Attitude of Gratitude

Hope everyone is enjoying a nice, long weekend!

During this time of year, I usually reflect on the past year: what I accomplished, what I learned, what was hard, and what I am grateful for. This has been an unprecedented year where we have had to pivot more times than Ross carrying a couch up a flight of stairs in Friends.

This year is not like other years.

Attitude of Gratitude has been my 2020 mantra.

Despite ____________, I am grateful for ____________.

I have been fortunate to give back to a community that has helped shape me into who I am today. Giving back and volunteering has always been part of my life, and I would like to share a few SJSU resources and a few ways we can give back. Please share this with those in need and add resources you have found helpful.
Note: these links and services are active as of Nov 2020:

SJSU Cares: assists students who are facing economic crisis by providing support and referrals around basic needs. Some of the services include food, housing, emergency assistance, wellness and cooking tips, counseling services, various (free) workshops, and more.

Student Involvement: oversees student clubs and organizations, and hosts activities. Get involved as a student or help out as a faculty member. Check out the Spartan Speaker Series. They even have a Finals Assistance Program which includes tutoring and de-stressing activities.

eCampus: provides professional faculty development, teaching tools, research tools, technology support, design resources, educational workshops and programs, and more.

SJSU Library: offers services for students like late-night tutoring and research assistance, and services for faculty like classroom and publication support.

Volunteering Virtually: there are so many ways to give back regardless of where you are located. One of my favorites is making Cards for Hospitalized Kids.

Volunteering in Person: if you are comfortable volunteering in person, here are a few local opportunities: Second Harvest, Sacred Heart, San Jose Public Libraries, and even our Spartan Food Pantry.

Donating: can take the form of money or time or both. Donate items or money to the Spartan Food Pantry. Here is a full list of ‘How to Give to SJSU.’

Random Acts of Kindness: this one is my favorite. Pay for someone’s coffee or toll. Hold a door open. Nod (or do an eye smile through your mask) at a stranger. Say hello.

Please take care of yourself…

Whether you are a student about to enter the end of the semester papers-presentations-final sprint or a faculty member grading assignments, submitting proposals, and planning for next semester, I hope you can take some time to pause, reflect, and unwind.

As always, stay safe and healthy.

Community Building (Cont.)

In the last article, I gave 8 tips for building community and engagement in your online classes:

#1 – Camera On
#2 – Ice-Breakers
#3 – Breakout Rooms
#4 – Polling
#5 – Chat
#6 – Reactions
#7 – Annotations
#8 – Breaks

A lot of my tips were around creating engagement. How do you continue to build community?

Setting the Class Tone. At the beginning of each semester, we review the syllabus. I read aloud class expectations around respect, professionalism, and communication. The guiding principles below set the tone for interactions and expectations in and out of the “classroom,”—online, offline, in discussions, chats, assignments, projects, and other exchanges. Whether a class is synchronous, asynchronous, or a hybrid, setting expectations early helps both faculty and students.

I have chosen to include the following in my syllabus:

Classroom Professionalism verbiage from syllabus

Excerpt from syllabus

Practice. In August, I spent ~45 minutes making sure we all knew how to use Canvas and Zoom. We practiced turning on our cameras and unmuting. We walked through reactions, chat emojis, and annotating. We even practiced changing our names (great hack when putting folks into breakout rooms – this was before participants could self-select their breakout rooms). We walked through how to enter and exit breakout rooms and how to ask for help.

Why is this so important? Practice makes perfect. This sets the foundation for the rest of the semester. It helps ensure students start with the same basic Zoom knowledge.

Setting the Technology Tone. Taking 45 minutes out of a class can seem daunting or a waste of time; however, every class after has gone smoothly. I imagine as students (and faculty) become more fluent in Zoom, this 45-minute Day 1 activity will only take 10 minutes in future semesters, and maybe even <5 minutes. This helps set the tone for class as well as expectations. I tell my students, “This is a HIGHLY interactive class. And if you want to breeze through or prefer asynchronous, please look for another class.” I mean that with the utmost respect.

If a student can do the dishes or clean their room while in a class – it may be better to pre-record content instead of having a live session. 

Participation. Professors often joke, if you give students points, they will show up! Whether that’s through assignments, in class activities, homework, quizzes, exams, or even (the hotly debated topic of) extra credit. Simply showing up to class is easier now than ever – sign in, mute, turn off camera, and watch a show… Aside from points, how do we ensure our students are present, active, and participating?

Check-In. I run an icebreaker with the entire class with cameras on (I use chat for students with bandwidth/mic challenges). This is not just for me to check-in with each student. They get to learn about each other too. They learn how to present and be present.

Check-In Hacks

Check-in Hacks

It’s 2020. We are all being asked to do more than we anticipated – I don’t have time to check in with every student every class – this allows me to do a quick pulse check.

Breakout Rooms. If I do not have time for a whole class check-in, I put students into random breakout rooms with 3-4 students, and they chat freely. How are you? What did you do for the long weekend? Sometimes I will give them a prompt based on their homework or a recent event. This can be 2-5 minutes. Some faculty open rooms up before class. I usually open breakout rooms during breaks – simulating casual, impromptu chats that would have happened organically during class breaks or transitions.

Aside from group projects and assignments, I use breakout rooms as a tool to increase engagement. If students are too quiet or not as responsive to lecture materials or questions, I throw out a question to the class, have them individually brainstorm ideas, and then have them discuss answers in small groups. They come back after 2-3 minutes and offer their answers, ideas, or suggestions via chat or unmuting. This usually increases the class energy too.

All of these small interactions add up and increase engagement and sense of community. Students get to know each other.

Discussion Boards. SJSU has a great resource list on how to use discussion boards. In addition to these ideas, I encourage students to share ideas, questions, events, and free resources on specific discussion threads. Having a dedicated space for questions and sharing of information supports collaboration and accountability. It also gives them a space to interact about non-class topics.

Group Activities. Lastly, I have group activities. Some are low-risk, easy point activities. Others are part of the formal semester long group project. More on this later!

These are all activities and ways which I foster a classroom community, on and offline. If you have any questions or want to brainstorm classroom community ideas, send me an email at Thank you. Stay safe.

Sourabh Garg

Sourabh is currently studying M.S. in Software Engineering at San José State University and is expected to graduate in December of 2021.

 As an eCampus student assistant, Sourabh is responsible for creating and editing the eCampus website while provide support for the students and faculty of SJSU. When starting at eCampus, he liked the work atmosphere and what helped was that everyone on the team was so helpful. His favorite part of the job is creating and editing web pages for the eCampus site. In addition, Sourabh really enjoyed helping the students and faculty with their issues and queries.

 When asked about his future plans, Sourabh says, “After graduation, I want to go back to professional life and apply my skills to create new and innovative softwares. I want to work in one of the top software companies and contribute to their Stack. As I don’t want to get away from learning new technologies, I want to start my own company after gaining enough industry experience. I believe startups are the best place to work and learn at the same time.”