Summer 2020 Weekly Letters

The weekly letters for Summer 2020 have three purposes:

1. Provide information on upcoming LITS/CILA teaching support activities, including links to join scheduled sessions.
2. Introduce topics that emerged in the May survey of faculty on their experiences with remote teaching this spring.
3. Share two or three related teaching tips that may be helpful as we all prepare for some mix of in person and online teaching in the fall.

See CILA’s Spring 2020 Letters

Welcome Video for Students – July 22

Dear colleagues:

Perhaps, like me, you are being contacted by your students and advisees who have questions and concerns about fall semester. I want to pick up on a suggestion Marci Sortor made in her recent letter “July 21 Update for the Academic Division”:

“I do ask that all professors put on their calendars to contact their students a few days before classes begin to make clear what the first week will be like: who should show up in person, who should show up virtually, etc., so that students understand what you want them to do for those first few class sessions.”

This is good advice.  I want to build on it with a recommendation that is being shared among teaching/learning centers at colleges offering new online and hybrid teaching environments to their students.  In response to student concerns about these unfamiliar environments (ie. your fall courses), I encourage you to create a short welcome video that includes the following information (and more if you want!) for each of your courses.  This will not only help students imagine your class, but also feel excited about taking it with you.

  • What course will you be teaching (focus on one for the video)?

  • How will you be teaching it?

  • What can students expect to be doing? What will they be learning?

  • Why are you excited about the course? Why should they be excited?

  • How will you build community, engage with students, help students engage with one another?

  • What expectations or hopes do you have for their participation in the course?

The sooner you send your welcome to your students, the better; they share many of our apprehensions and have plenty more of their own. Remember that videos do not have to be works of art: we are all in this together, and students appreciate our efforts to connect. Do try to smile, don’t worry if your cat joins you, let your students know they are welcome, that you look forward to working with them, and that you have a map ready to navigate this new environment you will be entering together this fall.

Online Discussion Forum – July 14

Dear colleagues:

Yesterday I typed this search into google: “eye exercises for long screen time.”  I am sure you too are working hard to prepare for a new form of teaching in the fall. This is a stressful time, but it is also a time of amazing innovation.  One of my goals for next year is to capture all that we are learning now that we will want to retain for our teaching practices when we return to “normal.”

An impressive number of you have been participating in summer workshops on hybrid teaching: 40-50 in each June basic skills CILA/LITS session, and over 80 in the July Working Groups. On Monday 40 people from our campus were among the over 300 ACM instructors in their weekly Online Course Hybrid Teaching and Learning Design and Pedagogies workshop.

I want to remind you that recordings of all of these workshops are available through the Hybrid Teaching and Learning link on the CILA website. There you will also find general and discipline specific resources for designing a hybrid class (with more resources on the way);  the hybrid course models provided by the Fram Fram group; and now an Online and Hybrid Teaching Discussion Forum.

I encourage you to participate in this forum, sharing your questions and your innovations, getting support and inspiration from your fellow teachers.  If you come across any resources that you think your colleagues would find helpful, please send them to me, so I can include them on the CILA website. It will always be a work in progress.

Here are my favorite eye strain exercises.

Results of the Spring Survey of Students about Remote Teaching – July 6

Dear colleagues:

The June CILA/LITS teaching sessions on basic supported technologies for hybrid teaching have come to an end.  But you still access them as recordings on the CILA website.

I encourage you to sign up for one of the July working groups. It is not too late to join a group and get your fall class planning accomplished in July with the help of a creative and supportive group of colleagues and inspiring facilitators!  I have copied the information and sign-up links at the bottom of this letter.

This morning, I received a summary of the results of the survey of students about their experience moving suddenly to remote classes this spring.  Titled the HEDS-Covid 19 survey, and analyzed by the able Kelsey Thompson, Assistant Director of Assessment, and her excellent summer student intern, Juliana Goldman, the survey asked students which remote instructional methods they experienced this spring were most/least effective and why. Here are the key takeaways from the survey as Kelsey shared them with me:

  • Students mentioned a wide variety of both synchronous and asynchronous teaching methods that they found effective.

    • Specifically, a third of respondents mentioned effective methods from both of these categories.

  • Students tended to prefer synchronous methods because of the contact with faculty (particularly for help understanding content) and other students and because they found these methods provided greater structure and engagement.

    • Students tended to struggle with these methods primarily due to technology issues (e.g., poor WiFi) or scheduling constraints (e.g., time zone differences, balancing with other course scheduling demands, or new demands from their home life).

  • Students tended to prefer asynchronous methods because they could complete the work on their own schedule and at their own pace, and because these methods were much less impacted by time zone or WiFi connection issues.

    • Students tended to struggle with these methods when there was too much independent learning and little interaction with faculty.

    • Specific methods more frequently mentioned as ineffective rather than effective were Moodle forums and timed online exams.

