Engaging students during online learning: A Q&A with COCC instructor Sean Rule

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Photo submitted by Sean Rule

Miina McCown/The Broadside

Sean Rule, a professor of mathematics and well known for his Math in Society course (MTH 105) at Central Oregon Community College is known for making his lessons fun and engaging for students. Rule is also a musician in a punk band and is known to sometimes incorporate some of his interests into his lessons. 

Playing with a group from Los Angeles, Rule and his bandmates had conducted a majority of their songwriting and arranging through online file-sharing before the pandemic hit, with the sudden change in conditions not affecting them largely. However, the band has not been able to tour since 2019, and Rule remarks that the group is hopeful of going on a small tour later this year since that is when the release of their next album is set for.

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The Broadside had a conversation with Rule to see how he maintained engaging and fun lessons during online learning as well as some of the ways he incorporates his interests into his work. 

The Broadside: Since your teaching methods are so exciting as well as require a lot of face-to-face discussion/activity, what are some ways you have been maintaining this throughout online learning?

Sean Rule: That is a great question. It has not been easy, but I “flipped” my classes; so, students watch about 45 minutes to an hour of videos I’ve made twice a week, and then I offer optional drop-in meetings twice a week for them to come in and ask questions on whatever they need help with. Those meetings allow for a little more of the interpersonal interactions we used to have in person.

TB: What are your current goals for the future? What are your plans for when COCC gets back into in-person learning?

SR: With regards to work, I’m actually not going to go back to face-to-face teaching for a bit; I’ve actually gotten pretty well into the groove of online teaching, and my students are doing pretty well too, so I offered to stay teaching online in the future. With regards to life, I really want to play shows again.

TB: How have you been incorporating your interests into lessons lately and what is an area of interest from your recent lessons?

SR: When we were recording, my buddy Adam said, “You’re not playing fast enough. Here, have some skittles.” And then he dropped a few in my hand. And the sound engineer said to me, “You got too many green ones.” And, so, I decided to build a math problem out of how many of each color skittles you should get in a handful.

TB: Where did you typically play shows before the pandemic and what are your plans for after it is over?

SR: What’s so interesting about being in a non-local band is that we don’t really have “usual” venues to play. When we play, we’re usually on tour, so we can be anywhere from a living room in Flagstaff Arizona, playing with a death metal band from Italy, to an underground art space in Bellingham, playing with a noisecore band from Portland; with whom we played a pickup game of soccer with afterward and anywhere in between. Tour’s fun.  

TB: Lastly, how did you make the change to online learning? What were some of the struggles that emerged as a result?

SR: The biggest struggle is that we or COCC are just not set up to make this easy. Our eLearning department, bless their souls, their work is vital and irreplaceable, and need way more people than they have. And, to the college’s credit, they have hired more… but we really could have used them years ago, which would have helped reduce some of the growing pains from the pandemic.  

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