The following links offer resources for teaching, learning, and student support at a distance. Many focus on making a quick transition to online teaching and the basics of doing so. Some focus specifically on the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Several provide in-depth information, advice, and insight.
Virtual Course Design and Resources
What can students expect in your online class environment? How can they show they are participating, and how can they expect to receive feedback? What if they have to be late or can’t join the online session at all? We have compiled some suggestions for how to make sure both you and your students are clear on what to expect from the class. As with all teaching, the clearer you can be about what is expected and why, the more successful you and your students will be.
You may wish to record a short video, which you could distribute to your students before your first online course meeting, in which you talk them through any new features or expectations of the course, and encourage them to join a Blackboard or Teams discussion during which time they can test their hardware and software and ask you purely logistical questions.
In the meantime, consider the following things as you work on this transition:
- Revise your syllabus with the information students will need to complete the course remotely.
- Indicate where the syllabus has changed from its original form, what assignments have been altered, and how students will be expected to complete the work. Which aspects of the course require logging on at a specified time, and which can be completed asynchronously? (This is especially important given that your students may be distributed across many different timezones.) Having a clear idea of the learning objectives for the rest of the term will make it easier for you to figure out how to best make the transition and what parts of the syllabus need to be altered.
- Communicate classroom expectations.
- It may not always be obvious to students that joining a Blackboard or Teams meeting is functionally equivalent to walking into a classroom. It’s a good idea to remind your students that the same principles apply to online courses as to on-campus meetings: they should behave professionally, treat others with courtesy and respect, use language thoughtfully, and wear appropriate clothing (and avoid inappropriate surroundings). Ideally they will join class from a suitable, quiet location, with a device that permits full participation in the class activities. They should NOT join a class while driving or riding in a car.
- Set participation norms. Participation plays several roles in a course.
- It is a mechanism for feedback, for you and your students. To make sure students' questions are acknowledged and answered, let them know when and how to ask them. In Blackboard and/or Teams, you could guide students to use the chat function or to show a "raised hand"; you can then designate moments throughout the lecture to address those questions with the group, or you could monitor the chat and "raised hands" and correspond with students in the chat as questions come up. You can also create discussion boards on Blackboard where students can ask and answer each other's questions, as well as receive feedback from instructors. Whatever venues you establish for students to share their questions, be sure to monitor them routinely and respond to students promptly, to help them stay connected to the material and the class as a whole.
- It is often an important piece of how you assess students and their engagement with your course. Many of the methods listed below may help to gauge student involvement, but given the changing circumstances and disruptions, it is a good time to think through multiple ways in which you might measure participation.
- Give feedback, and provide a mechanism for students to give you feedback.
- Maintain a two-way channel for communication. Checking in on how things are going in this new remote terrain will help make sure you and your students are on the same page. Let them know how you will be providing feedback on how they are doing, and give them a chance to give you feedback.
- Plan quick ways to check in on how students are doing. While you might not have given many quizzes in a traditional classroom environment, these kinds of shorter assessments could be helpful in the online environment to gauge how students are keeping up with the material (and make sure they feel incentivized to keep up with it). Utilize the quiz feature in Blackboard.
- See also: Communication, Organization, and Time Management
Content Adapted from The Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning: Harvard University.
Ensuring Equitable Access
As instructors and students adjust to the experience of online teaching and learning, many considerations around diversity, equity, and access are more important than ever. Here are some contextual points to bear in mind and some recommendations for how to adapt your teaching to foster an equitable and accessible online learning environment.
Contextual points to bear in mind
- Not all students will be engaging with their coursework from an environment with reliable access to wifi, technology, and optimal conditions for periods of sustained focus. Some will be staying with friends; some will be staying on campus in dorm room quarantine; some will need to move between different "home base" locations throughout the coming months.
- Some students will be taking on potentially time-consuming duties which they are not accustomed to juggling when they are on campus: caretaking for siblings or other family members, a job or jobs to make up for on-campus work hours that are no longer possible, organizing care for vulnerable friends and/or community members.
- Mental health may be poorly affected as structures and routines are disrupted. Social distancing can contribute to a sense of isolation, and students may find it difficult to tap into sources of community and motivation that were more readily available through campus life.
- Many students, especially those who are in their final year, will be confronting anxiety and uncertainty about their futures.