  • Thus, what works best is not necessarily a particular method or set of methods, but rather those that are best suited to the course structure and the particular students in that course.

    • This suggests that designing effective online learning experiences requires a balance between providing opportunities for students to achieve essential course learning outcomes and frequent check-ins with students about what is and isn’t working well.

I know each and every one of you is working hard this summer to prepare for fall teaching challenges.  Please let me know if CILA or LITS (Library and Instructional Technology) can help you.  And don’t overlook the many resources on the CILA website–they are updated weekly.

Here is the invitation again to join one of the July working groups:

CILA and LITS are sponsoring working groups on hybrid instruction to help faculty prepare for fall courses. The working groups will meet three times for 90 minutes during July. Each working group is limited to 15 participants and will be filled on a first come, first served basis. Faculty participants will receive a $100 stipend.

Click here to view details of the working groups, including facilitators, descriptions, and meeting times.

Click here to register for working groups. Please submit your registration request by Tuesday, July 7 at noon.

Community and Connectivity – June 29

Dear colleagues:

The CILA/LITS teaching session this week is on Wednesday 7/1 from 11:00am-12:00pm. These summer sessions, offered through the month of June, provide a short introduction to the most fundamental and widely used remote teaching resources supported by the college. This week the session will focus on the capabilities (and limitations) of  Zoom, a popular video conferencing platform.

The words for this week’s letter are the same as those for my 6/15 letter COMMUNITY and CONNECTIVITY.  You can refer back to that letter, or view a recording of the 6/17 CILA/LITS session through a link on CILA’s home page. Rather than repeat earlier advice, I am going to write a bit about things to consider when live-streaming an in-person (f2f) class, and a few thoughts about teaching while wearing a face mask.

Most of us will have to break our classes into groups to conform to social distancing requirements.  Yes, as many of you have been considering, you can teach one portion of your class in person (f2f) and be recording, or live streaming, this f2f lecture/discussion for the rest of your students.  But most classrooms will have limited technology and quality live-streaming is difficult to create.  If you consider the experience from the perspective of a student watching the class on a screen, what they will view is not particularly appealing: sound will be poor quality; their classmate’s comments will mostly be too quiet or unintelligible when picked up by a mike in a socially distanced classroom where everyone is wearing a mask.  The camera (unless you are a tech whiz) will be static, so all students will see is either you, or their classmates from a distance. This is not a good situation for either student engagement or learning.

Here is a link to a short essay by Chris Lee, son of our former colleague Ron Lee, on the experience of teaching in a classroom where everyone wears a mask: ”Teaching in Face Masks or Shields with Social Distancing: A Non-Scientific Study.”  Chris now heads the teaching/learning center at Roanoke College. His biggest take-away? “you should also try this experiment as soon as you can get back on campus!”

I strongly encourage you to create a flipped classroom (students watch your lecture and/or complete the assigned reading outside of class and then come together for discussion or other activities). Content delivery is remote; learning activity is in person.  I would suggest creating short lecture videos–no more than 15 minutes each–that the students watch before, during, or after (or all of these) the reading or scheduled class time, and then different groups from your class alternate meeting f2f with you. Groups not meeting with you in person can either meet remotely or actually get together during class time, and undertake activities themselves rather than watching yet another video.. What’s important is to give these groups clear tasks, guiding questions, perhaps even roles within the group, and a way to give you feedback on whatever they do together.  In a hybrid class, it is much easier to build a sense of community working with smaller groups.  

To learn more about how Zoom can help you to build community and connectivity in your hybrid class, I encourage you to join this week’s CILA/LITS teaching session.

Equity and Accessibility – June 22

Dear colleagues:

The CILA/LITS teaching session this week is on Wednesday 6/24 from 11:00-12:00. June sessions will provide a short introduction to the most fundamental and widely used capabilities of a college supported platform. This week the session will focus on Panopto, a video platform that integrates especially well with Moodle.

The words for this week’s letter are EQUITY and ACCESSIBILITY

As many of you commented in the spring teaching survey, students were stressed.  They struggled with frustrating technical difficulties and felt overwhelmed organizing and keeping track of all of their assignments, as well as mastering a range of online platforms.  And they were–and are still–living in very difficult, challenging times, socially and politically, which calls on us all to practice what is frequently called “Trauma Informed Pedagogy.”

How can we help our students this fall? We can start with a key question of Inclusive Pedagogy: “Who is being left out as a result of this approach?” When our teaching is hybrid, we need to ask this question about both face-to-face (f2f) and online approaches. In the survey several of you brought up the need to make your teaching more equitable and accessible. Panopto (the topic of this week’s CILA/LITS workshop) may be helpful. Here are a few of your comments:

As many of you noted: “Having to learn multiple different technologies was challenging.  Keeping track of everything was another thing students reported that was challenging.”

