Manan Ahmed

Associate Professor of History

Professor Manan Ahmed shares his experience with online teaching in 2020.

I have been teaching two undergraduate seminars that are both very heavy textual reading, and discussion heavy. I was very apprehensive in the beginning about creating a community of readers and interpreters of text in the classes. The students (majority are 2nd year students) were physically scattered across time-zones (+/- 3 hrs) as well. I mandated that all students (where their machines were capable) have the same virtual background to give the simulation of being in the same space during class (usually 95% of the students have the virtual background). I also relied heavily on in-class chat function for Zoom, putting links and answering questions etc. That has been working very nicely.

However, the success story is Slack.

I decided to build a Slack channel into the classes for creating an asynchronous community. This meant more work for me to set it up. I assigned a participation grade to Slack as well as had guidelines for what to post there (how is the weather this morning? what notable news did you reflect on today?) and also engaged myself in the channels. This was in addition to the usual discussion posts and group presentation assignments. The Slack channels were a *huge* success in building a genuine community. Students have reported on their feedback (anonymous mid-semester as well as in-class) that they felt much closer and connected to each other, as compared to their experiences in other classes. There are genuine discussions on Slack, with substantial commentary, back-and-forth, and collective thinking. I have actually never experienced this before. I will be using Slack in all my classes going forward in fact. 

I did experiment in the beginning of the semester with preparing short ~5min lecture videos for pre-class/asynchronous viewing but that proved to be too much of a time-sink for me and I abandoned it. I still think it would be a good idea to incorporate but I would need help on that front.

Overall, I have loved teaching these students through this trying and difficult time. It has been a rewarding experience.

Tell your story. Learn from others.

What is it like to teach and learn at Columbia in 2020-2021? Share your hybrid/HyFlex or online teaching and learning experience.