- During the coming months, some students and teaching staff will inevitably become sick with COVID-19 and will require academic accommodations.
- Build rapport and connection, but not invasively. It is helpful to check in with your students as everyone transitions and gets accustomed to online teaching and learning. This may happen informally at the start of a class, via office hours, or through dedicated questions on a feedback form. However, be mindful of probing or prying into personal details or compelling conversation about personal life. Some students might appreciate sharing details about their current living situation with you, but others might not wish to discuss it. Whether in a group meeting or in a one-to-one conversation, you can offer students space to share how they’re doing, what they’re finding effective, and where they’re encountering difficulties while also respecting their privacy and boundaries.
- Consider how your course might change not only in its timeline, but also in its pedagogy.
- Experiment with new media. How might you supplement or replace texts that are now inaccessible, and connect with students through new channels? Consider integrating video content, podcasts, creative slide decks, and/or dedicated social media feeds that students can access from home.
- Play with timing. Are there activities that were once synchronous that could now become asynchronous to accommodate students who are in different time zones, who have poor or unreliable internet access, and/or who are taking on new responsibilities? Are there assignments whose learning objectives could be realized over a more flexible or extended timeline?
- Consider segmented lectures. How can you evoke the physical classroom’s rhythms of pause and interaction? Breaking up long lectures into shorter segments with planned breaks for student reflection or discussion in breakout rooms can help. Visit breakout rooms to check in with pairs or small groups, ask students to share work when you return to the whole group, or set up a Blackboard poll for everyone to respond to after a break.
- Re-frame participation. Clarify discussion norms by asking students to use the "raise hand" function, unmute themselves, utilize the chat box, or employ some combination of these when contributing verbally to the class.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Office hours—or similar opportunities for students to be in conversation with you about their questions, concerns, and needs—are more important than ever. Share and reiterate the channels by which students can be in touch; make this information widely available on the syllabus, on Blackboard via regular class emails, and through an announcement at the end of class. Respecting your own capacity, it can be especially helpful to proactively and regularly reach out to any students who may be struggling in your course.
- Remain open to adapting. The COVID-19 pandemic marks an unprecedented time for us all. Information and infrastructures are changing rapidly, as are systems of support and care. As this global health emergency continues to impact all of us, your attentive and caring adaptation can play a significant role in supporting your students’ academic and personal well-being.
Ensuring Equal Access Resources
Content Adapted from The Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning: Harvard University
In many courses, in-person class time provides students and instructors with a "home base." While Blackboard sites are, in many cases, beginning to fulfill this role, for many courses—particularly those which are smaller—class times are where students get their "map" of the term: what has happened, what will happen, what they have to do. It's also where they get a sense of belonging, a sense that the class is a community of which they are a welcome part. In-person course meetings are filled with dozens of small conversations and micro-interactions that give students this "map" and this sense of belonging, many (most?) of which don’t even involve the instructor: a student might quickly look over a peer's shoulder to see which PDF he or she has open, ask a student sitting nearby to confirm the deadline for a paper assignment, or venture a guess to their neighbor before daring to answer an instructor's question in front of the whole class.
In-person meetings also provide instructors and students the opportunity to give and receive immediate feedback, whether through a quizzical look, a sea of raised hands, or staying a few minutes after class to ask a question. This type of feedback is much more difficult to capture online, so providing additional time for questions within an online lecture or discussion boards on Blackboard will help everyone stay connected and on the same page.
Instructors looking to recreate these aspects of face-to-face course meetings online might try some of the following:
- Create a document that serves as a "one-stop-shop" for students in need of orientation. In an ideal, perfectly planned world, perhaps the syllabus could provide this, but if you are like most of us, your syllabus evolves over time, and whats needed is a living document that continues to represent a "map" of the course for your students. For some, Blackboard may be the most natural tool, but others might find a simple Word Doc can serve this purpose.
- If the everyday interactions that ground students are no longer going to happen as a matter of course, think about scheduling them intentionally. If there are three key things students need to know to orient themselves in your class, help them out by putting them into pairs or small groups to ask the simple questions that will get them talking about these key orienting points ("what’s the reading for next week?" or "what are you going to write your midterm paper on and are we clear on when it's due?"). You could build this time into the beginning of each online session.
