Have you noticed students coming to class underprepared or unable to demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing, or mathematics at the college level? Over 60% of students who attend either a two-year or four-year university enroll in at least one remedial course to better prepare for their major courses.1
Unfortunately, many of the academically underprepared are economically disadvantaged or come from marginalized or minority groups. For example, in California, over 90% of economically disadvantaged students require remediation in English language learning.2
The impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic may have further heightened the struggles of underprepared students. With the shift to online learning, teaching quality varied substantially and transitions to remote learning were inconsistent. This enhanced the inequality for students who may not have access to the internet or a computer or don’t have the parental support they need.3
Institutions across the country are looking for new ways to help learners succeed. How could your institution and instructors leverage education technology to improve access and utilization to support these underprepared students?
Filling the gaps
Learning gaps should be identified prior to enrollment or the start of a course to ensure students are as successful as possible. Technology can help identify these gaps.
For example, Pearson Gap Finder assesses student knowledge and skills on prerequisite topics prior to enrolling in A&P courses. Students take an online diagnostic assessment and, based on the results, complete online learning modules focused on identified deficiencies so they’re more prepared for the rigorous A&P curriculum.
Once learning gaps are identified, you can provide the remediation students need to be successful. Your institution likely has its own remediation courses that are prerequisites before entering into major courses. Research has found that many of these courses are unspecific, increase costs, and extend the time required to graduate, all of which can lead to increased drop outs.
Using online instruction can compress these courses, allowing students to only receive remediation on the topics they need while co-enrolling with their major course. Plus this specification of courses increases affordability and access1 — helping you reach more students and meet your institutional goals of equity and inclusion.
Leveraging technology for ongoing support
There are many benefits to online instruction that level the playing field for many different social and demographic groups.
It allows for both asynchronous and synchronous instructional models. Asynchronous instruction (pre-recorded video, digital materials, etc.) provides for slowed and/or repeated delivery of instruction, making it ideal for English language learners.
Students can study anywhere at any time, which is great for students who are working while earning their degree.
Online tutoring provides the flexibility students need while still providing quality instruction.
Smarthinking is an online tutoring service available for core subjects, including math, science, business, health sciences, reading, and writing. Assistance can be provided asynchronously and synchronously 24/7 by subject matter experts with graduate degrees. The writing portion of the program allows students to submit essays or similar writing pieces and receive personalized assistance.
Understanding that your students are more than just a grade is one thing; going the extra step to show them you care about them as people is another entirely.
Dr. Terry Austin has been an instructor at Temple College in Temple, Texas for more than 15 years, during which time he’s championed the use of digital learning platforms in his biology and A&P classes.
Terry found out just how important these resources can be for him and students — and for a reason you might not expect.
During his Anatomy & Physiology class, Terry noticed something odd about one of his student’s Early Alerts reports within the Mastering® A&P platform.
Crista had been doing well. Really well. Her first exam score was in the mid-90s and all her work in the course was great. His dashboard showed her solidly in the green or “low-risk” category. But that unexpectedly changed.
“All of a sudden, kind of out of nowhere, she seemed to fall off a cliff,” said Terry. “She fell pretty quickly into the yellow (medium-risk) and even red (high-risk) category, and it felt like there must be something else going on.”
Normally, you’d expect a noticeable drop in grade to trigger an alert, but this was something different.
“Her Mastering grade didn’t really drop at all, but Early Alerts noticed something going on. That’s what really triggered me to want to reach out. It felt like talking to her was probably the best idea.”
The human connection
Crista was a little shocked to receive Terry’s call.
“Her reaction when I first reached out was a little bit of a startle. I don’t think she was expecting to get a phone call from her professor,” said Terry. “She was almost in tears when I answered — she was really concerned.”
After reassuring her that her grade was just fine, he explained that there was an alert in Mastering telling him that something might be amiss.
He soon found out what that was.
Crista and her husband had been in the hospital the previous weekend with their son, who had broken his arm. A surgery and complications had kept her there for several days. Her husband had brought her laptop to the hospital, and she tried to keep up with her coursework while sitting anxiously beside her son’s bed.
It also became clear why the system had created an alert for Crista.
"She was distracted,” said Terry. "Her correct on first try score dropped, the attempts it took her to get the correct answers rose, but her grade stayed solid.”
That’s what triggered an “aha” moment for Terry.
