Megan Koch ’03 teaches COM 223, formally known as Small Group Processes, ironically to a large group of over 200 students. That’s a challenge in a normal year and even more so since the class moved online due to the threat of coronavirus.
To manage such a large group, Koch, who’s been teaching the class for a dozen years, has had to adapt and be creative. She’s divided the class into two groups with half meeting on Tuesday and half on Thursday. She’s pre-recorded lectures with activities built in, and she has rolling deadlines. Instead of two 75-minute classes per week, it’s now a 90-minute lesson weekly at 5 p.m.
She uses Nearpod, a cloud-based, interactive platform that encourages student participation. She’s able to create Google slides to build lectures, splice together video, pull in YouTube links, and add open-ended questions into the video.
“That’s to make sure they’ve watched,” Koch said, adding that she’s been pleasantly surprised at her students’ engagement levels.
“I really expected lots of black screens and mute buttons turned on for those first Zoom meetings, but they are coming up with great questions,” she said.
In addition, students have told her that it’s been nice that the class has given them something else to think about instead of all that’s going on in the world.
“We’re also trying to build a little community,” Koch said. “The first week or two we’d have a group activity so that by the end of the hour they had met 30-40 people. I’d leave the Zoom session going for two or three more hours because they’d stay on chatting.
“So they wanted the connection to each other.”
Koch’s two graduate teaching assistants, Erianne Thedorf ’20 and Annie Kamps ’19, have been a big help, she said. They are particularly good at heading off potential problems and connecting with the students since both took the class themselves not long ago. They’ve also helped Koch improve as a teacher.
“They’re amazing, so insightful, and bring so many great suggestions for streamlining the teaching,” Koch said. “I have a tendency to complicate things.”
Thedorf and Kamps also handle the music that is part of every class. It comes from a collaborative class playlist.
“As we sort everyone into project meetings, we have music playing on Spotify,” Koch said. “Sometimes a couple of people are cooking dinner, so they might talk about pizza rolls versus bagel bites.”
The centerpiece of the class is a civic-minded service project. From that comes working together toward a common objective.
“The goal of the class is learning how groups function; how to collaborate and strategize to address a problem,” Koch said. “They develop their action plan or task list and then implement it.”
Examples of some projects include: Operation Santa gift boxes to send to overseas military, establishing permanent pen pals for nursing home residents, working with the Midwest Food Bank and School Street Pantry, and more.
“One group is petitioning the Town of Normal to fix the streets so they can ride their bikes to campus,” Koch said. “It’s harder to get excited when we’re not together and to get the buy-in, but it’s civic engagement, and I’ll take it. This is real-world practicality.”
Kamps said Koch has had success because she’s shown that she cares and that the class is important, even if it’s online.
“Students will exemplify what they are getting from the teacher,” Kamps said.
For Koch, there’s reason to be optimistic.
“The world is on fire literally, and you have a group of like-minded people working together,” she said. “Too often we think these things are too big for five people to make a difference, but these students have found out in these group projects that they can collaborate and make a difference.”
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