Volume 1: Reimagining Remote Teaching, Issue 12 | GCTC

Volume 1: Reimagining Remote Teaching, Issue 12

by Dr. Kerri McKenna - October 2, 2020

Famed British author, Joseph Addison, shared the following opinion on education over 300 years ago: “What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul.” While prolific in his opinions, some of which are quite funny, Addison’s words are incredibly accurate about education and how it helps to shape the character of our students. I do not know about you, but I also believe these words are a perfect fit for 2020. We have found ourselves in a unique situation where we are teaching content as a secondary task to our more human need of providing a sense of normalcy for our students. We are tasked with helping our students stay focused during a challenging time, practice coping mechanisms, and grow as people while learning about chemistry, writing, and circuits.

And all this through a computer screen without non-verbal feedback.

Easy-peasy, right? I know none of us has ever experienced a student who did not log off class when it was done? Or someone sticking around for 5 – 15 minutes without a comment? Or you have called on a student to receive no response?

If so, you are experiencing the “Mute and Walk”. It is inevitable that we have students who are simply logging in for “attendance”, but virtually sleeping in the back of the classroom with their head down.

Hopefully, you only have 1 or 2 of these in a class (I have a couple, too, so do not think you are alone. I am right there with you). For the past week of classes I have been trying to figure out how to keep these students engaged. The last 3 days have solved my problem.

So far, this week’s classes are going great with a small tweak to my collaborative documents. Simply put, this twist allows me to hold each individual accountable during class while also addressing a lack of engagement in a non-threatening way.

Modified Collaborative Document

Previously I have shared the use of collaborative documents to engage students in small group discussions. I have also found them to be excellent resources within a whole class discussion, as well. After a few weeks of using them for students to discuss ideas with me in real time & answer built in questions I pre-planned in the lecture, I noticed some of my students were no longer engaging in the document. This week, I modified the approach.

I created my collaborative document on my one-drive. I typed the questions I wanted them to answer, and then I opened people soft. I exported my roster into Excel, copied their names, and pasted them into the document. The best part, when I pasted the names into a table, the table added an empty row beneath each name.

I then set the shared document to “People in KCTCS with the link”, clicked the “Allow editing”, and copied the link. I put it into the blackboard shell, and when I was done, I explained to my students that they were to answer the questions in the space under their name.

I know some of you have not had success with shared documents because you have encountered some technical issues. I am going to encourage you to try them again with the following tips:

  1. Remind your students they must be logged into class using their KCTCS credentials.
  2. Double check to make sure when you go to share the document that you set it to “People in KCTCS with the link”.
  3. Double check to make sure you clicked “Allow editing” so students can make comments in the document.


During the first question, I had three students who did not complete the activity. I waited until 90% of the students were finished with the task and highlighted the blank spots in a pale yellow. As soon as a few students finished their final statements, we discussed answers and proceeded onto the next topic.Again, the students began to make comments in their appropriate rows. Again, as 90% of the students were finishing up, I highlighted the 1 student who had not completed anything. We discussed the topics and moved onto the third point for the class.

This time, the last student was engaged immediately. They were answering their question while also sending me private chats with explanations for why they had not completed the prior discussion points.

When class began today, all three of my “mute and walkers” were engaged the entire class.

Additional Results

I knew I needed to test this theory with others, so I reached out to a few of our colleagues and shared my experiences. They found value in the activity and took it for a test drive themselves.

Their results were like mine. And one of our colleagues even refused to let the blank rows speak for themselves. The faculty member, after the student made a comment, asked if there was a problem for why the row was blank. The student, in a moment of honesty, wrote the truth in his row: I forgot to do the homework.

Show Compassion

This is where our moment of sculpting becomes the most powerful: our students have been exposed for not engaging and not completing assignments. We have a choice. Option one is to make the student feel shame with harsh words or harsh grades for their lack of engagement. Option two offers compassion and an opportunity to have a “redo”.

Add a private assignment for those identified as not being responsible for their learning. The assignment is simple. Have your students write a response to the following question: How can you improve your learning and engagement moving forward in class?

Allowing students an opportunity to earn points while reflecting on their lack of responsibility helps you both. You help them understand their need to commit to class and they learn what it means to become more responsible for their choices and actions. In the end, this is what our job is: helping students learn content while also gaining valuable work-place readiness skills.

When we show compassion and allow students an opportunity to self-reflect on their actions, faculty serve as the sculptors of our students. This redo offers students the chance to make better choices and allows them to grow. Simply put, you help them sculpt their soul.