Hi teaching friends both near and far –
It’s the middle of the semester. You have gotten the news that your face-to-face classes are going to be transitioned into “online learning” ASAP.
You are probably freaking out a bit. You may be feeling skeptical or resistant. That’s OK. We’re all human and that is understandable. Remember, our students are feeling even more anxious and apprehensive about all of this than we are. We will all simply do the best that we can and acknowledge that this is not an ideal situation for anyone.
Care for yourself. Care for your students. Don’t make assumptions about what materials or technology your students have access to at home. Be aware that some of them may not even have a stable home where they can be for an indefinite length of time and are scrambling to find that before all else. Be flexible. Be kind.
Below are resources for my March 2020 workshops to help my Hood College colleagues and our students during these challenging times. I encourage you to keep things simple and continue to do the kind of collaborative, small group teaching and learning that we value.
two general resources
First, here are some of the most helpful resources I have found on the interwebz for those of us scrambling to move our courses online.
And here is the email I sent to my ENGL 269 class in case you are looking for a place to begin to address this with your own students.
keeping it simple
Please remember: you are not being asked to become an expert online instructor!
Here’s what you need to focus on…
- You need to have regular contact with your students,
- You need to establish a new routine for how students will interact with each other, with the course content, and with you,
- You still need to provide systematic, ongoing feedback, and
- You need all of this to be manageable for you and for your students.
In order to do this…
- You need to give yourself and your students permission to do less – both in terms of content and in terms of “best teaching practices,”
- You need to allow for as much flexibility as possible, and
- You need to do your best to not compare yourselves to what other classes and instructors are doing.
some suggestions to get you started…
- Find out what texts, materials, and technology your students have (use email, a survey, or a Bb poll). Use that as a starting point. Figure out what you need to give them access to. Ask your awesome Faculty Services Superhero for help.
- Figure out what content, learning activities, and projects are the MOST essential and then figure out what can be cut or simplified (maybe there’s a big project that you can swap out in favor of a few smaller, low-stakes assignments.
- Make 1-2 weeks of a new schedule. Use that as a starting point and then adapt as you go.
some logistical suggestions…
- DON’T try to learn a bunch of shiny new software. If you’re comfortable with email, PDFs, and Discussion Boards (though I may try to convince you to try a blog or journal on Bb instead because they are much easier to use!), then use those as your primary tools. Add 2-3 new tools or techniques at most.
- DO think as asynchronously as possible. Everyone’s lives are topsy-turvy right now.
- DO choose a standard deadline for any upcoming deadlines (e.g. try to have assignments due on Sunday at 11:59 pm) for consistency and to help students upload things as they are able
- DO trust your students. If you need to give a quiz or test, make it open-book, open-note. DO allow students a second chance at any non-open-book assessments.
- DO consider alternative evaluation methods like ungrading or contract grading for assignments if you are worried about how to fairly acknowledge the unusual nature of this situation. (I’m happy to work with you later this week if you would like help with this!)
- DO keep any necessary videos short and DO upload them to YouTube for easy captioning. That is if you need them at all.
- DO take deep breaths and accept that things are going to go wrong. Something is going to crash at an inopportune time. If you are ready for it, there’s less of a chance that it will throw you off your game.
- DO ask your colleagues for help (ask how they are organizing their Bb site, or how they are grading papers, or… Share your ideas with them too. We’re all in this together!
ideas for collaboration and group work
This is honestly one of the easiest things to transition online – in fact, even in my face-to-face classes, I do a LOT of online group work because it helps students keep a record of what they have done so they can refer to it later.
helpful tools in Blackboard…
In the Bb “course tools” section, check out journals, blogs, and discussion boards.
I know Discussion Boards are the most familiar, but they are the hardest to navigate and the least intuitive in many ways. Journals are great for when students need to do ongoing, informal work and get feedback from you and/or their peers. (If you want students to see each others’ journals, be sure to check the “Permit Course Users to View Journal” box when setting it up. And a Course Blog also make it easy for students to share thoughts and comment on each other’s ideas quickly and easily.
And OF COURSE if you want to do some synchronous stuff or you want students to work together using audio and video, Collaborate Ultra is a great resource … be sure you attend Jeff’s workshop on that!
I’m a big fan of using Google Docs or Word Online for group work. (We ALL have Word Online with Office 365!) You can set up a doc with questions or prompts and have students all work on it together in real time. All you need to do is share a link and be sure your setting include “anyone with the link can edit.” Since this kind of work happens anonymously, establishing etiquette and ground rules is a good idea.
There are all kinds of other collaboration apps out there (Slack, Trello, Padlet, etc.) but these are options for folx who are already feeling pretty comfortable with the idea of doing group work digitally. I’m happy to answer questions about them today or later in the week if you would like to discuss.
All the usual stuff you do in your face-to-face classes can happen in online group work. Problem sets, article discussion, jigsaw activities (the group work technique, not the literal puzzles), etc. But also think about how to use group work for some of the assignments you would usually assign as individual homework. In this really unusual situation, you want to build in more collaboration, not less. We don’t need more isolation in our lives! Consider assigning groups for each assignment OR give students accountability buddies that they stick with for the rest of our time online. If you allow students to pick groups or partners, don’t leave anyone out; this is easy to do in an online environment where everyone is not sitting right in front of you.