“If I was looking at nothing but her grade, I never would’ve known anything was going on. The ability to see the need to make an outreach really was empowering.”
Crista’s reaction to his reaching out to make a connection with her as a person — not just a student — drove that feeling home, and also made her see Terry as something more than just a teacher. It went beyond just gratitude.
"It really did seem like a gushing appreciation that somebody seemed to care enough to make sure she was OK.”
With great power...
Terry now likens his experience to a popular comic book trope.
“For me, it did feel like that super power moment. I got that ability to see into a troubled moment in her life, I got the chance to reach out, and I guess — maybe more importantly — I took that chance.”
Not only was he able to reassure Crista that her grade was all right, but he was able to reassure himself that she was all right.
“Her grades were fine — I knew she was OK as a student — but I also knew looking at that shift from green to yellow — something had caused that to happen. It felt really nice being able to reach out and know that she was OK.”
Terry says that this experience did truly change the way he looks at his students.
“It’s a reminder for me that my students are far more than just their grades. It was an insight and really an awakening that there’s more going on with my students than just that grade in the moment. It’s a reminder that there’s a person behind that grade, it’s not just a number.”
He finds that this technology is like having a window to peek through; to have an idea whether everything is all right, or whether he might need to reach out again.
As for that feeling of having a super power?
“It's one of those moments that kind of comes with great responsibility. And it would be nice to think instructors don’t ignore the opportunity being handed to them.”
In the post-2020 remote learning world, how do you stand out from the crowd? With universities being forced to put many of their programs and courses online because of the pandemic — and then keeping them there because now they’re ‘online’ — how do you get prospective students to consider your online courses and your online programs over the thousands now available at the click of a mouse?
First, the differences between “remote” learning and “online” learning stem from how each program was structured and envisioned. Remote learning is characterized by inconsistency and a lack of structure and is usually a reaction to an external force necessitating the need to go online quickly (as illustrated by the 2020 pandemic). At its best, learning materials and assessment are thought out in advance and instructors are trained in online teaching methods. At its worst, faculty is trying to figure out, week by week, how to convert their face-to-face content to an online format, which often results in synchronous video lectures and outdated text materials.
On the other hand, online learning is characterized by planning, consistency, and an understanding of the virtual environment, which includes the intentional use of technology to meet online teaching needs (meaning it can be a truly asynchronous experience). Assignments and student assessment are tied to outcomes and objectives which are clearly stated, course materials are planned accordingly and created for online learning, and students don’t have to guess or wonder what is expected of them from week to week.
Your programs are online and intentional. How do you tell students?
Once you have a program filled with courses that are intentional, engaging, and authentic, you need to be able to quantify this information. What’s the data that supports the claim that your courses and programs are superior?
Many will start by analyzing basic data from their learning management system (LMS).
How do students do on quizzes and exams?
How long are they active in their course?
Where are they spending their time?
While these are definitely data points, are they the right data points? A student who aces every exam may just be a good test taker. What does it really mean when Andre was logged into the Week 1 Discussion for four hours — did he log in and then walk away after 30 minutes? These basic data points don’t tell prospective students much about the quality of your online courses. You need to provide information that goes deeper than basic LMS information.
While there is no magic formula, there are some strategies you can implement to obtain meaningful information and data points that are worth marketing.
Design assessments that matter. What type of assignments and student assessment are in your courses? It’s more impressive to share an average pass rate of 85% when assignments are mapped to objectives and based on real-world situations. An 85% pass rate in a course with nothing but quizzes and exams is less inspiring.
Survey students for concrete experiences. What do students really think about your courses and programs? When creating student surveys, ask meaningful questions. While this seems obvious, it’s still surprising how many course surveys we continue to see with questions like, “Would you recommend this course to a friend?” Relevant survey questions are pointed and meaningful, such as, “What were you able to take from this course and immediately practice on the job/in the real world?”
Assess student confidence before and after. A good course starts with objectives. At the beginning of the course when you are telling students what they will be able to do by the end of the course, assess their confidence level as well. “How confident are you that you will be able to do A, B, and C?” Then, at the end, assess their confidence again. “How confident are you now that you will be able to do A, B, and C?” Combining an assessment of students’ before and after confidence with other meaningful survey questions (see above), and you have a powerful marketing tool.
