving the virtual classroom
  • Suggestion: face-to-face meet and greet with students before classes begin; helpful in building relationships, encouraging participation, and setting expectations
  • Problem: the exhausting nature of online teaching (even more than normal) – institutions need to lower workload requirements
  • Suggestion: be easier on ourselves
  • Problem: Institutions are using dashboard applications to track engagement between instructors and students; the problem is it only judges quantity not quality
  • Problem: integrating chat
  • Solution: using names is helpful in encouraging continued engagement

Group 3

  • General overview of building community in our classes – making space for chit chat; students writing a cookbook together; using music/students choosing music/rotating dj; collaborative work – using jamboard for students to work together; addressing black boxes – if students don’t want to leave cameras on to at least post a picture; student consent when sharing information on public-facing documents

Group 4

  • Problem: We discussed how to do a successful active discussion board using the Canvas tool or platform.
  • Suggestion: Limit the discussion to one day and allow the discussion to run its course but not carrying on for too long in that space
  • There was good feedback about using Blackboard in the CUNY system. This platform allows students’ attendance to be taken and also a rubric can be put on there in advance that helps teaching within an Anthropology course. Students were clear on the assignments that were assigned and this was with a class of 38 students
  • Suggestion: student-centered learning is imperative and students need to be included in what they will be learning and have agency within their courses no matter the subject or discipline being taught
  • Question: How to have an active discussion board on canvas?
  • Suggestion: limiting discussion to 1 day on message boards – helps to limit content so comments and feedback is more manageable
  • Challenge: creating good writing prompts; student centered and student agency need to be prioritized
  • Suggestion: asking students to pose prompts (helps w agency and ownership in class)

Finally, we ended by sharing strategies for our own self-care:

  • Ice cream
  • Caffeine!
  • Long walks
  • Any and all forms of exercise!
  • Complaining to friends
  • Spanish novelas on Netflix (Narcos + Always a Witch)
  • Turning off work notifications during off hours
  • Bringing current events into classroom / encouraging debate among students
  • Online teaching as a challenge in itself
  • 24 hour window for email replies
  • Nollywood movies
  • Yoga – for ourselves, also incorporated into classes
  • Group chats

For more details, access the collaborative notes document created and maintained by the FI fellows. Thank you to all who participated in the event!

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash.


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