- While we typically focus first on making sure the students can see and hear the instructor, it's equally crucial that students are seen and heard (and that they feel they are seen and heard). This, too, takes additional structure and intentionality online. Even if you are reluctant to structure student contributions in a traditional classroom (i.e. by going around the room and asking each student to make a comment, or by having structured student presentations), you might think of doing so in the online environment to help ensure that each student feels connected with the course.
- In the spirit of maintaining this connection, consider scheduling more individual check-ins with your students, as possible. Depending on the size of your class, you could offer mandatory online office hours for individuals, pairs, or small groups, to make sure students stay connected with each other. These could be structured around upcoming assignments, outstanding student questions, or focused on peer review or other ways to make sure students are connecting with each other about the course materials.
Content Adapted from The Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning: Harvard Univeristy.
Key Moves for Online Interactivity
As we have moved our courses online, we have been compiling tips and strategies to apply the same principles we care about in our classroom teaching (interactivity, inclusion, efficiency and organization) to our teaching on Blackboard:
- Now more than ever it is important for our courses to offer our students a community they can feel like they belong to and can participate in. Our classes should strive to mitigate the isolation we are all feeling as we socially and physically distance ourselves by welcoming students into an intellectual and engaging community.
- At the same time, teaching through online platforms may make students less willing to participate. Speaking in front of a large group of muted people can be particularly intimidating, in part because we lose some of the social cues from verbal and nonverbal feedback we are used to when we speak up in front of many muted (and sometimes faceless) people.
Here are some ways to increase interactivity and inclusion in your online classroom. You might think of these as the "grammar" for our new "language" of teaching online.
This tutorial introduces polling in Blackboard Collaborate. Polls are great to engage your participants and keep them interested. You can use a poll that gives participants yes or no as their response choices. You can also select to give participants two, three, four, or five responses to choose from. Immediately after starting your poll, you can see an overview of poll responses. This overview gives you a response count for each choice. It even tells you how many participants haven't responded yet. If you want to see how each participant's response, or even who hasn't responded, go to the Participants panel.
Blackboard Link to Polls
COLD CALLING AND WARM CALLING
Even if you feel reluctant to normally use cold calling, it can be an important way to hear from your students while teaching over an online platform. As always, be transparent with your students, and feel free to tell them that you may start calling on them at random because you value their contributions and you know it can be awkward for people to speak up as they normally would in an in-person class.
One way to hear from more students than just those who are quickest to raise their hands is to ask a question and then give everyone a minute to write down their thinking before you ask for volunteers to share their answers. If no one volunteers, this also makes cold calling less upsetting to the students because at least they’ve all had a minute to gather their thoughts before being called upon
Another way to mitigate the stress of cold calling is to call on a subset of students. For example, unmute five random students whose faces appear on your screen (even when sharing a screen, you can enlarge the window with your students’ faces to include at least five students). Tell your students “OK, on my screen I can see Alex, Jamie, Steve, Jose, and Maria, so I’m going to unmute you five” and then ask your question to these students. This mitigates the stress than at any one student would feel by being put on the spot.
- To avoid calling on the same five random students every time you do this, you can hit an arrow button in your window of five student faces to cycle through your class to see five different student faces.
Another way to warm call on students is to assign them small group work and break the class into breakout rooms (see below). As the students are working in their small groups, you can enter their rooms to check in on them. When you find a student group that has a correct answer, ask them if they’d be willing to share their thoughts when you return to the main room.
GROUP DISCUSSIONS AND BREAKOUT ROOMS
In situations when students have their mics muted and are unable to see everyone, consider asking them to raise their hands before speaking AND/OR invite them to ask questions via the chat window. You can call on students after they raise their virtual hand or submit their question on chat, and then they can unmute themselves to speak to the class.
- To encourage participation from more students, you can ask for multiple hands to be raised before calling on anyone. For example, "Before I call on anyone for this question, I'd like to see four hands up," which then allows you to select a student volunteer from whom you haven't heard recently.
Open group discussion with more than 10 students can be a real challenge—there are either too many or too few voices speaking up—so rather than have whole class discussions with a large class, it can be helpful to use Breakout rooms of 4–6 students each anytime you want them to collaborate and discuss something together.
- When you break students into Breakout rooms, they will no longer be able to all see the same shared screen with an assignment prompt and instructions on it.
- Instead, post the assignment prompt that you want students to work on on your Blackboard page so students can find it.