Use basic LMS data to determine where students are struggling in your program, and then fix those issues. While not really marketable, analyzing LMS data to continually improve student performance will reap its own rewards. Using LMS data to determine students’ pain points and then adjusting assignments and content accordingly will only improve your pass rates, retention, and student satisfaction — which will result in improved student survey results and more marketing opportunities.
From Measuring to Messaging
Let’s look at an example. Say a prospective student is comparing two online marketing programs, each with a testimonial. Which one sounds like the better program?
I recently spoke with a professor who, like many of us, was overwhelmed with taking his courses fully online while juggling multiple new initiatives simultaneously. The college was trying to reduce texts and materials costs, prepare entirely online courses, update materials for an impending accreditation visit, and, on top of it all, deliberately embed curricular activities regarding diversity and related topics across the curriculum. While some subjects are obviously conducive to this college initiative, it’s often hard for faculty to see the connections with things they already do.
Thinking through the connections
I’m teaching liberal arts this fall, so I am easily able to find such connections. I also require my students to find an article weekly about math topics in real life, so it lends itself well to this. It can, however, still be somewhat vague and not deliberate, so I’m focusing on embedding more problem solving activities that directly address these topics.
I keep thinking of the Mathematics for Democracy and its strong arguments for quantitative literacy. While the text is almost twenty years old, its arguments are timeless. Every citizen needs to have some basic numeracy and quantitative reasoning skills; they need problem solving strategies and critical thinking tools. They need to know how to apply mathematical knowledge to real life.
Outside of the book
Some of my students are ‘strong’ students, easily able to rattle off formulas and do computations. And yet, when I ask them to write about math—they do two short writing projects in a semester—they struggle. It’s hard for them to see math beyond the walls of our virtual classroom, beyond the covers of our book.
Here are ideas I share with them in addition to topics directly connected to our chapters. I often use datasets from StatCrunch, as there are over 40,000 of them available. One of my favorites for this includes data about each state and has such things as poverty rates, education rates, crime, etc. (This dataset is over ten years old now, and there are other ones to use. Any StatCrunch user can also easily upload datasets from the web, such as government census materials. StatCrunch is an amazing tool! More on that another day.)
Diversity and Social Justice topics for my students to explore
Prisons & mental health rates
Crimes & racial profiling
The death penalty and ethnicity
Poverty and minimum vs. living wage; labor laws and statistics
Housing costs and trends; real estate data by demographics
Homeland defense, defense budgets, military recruiting
The mathematics of public health, AIDS, asthma, health insurance, etc.
Educational funding and equity, high stakes testing, class size, homogeneous or heterogeneous grouping of students
Impact of tutoring & other initiatives such as mentoring and coaching on diverse populations
Environmental racism, pollution, resource availability; the mathematics of the climate
The mathematics of wild weather
Chaos and catastrophe theory & modeling
Effects on neighborhoods/sorted by demographics
And of course there are financial topics:
Paying for college
Salary discrepancies for women & minorities
High-cost loans and low-income neighborhoods
Politics & voting structure/apportionment, etc.
I also might incorporate media like Hidden Figures. The linked website here shares a bunch of resources with commentary and ideas. I find my students seem to really enjoy using media and current event topics as a way to see ‘value’ in our course content.
And there are many more.
Discover the details in the data
Certainly it’s easy to explore by subject area, too. As I noted, if I’m teaching probability and statistics, there are literally thousands of datasets at my fingertips, easily searchable. They’re useful in helping my students see what’s really going on–and we can explore just how easily we can be misled by someone manipulating graphics and interpreting data incorrectly.
We can use probability to look at staffing of juries. We can use data to explore fairness of wages not just in the US but overseas. We can look at traffic stop data and use statistics to determine whether there is / is not racial profiling at play.
We might explore some graph theory and use some geometry to explore things like how UPS, FedEx, and USPS are functioning during the pandemic; has there been a greater disruption in service to lower socioeconomic areas? What about the math behind LEED designed buildings or sustainable communities? Are these available in lower-income communities? How can we locate them to make them more accessible to all?
We’ve all heard about equity in STEM education for all students. Let’s take it a step further. Social justice teaching in mathematics focuses on promoting equity within the mathematics classroom, and also on empowering students to understand and confront inequities outside the classroom.
