- Communicate with students
- Post course materials
- Deliver lectures
- Run lab activities
- Foster communication and collaboration among students
- Collect assignments
- Assess student learning
Communicate with students
Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether it’s a planned absence on your part, or a crisis impacting all or part of campus. You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations.
- Communicate early and often: Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions. Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Use the Announcements feature in Brightspace to post daily updates for the class, or use the Email feature to send an email to your entire class and/or to individual students
- Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email and how quickly they can expect your response. Remind them, too, that they may need to update their notifications on Brightspace (especially if you will be using the Assignments feature (formerly known as the Dropbox).
- Manage your communications load: You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Alternately, consider developing a Discussion Forum and Post just for course-related questions and ask students to post their questions there. You might title this post “Help,” or “I Have a Question,” or “FAQs.”
- Distribute course materials and readings: You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more – or all – instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.
Post course materials
- Make sure students know when new material is posted: If you post new materials in Brightspace or on another shared resource (e.g., Google Drive), be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted. Refer them to Navigate Brightspace Learning for video tutorials on how to change their notification settings and use all of the Brightspace features effectively.
- Keep things phone friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a mobile device available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats including PDFs. Consider saving other files in two formats, its original application format and a PDF. PDFs are easier to read on phones and tablets and keep the file size small, and the original file format often has application features that are helpful to students who use accessibility software. Also note that videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have the network and computing resources to access them during the current situation. Finally, remind students to download the Brightspace Pulse App for Smartphone access to all their course materials.
- Make accommodations for students with disabilities: Consult with the Office of Accessibility for requirements.
Instructors have two options:
- WebEx is an existing University of Akron tool available to all instructors, staff, and students that can facilitate remote attendance. Instructors can use WebEx video conferencing to offer online sections and/or lectures. WebEx also allows you to record these sessions and share a link for viewing by your students.
- Panopto allows you to prerecord lectures and screencasts and distribute them to your students via Brightspace.
Regardless of which of these tools you use, your sessions should be recorded so they can later be captioned for students. Consult with the Office of Accessibility if you have a student who needs accommodations.
Best practices for recorded lectures:
- Record in small chunks: Even the best online speakers keep it brief; think of the brevity of TED talks. We learn better with breaks to process and apply new information. To aid student learning, record any lectures in shorter (5-10 minute) chunks, and intersperse them with small activities that give students opportunities to process the new knowledge, make connections to other concepts, apply an idea, or make some notes in response to prompts. Smaller chunks also lead to smaller files, especially when using voiced-over PowerPoint presentations.
- Be flexible with live video: Lecturing live with WebEx is certainly possible, and it best approximates a classroom setting, since students can ask questions. However, a crisis might mean some students won't have access to fast internet connections, and others may have their schedules disrupted. So, record any live classroom session, and be flexible about how students can attend and participate.
- It's not just about content: If a crisis is disrupting classes, lectures can mean more than just providing course content; they also establish a sense of normalcy and a personal connection. In online courses, we talk about the importance of "instructor presence", and that's just as true during short-term online stints. So, consider ways that you can use lectures to make students feel connected and cared about: acknowledgement of current challenges, praise for good work, and reminders about the class being a community. This affective work can help their learning during a difficult time.
Run lab activities
One of the biggest challenges of teaching online from anywhere is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.
Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:
- Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work). Save the physical practice parts of the labs until access to campus is restored. The semester might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
- Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
- Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
- Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are about providing time for direct student interaction; consider other ways to replicate that type of interaction or create new online interaction opportunities, including using available Group Collaboration Tools such as WebEx or Google Apps.
Foster communication and collaboration among students
Fostering communication and collaboration among students can build and maintain a sense of community that can h elp keep students motivated to participate and learn.
Consider these suggestions when planning activities:
- Use asynchronous tools when possible: Having students participate in live WebEx conversations can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools such as Brightspace Discussions allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
- Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. Define how this activity helps students meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments.
- Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
- Balance newness and need: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online communication and collaboration with the additional effort it will require on everyone’s part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.
Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Require only common software: Students may not have access to specialty software located in on-campus computer labs. Some of that software may be available via Information Technology Services, but unless the students have permissions to load software onto computers they can access, they may be unable to use these tools. Be ready with a backup plan for such students.
- Avoid emailed attachments for assignment collection: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might overload your inbox. Use Brightspace Assignments (“drop boxes”) instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
- State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions: In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
- Require specific filenames: It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.
Assess student learning
It is fairly easy to give small quizzes to hold students accountable or do spot-checks on their learning, and this might be ideal to keep students on track during class disruptions. Providing high-stakes tests online can be challenging, however, as they place extra stress on students, and test integrity is difficult to ensure.
General tips for assessing student learning during class disruption:
- Embrace short quizzes: Short quizzes can be a great way to keep students engaged with course concepts, particularly if they are interspersed with small chunks of video lecture. Consider using very-low-stakes quizzes to give students practice at applying concepts—just enough points to hold them accountable, but not so many that the activity becomes all about points. Short quizzes can be easily developed using the Brightspace Quizzes feature.
- Move beyond simple facts: It is good to reinforce concepts through practice on a quiz, but generally it is best to move beyond factual answers that students can quickly look up. Instead, write questions that prompt students to apply concepts to new scenarios, or ask them to identify the best of multiple correct answers.
- Check for publishers' test banks: Look to see if your textbook publisher has question banks that can be loaded into Brightspace. Even if you don't use these questions for your exams, they can be useful for simple quizzes. Some textbooks also have their own online quizzing tools that can help keep students engaged with the material.
- Update expectations for projects: Campus disruptions may limit students' access to resources they need to complete papers or other projects, and team projects may be harmed by a team's inability to meet. Be ready to change assignment expectations based on the limitations a crisis may impose. Possible options include allowing individual rather than group projects, asking groups to record presentations with collaborative video tools, or adjusting the types of resources needed for research papers.
- Consider alternate exams: Delivering a secure exam online will be difficult without under these circumstances, so consider giving open-book exams or other types of exams. They can be harder to grade, but you have fewer worries about test security.
- Use Brightspace to offer exams online: Brightspace Quizzes allows tests to be timed and offered online. This may not work for all classes, however it may be an option for many. Quizzes can also auto-grade in many instances (true/false; multiple choice). Such exams, however, should NOT be counted as closed-book, simply because they cannot be fully proctored.