Blackboard Link to Breakout Groups
SCREEN SHARING AND VIDEOCONFERENCING FROM HOME
The fact that we are all teaching and learning from home means that we might want to think even more intentionally than usual about how we set up both our electronics and our physical environment to share only what is germane with our students. When sharing screens and video conferencing at home:
Consider turning off your notifications. This way nobody needs to see all of your desktop notifications (email, texts, slack messages, etc.) and you get rid of that annoying dinging. (If students are often sharing screens, this could be made a class norm.)
Be mindful when sharing your screen of what you are showing. While you can choose what you share when you start screen sharing, in general, it's likely a good idea to resist opening your email or other things that you don’t want students to see.
If you are using an iPad or other tablet to do boardwork, make sure that the lock settings are such that it won’t keep going to sleep and making you enter your password every time you take a short break.
If your background might distract students—e.g. it is busy, or might reveal something about you which you do not wish to share with students—you might try a virtual background (if your computer supports this feature).
Content Adapted from The Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning: Harvard University
Video Conferencing and Synchronous Interaction
Given the importance of sustaining a sense of community among your students (and course staff), it is a good idea to seek out ways in which your students can interact with you beyond the confines of the formal class period. Below we suggest three variations on the conventional idea of “office hours” which you might employ in order to compensate for the loss of the face-to-face interactions, sidebar conversations, and chance encounters you might have had were you teaching on campus: individual office hours, group helprooms, and questions after class.
Individual and/or small group office hours outside of class time
Faculty should continue to offer weekly office hours so that students can discuss course material and assignments, as well as any questions about the revised course format and expectations. It may be easiest to set aside blocks of time during which students can "drop in" to a Microsoft Teams meeting; for continuity, you may want to continue to offer the same time slots as originally designated in your syllabus. Here’s how to do it:
- In your course Blackboard site, set up a recurring meeting.
- Decide whether you want to ask students to preselect a slot within your office hours, or invite them to just drop in at any point during your window of availability. Communicate these expectations clearly, and if you expect students to sign up in advance, you'll likely want to employ a system like Blackboard Scheduling or Microsoft Team that they can use to reserve their slot.
- Whether you want students to sign up in advance or just drop in at will, you should activate the Waiting Room function in Teams. This will prevent students who log on partway through your office hours from barging unannounced into what could be a private conversation (e.g. about a grade) that you’re having with the students before them in the queue. Instead they will be held in a virtual antechamber until you click a button to admit them into the main meeting room. Teams will alert you to their presence with a chime.
Group helprooms/meet-ups/assisted study groups outside of class time
Many courses rely somewhat less on individual office hours than they do on group helprooms or meet-ups, during which clusters of students can work together on a problem set or other kind of assignment with guidance from one or more roving instructors. Here’s how to recreate this experience:
- As above, you can choose either to (1) set up a dedicated meeting or meetings, or (2) share your PMI. (The PMI is especially useful if you will have many such sessions at different times.)
- In this case, do not enable the Waiting Room function as noted above, as you want students to be able to enter the meeting room freely.
- Assuming that you want students to work together, and/or that they kinds of questions they may have and help they may be seeking fall into clusters, you can create several Breakout Rooms in Zoom and manually assign the students who show up to them on the basis of their questions—each room can be devoted to a different problem or concept, and the host instructor can rove among them, perhaps aided by other instructors acting as co-hosts and assigned one to each room.
- Students who arrive in the middle of the helproom window will linger in the “main” Zoom room until the host instructor opens the Breakout Room dialog box again and assigns them to one of the existing rooms. As with the Waiting Room, Zoom will alert you to their arrival and lack of assignment.
Questions after class
One of the joys of teaching is lingering after class to answer questions or elaborate on a concept at the request of your students. Microsoft Teams makes this quite easy, and it is a great way to mimic some of the sociability that ordinarily is hard to port over into the online space. Here’s how:
- Let students know when the formal class time has ended, so that they can log off if they need or want to.
- Invite students who have questions to remain in the class meeting as their peers leave.
- Once you are down to the handful of students who intended to linger, you might ask them each for a quick synopsis of their question to determine how best to address them.
- Insofar as any of their questions are “general interest,” you could answer them in front of the whole group.