Some additional resources
The Mathematicians Project by Annie Perkins
At Twitter Math Camp’16, Annie described how she gathered information on name, birth, death, ethnicity, biography, accomplishments (including awards), and math specialty on various mathematicians. Annie’s constantly updated “List of Not White Men Mathematicians With Links” and a description of the project are here.
Teaching Tolerance Math Resources
Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has a wealth of teaching material, including math- and technology-related teaching resources. This organization also has a lot of tools for thinking more about the hidden curriculum of our classrooms.
Creating Balance in an Unjust World Resources
The Creating Balance in an Unjust World Conference on Math Education and Social Justice is a bi-annual event next occurring in 2018 (probably in California). They provide resources for educators interested in integrating issues of social and economic justice into their math classes and curriculum.
And last but by no means least, here is a wiki site with a ton of resources.
As instructors we’ve got a lot on our plate. We need to lecture, prepare digital materials and organize our online courses, provide individual feedback and check-ins, submit forms to our institution throughout the semester, and answer constant emails. On the flipside, our students also have full their plates with family obligations, work and employment to balance, and of course the global pandemic. Getting students to class and having work completed is half the battle, and the other half is justifying grades. Because of the increased educator workload and the mounting pressures on students, what can we do?
What is ungrading?
Many instructors are now exploring the “ungrading” model as a potential solution. Because we still need grades at the end of each semester, there’s still a need to view and evaluate student work. It’s how we evaluate the work that will be different in this model.
In the different models of ungrading, instructors don’t grade every piece of work and award points. They decide whether the piece of work meets their standard or not. If not, the work is sent back to the student for revisions.
This requires some rethinking of the traditional grading workflow. For example, in a chemistry class a student completes a problem set. If it’s missing work, I would give that feedback and return it to the student for revision. Are all of the answers incorrect? Same thing. I refuse to accept the problem set until the work is done to satisfactory standards.
How can you implement ungrading in your classroom? There are a few different models to choose from as a starting point.
One type of ungrading is called Spec (for specifications) Grading. Instructors create curricular “bundles” which, when completed, get translated into a grade. These bundles include media, notes, homework assignments and simulations, and ultimately some sort of summative assessment. Each piece of work in the bundle is graded pass/fail only and must minimally meet the teacher’s standards.
Students need a clear understanding of what constitutes passing work prior to engaging in this model. Having exemplars or rubrics which clearly outline the required components of successful work is critical at the beginning of the semester. These don’t need to be super specific. For example, in math this could include
Show all work done to arrive at your answer
Simplify all answers
If asked to “explain your answer,” use full sentences
Include units, where needed
At the beginning of the semester you will be spending a lot of time giving feedback to student work that isn’t meeting requirements. Flexibility around work that is deemed “failing” is important, as is the ability for students to revise their work and resubmit. Once your students have a clearer understanding of the expectations, the time devoted to giving feedback will lessen.
In contract grading, the instructor has clearly defined and outlined requirements for each letter grade (A, B, C, etc.). More or deeper work will be required for an A, standard work for a B, and less for each subsequent letter grade down. Students each write a contract which includes which assignments they will do, their due dates, penalties for late work, and a statement of the letter grade they want at the end of the term.
The instructor will keep a log of completed work that is, again, done to the level of work defined by the instructor. If the student fails to meet the requirements of the contract, the instructor has the ability to adjust their grade based on the submitted work.
The unique part of contract grading versus traditional grading is that the focus is on the work, not the “kind of student” in your class. All work is considered to be of equal weight, and meetings with students generally focus on improvement to work quality or opportunities for a deeper dive into the curriculum.
Allowing the student to determine their grade can be a serious leap of faith, but that’s what consultative grading is. This does not mean that all students receive an “A”. Student have regular check-in meetings with the instructor throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, the student writes a comprehensive reflection and puts together a compilation of their best work.
The student must have data that demonstrates that they deserve the grade they propose. An example of an end-of-the-semester reflection can be found here, as written by Dr. Susan Blum from the University of Notre Dame (Supiano, Becky).
Thought needs to be given to how handle extenuating circumstances on the part of the student. I tend to not make concrete rules on this, as I find that each student’s circumstances are unique.
While I have been thinking about making the switch to ungrading for the last few years, I haven’t made the leap just yet. Besides choosing which model to go with, I still need to identify the following:
What are you willing to negotiate on with students?
How will you handle absences?