Panopto integrates directly with Moodle.  And if you use Moodle as the landing base for all of your course content (and put the links to other resources on your Moodle site) students will always have a clear starting place for your class.

Some students, especially ESL, found video lectures hard to follow. They need a platform that will allow them to pause, replay, even word-search. Panopto “recordings of my classes were helpful for many students.  They reported that they could go back and rewatch or take better notes by pausing the lecture and starting again when ready to move on.”

 “I’m aware of UDL principles and know that best practice is to include video captions.” Panopto provides Automatic Speech Recognition captioning, which you can edit.

If you follow UDL principles and offer multiple paths for your students to demonstrate their learning, consider one of your colleagues suggestions: “Students recorded themselves performing assignments.  This allowed for effective self assessment and helped me to more fully assess their work.”

And Panopto has even more capabilities–as one of you wrote: “I think you can do more with Panopto than I’ve done, so it’s probably worth learning more about those resources.”  If you agree, come to the next CILA/LITS teaching session.

Community and Connectivity – June 15

Dear colleagues:

The CILA/LITS teaching session this week is on Wednesday from 11:00-12:00. June sessions will provide a short introduction to the most fundamental and widely used capabilities of a college supported platform. This week the session will focus on the suite of Google tools such as Slides, Groups, and Jamboard.

The words for this week’s letter are COMMUNITY and CONNECTIVITY.  As people wrote in the spring teaching survey:  ”students who didn’t have any synchronous classes felt isolated and desired some connection with their faculty and classmates.” “Too much independent lonely practice leads to low motivation.”

What are some simple and accessible ways to connect our students with each other and with us and to strengthen a sense of class community?  Here are some tips from colleagues using Google tools, familiar platforms for our students supported by the college.

–create small groups. Keeping the same members builds small supportive communities. “They could meet to talk any time, in whatever way was most convenient to them,”  perhaps Google Chat. Ask for “small group discussion reports”: “they posted short reflections on their discussions before our next synchronous session.  It worked wonderfully.” “I had students take minutes from their small group discussions, so I could quickly view them, and I found that helpful.” Provide discussion guides: “It worked best when I created open-ended discussion questions related to readings.”

–design collaborative assignments that students work on together in a Google Doc. If you do this with small groups, it can be helpful to assign roles to members: meeting scheduler;  agenda setter; chief editor; citation editor, etc. Students in one spring class created “a collectively written project (which ended up being the size of a book). Every student contributed to the finished project.” Another class used “group discussion leadership”: “Everyone reads a book, but a group of students was responsible for summarizing the main points of the assigned chapter, presenting them collaboratively, and coming up with discussion prompts. Each group prepared Google Slides for presentation.”

–check in frequently. Hold Google Meets with small groups: “we could all look at each other and have authentic interactions and discussions.” One colleague held “oral interviews involving, each time, two students and myself.”  Many stressed the importance of quickly following up by email with students who miss meetings or assignments. One “used Google Form to distribute daily ‘entrance tickets’ before class and ‘exit tickets’ after class, which were very brief forms with my greetings, reminders, and a space for my students to tell me what they felt confident (or not) in.  Their candid responses and the Google Form summaries helped me adjust my teaching contents and strategies proactively.”

Clarity and Teaching – June 8

Dear colleagues:

The CILA/LITS teaching session this week is on Wednesday, June 10 from 11:00-12:00. June sessions will provide a short introduction to the most fundamental and widely used capabilities of a college supported platform. There will be recommended activities for supported hands-on practice. This week the session will focus on Moodle and Google Classroom.

The word for this week’s letter is CLARITY.  Here’s the prompt from the survey:  ”I heard from students that it was really difficult to be on top of things when all the important information wasn’t in one place.”

This fall our students will have a mix of online and in-person learning. Let’s not bewilder them unnecessarily.  Embrace clarity, and its close companion simplicity, as you plan your syllabus.  Here are some tips from colleagues:

–if you are not yet using Moodle or Google Classroom, start now. These provide a “centralized location for files, instructions, the schedule, and video lectures.”  They are familiar platforms for our students, and supported by the college.

–revisit your learning outcomes. “The most important thing was to rethink my syllabus and start with the fundamental goals that I needed to help my students achieve.” “I’ve tried to keep my online instruction stripped down to addressing the learning outcomes as simply and efficiently as possible.  I think students have appreciated this clarity when so much else is overwhelming and confusing right now.”

–break the whole into parts. Divide your course into units; this helps students “retain a sense of structure.” Break assignments into steps, carefully describe each step.  Include regular “To Do” lists in your syllabus.  As one of you wrote, “They appreciated how minutely detailed my instructions were for assignments, so there was no confusion.”

–be predictable. Set up class patterns: regular daily or weekly activities, small rituals. To the survey question, “What did your students most appreciate?” one of your colleagues responded:  “A very predictable course schedule.” Extend this to your Moodle course – repeat structures, styles, and layout week to week so students know where to find things.