Content Adapted by The Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Excellence: Harvard University
Tutoring services are available for actuarial science, accounting, biology, chemistry, economics, organic chemistry, Math Lab, and the Writing Workshop.
1. Schedule appoints as usual on the tutoring website.
2. Tutors will email you a link before the start of your appointment.
3. For the Writing Workshop only: Respond to the tutor's email by sending the tutor a copy of your paper.
4. At the time of your appointment, click the link sent to you by the tutor to enter the virtual tutoring session on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
5. Once you've entered, enable both audio and video at the bottom of your screen.
6. On the bottom right-hand side of your screen, click the purplse tab to view a chat box.
7. Tutors may use this chat to send questions for you to answer while they read your paper or go over the assignment with you.
8. The appointment will proceed virtually.
Revising Assignments for Remote Teaching
Many types of out-of-class assignments that you have planned will not need to change when teaching online. The kinds of work that students would have completed individually—assignments such as response papers, problem sets, or essays—might not require modification, particularly when they assess students' ability to do things with readings, data, and/or concepts already found on the syllabus and available through your Blackboard site. Things may become more complicated, however, in those cases in which you have asked students to work together, to present their final product interactively in class, and/or to draw on research or other kinds of resources found exclusively on campus. In these cases, you may have to introduce modifications into your original plan, directing students to alternative resources (e.g. online documents in lieu of research in special collections) or alternative platforms (e.g. a voiceover recorded in Powerpoint in lieu of an in-class group presentation).
Here are some considerations to bear in mind as you think about how to preserve/revise your remaining assignments.
Focus on what you want to assess
As you begin thinking about which parts of your assignments you wish to preserve or modify, you'll want to identify, as clearly as possible, the competencies you really care to assess. If it seems too difficult for your students to complete the group podcast you had assigned, you may ask yourself: what were you most interested in learning about your students from that assignment? Was it their ability to engage in collaborative groupwork? Their ability to demonstrate a mastery of audio recording and sound editing? Their ability to interview someone? Their ability to tell a compelling story? Depending on your answer(s), you might arrive at different paths forward. If the core of the assignment was about groupwork, then it might be a good time to start preparing students to hold group meetings by Microsoft Teams; if the core was the storytelling, perhaps you could allow students who won't have the benefit of a cancelled workshop on sound recording to submit a script instead?
Connect students with the resources they need
Make sure that students have access to any software, technology, or other physical resources that are required to complete assignments. Ideally, aim to use software or other resources (e.g. library databases) that are freely available to College students from remote locations. In the event that software packages or e-resources require students to login through VPN while off-campus, make sure that students know how to do this: Drake VPN Access. In the event that none of these (relatively) open access, self-serve options seems feasible, please contact the Center for Teaching Excellence to think through your options, or seek help from the Cowles Library.
Create many opportunities for dialogue
Whether we recognize it or not, frequent, low-stakes feedback is the currency on which all assignments run. It can be easy, when moving online, to underestimate the many avenues, informal as well as formal, that our students utilize to ask and answer questions when we are teaching face-to-face. Whether it's buttonholing a coursehead at the end of lecture, turning to the classmate in the next seat, or participating in an ad hoc study group, students in face-to-face environments benefit immensely form the opportunity to talk through their ideas. How can we make sure that students retain at least some simulacrum of these resources when we are teaching remotely?
- If you've been planning to have students present their work-in-progress in class, you could ask them to present to their peers through Blackboard and/or a Microsoft Teams meeting of the class. Alternatively, students could record a presentation on their phone or computer and submit it through Blackboard.
- Insofar as your students would benefit from getting peer feedback outside of class, you may want to encourage them to use collaborative tools, such as Microsoft Teams, to offer each other feedback. You may also want to assign students to study groups.
Take advantage of Blackboard
If you're concerned about how students will submit their assignments while they are away from campus, Blackboard may be just the solution.
Content Adapated from The Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning: Harvard Univeristy
Teach Remotely with Cowles Library
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Discipline-specific guides (external)
Working Remotely in a Pandemic
Remote Learning Exchange
Faculty of instruction engaged in online and remote teaching in spring and summer, 2020, are invited to connect with one another to share ideas, ask questions, and reflect on their experiences in unstructured, open conversations.
Every Thursday and Friday through the end August, any time from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, you can use this link to join a virtual Teams gathering. Feel free just to drop in or to contact others in advance and arrange to meet there together.
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