How will you be transparent with students throughout the semester, so they know they are on or off target?
I’m looking forward to encouraging my students to improve their work, making grading more transparent, and creating a classroom that is focused on the learning process and not on numerical grades.
Butler, Ruth. “Task-Involving and Ego-Involving Properties of Evaluation: Effects of Different Feedback Conditions on Motivational Perceptions, Interest, and Performance.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 1987, psycnet.apa.org/record/1988-21628-001.
Have you tried using videos to resolve problems or provide innovative solutions in your online classrooms? Effective video usage can foster both individual student learning and increase a sense of community in an online world.
Teaching via video can be synchronous like a live Webinar or Zoom conference, but there are many other methods, including asynchronous video, to enhance your students’ online learning environment. In these COVID times, with so many instructors new to online teaching and attempting to provide or mimic the face- to-face learning environments, many have turned to the use of synchronous meeting tools.
There is often the feeling students are being deprived by being forced out of the classroom and online. This phenomenal upswing in synchronous online learning has been nicknamed the Zoom Boom. However, research is indicating this synchronous surge is simply not sustainable in the long run. There are issues with different time zones, mobile connectivity, as well as teacher and student screen time burnout.
A deeper dive into asynchronous videos
For these reasons, I’m focusing on asynchronous methods of using video to enhance the online classroom and engage your students more fully. There are four areas or goals where using effective videos can help instructors solve some unique challenges in the online learning platform.
Videos can increase student engagement in ways that enhance their understanding of the material.
Videos can help you assess the formative stages of their learning. Are they making the progress needed to succeed?
Videos can offer you methods of presenting difficult or demanding concepts, requiring students to demonstrate their mastery.
Videos can provide feedback to your students on their submissions in timely, meaningful and personal ways.
I have eight suggestions for video activities that enhance the digital learning environment, hitting all four of the goals stated above.
Expand on the written content.
Personalize the digital experience.
Flip your classrooms so they become learning centered rather than teacher centered.
Give clear and memorable feedback to students.
Demonstrate processes or concepts difficult to convey through written content.
Encourage your students’ creativity, demonstrating their mastery of the content.
Be informed about students’ formative learning with populated analytics.
Using the same type of analytics you can evaluate your students’ engagement.
Introducing micro lectures and more
Here are three suggestions for expanding on the written content through instructor-created, short videos. These activities focus on your specific course, adding to the content for added clarity and depth.
Chapter or concept overviews
Micro lectures are not long, nor do they attempt to cover the entire chapter. Above all, they are not boring. They should be short and interactive. And they need to chunk content in short management increments. You should capture your students’ attention as well as meet accessibility standards, such as closed captioning.
As a communication professor, I can offer you some production tips for making your movies of these micro lectures.
Think about covering the difficult single concepts you know students have struggled with in the past. Keep them short (3-5 minutes max).
Make good eye contact with the camera.
Be enthusiastic! You want to be a Tigger on film, not an Eeyore.
Be sure to use good light coming from the front rather than the side or behind.
Use a headset with microphone for optimal sound quality.
Make the videos interactive by asking questions, providing questions before and after.
Provide a transcript.
Keep your lectures focused with no more than four main points.
Be sure to use some type of attention getter in the first 15-30 seconds. It might be a question, a brief story, a startling statistic, a striking picture, a piece of music, or any other method that draws the students into the presentation.
Use far more images than bullet points when using a PowerPoint with your micro lecture.
New visual material every 10-15 seconds. It keeps listeners’/viewers’ attention.
Edit or re-record if needed.
And, be sure to use closed caption so your videos are accessible.
You can apply these same principles when creating walk-through demonstrations for your students of the course overview or a module/chapter overview.
Make a personal connection
Next, let’s look at how videos might personalize both the digital presence of you and your students. These are methods that put “skin” on the computer, that let your students know more than a cyborg is monitoring their progress.
Provide a video introduction from you to your students on the first day of class.
Provide course navigation videos from you to the students that are specific to their course, walking them through how to use the online tools.
Have students create a self-introductory video. You might suggest they share some type of story, like the best thing they’ve ever eaten, or the vacation of their dreams. Do not let them get away with, “My name is Betty Boring. I was born in Borington, and I went to Boring High School.” Really true stories keep us interested, and they’re memorable. It’s why we all understand the phrase, “Tell me another story.”
These introductory videos are powerful ways to create community within the course. We know that emotional connections are one of the most powerful components for student persistence. Any method that increases the connection between instructor and student, and between students increases that emotive piece of the puzzle for decreasing student attrition.
Making class learning centered
Using video assignments can provide information you need to flip your classroom, teaching to the most challenging concepts to that specific group of students. You might use:
Student discussion forums
These types of activities vary the way students interact with the content before classes or before the next week. Having students view a micro lecture before class, completing a short online quiz on difficult concepts offers information to you about student engagement and student progress.
Video quizzes can gauge engagement through data such as time on task, as well as information on questions most missed. You can then fill in the gaps with your own teaching strategies. And don’t forget your Learning Management Systems such as Canvas, Blackboard, Brightspace by D2L or Moodle provide data, informing instructors about student progress.
Videos can also provide us with the ability to give asynchronous talking feedback in an online environment by:
offering students recorded individual or group feedback from you.
recapping the week’s progress using a video message.
briefly discussing the week’s challenging material and common errors.
I began providing a video on Sunday night when COVID created massive changes in schools in March. My students, already in online classes with me, expressed such appreciation for my new weekly summaries with them about class progress with the material. And, it gave me a chance to speak with them about the challenges they were facing in their personal worlds as well, offering to help students find the support they might need.
Give them the microphone
Videos are the perfect environment for the demonstration of processes, skills, and course navigation. Let students demonstrate their mastery of the skill or concept by tapping into their creativity, engaging them with tools they are already familiar with such as:
Harness their inner director and ask them to create videos that demonstrate their proficiency with assignments such as:
Individual presentations such as speeches
Group projects presentations
Demonstrations of a skill or principle
Using the right tools
Once you’re comfortable with some of the tools at your disposal, you can take it to the next level with the many tools offered for video production and presentation. I’m just going to highlight some of the more recognizable tools and what they can do.
Pre-created videos are a great way to start. They are often accessibility compliant and professionally made depending on the site you choose.
YouTube has the broadest range, but may not be academically sound.
Publishers often provide clips which adhere to academic standards and are accessibility compliant like Pearson’s Clips, or premade video quizzes.
TEDx often provides videos that are both compliant and academically sound.
There are tools to help with video mixing, or combining several videos to demonstrate a concept. These can encourage student creativity and a deep understanding of the content of the course. Two of these are:
And, MediaBreaker (Students can create a mix of videos they locate, encouraging them to find current materials that demonstrate critical thinking about course content in a current real-world application).
Backchanneling is another way to engage your students. This is what we do when we are messaging friends during a less than engaging meeting. Phone messaging and Twitter were the original backchannels. And, while we might view these as distractions from the main event, backchanneling is engaging, community building and maximizes time if directed and focused on the lesson. Tools for this include:
Twitter. Students are very familiar with Twitter, but this does not provide protected space, nor is it academically designed.
Backchannel Chat can provide live time streaming commentary on videos students are viewing. Students can also make comments or ask questions.
Hotseat was designed by Purdue University based on a Twitter model and provides a free backchannel tool in an academic setting.
If you want to create your own movies designed just for your course and your students, there are tools offering you a range of possibilities.
EdPuzzle allows you to create your own video quizzes with embedded questions rather than a beginning essential question.
Loom allows you to screen share and create short easy walkthroughs for a class or just one student.
Camtastia is a robust video tool with many creative possibilities, but it is not free. Snagit allows you to screen share and save computer space as your videos are housed in their cloud.
TEDEd is a well-used video creation tool allowing you to stand on the shoulders of educators around the world as well as to share your repository of educational video creations with others.
Easy as pie
So, if you’re just beginning to use video in the online environment, or if you are well into your video use, keep it simple and easy as PIE.
Plan what you want the video assignment to solve for you or your students. Implement the tool that does this for you in the easiest and most effective way. And then Evaluate not only the students’ performance and engagement, but how well the tool worked for you.
This past spring was not something we expected. We’d all agree about that. For some, it was significantly more stressful than others. Throughout all my pandemic related research, I’ve heard several different statistics. Most recently, I read that nearly 70% of faculty in the country had never taught online before!
From a coach’s perspective
As you can imagine (or know personally!) those of us who support faculty have been quite busy, addressing many common themes. Faculty members ask us for insight into their course design; we notice things like excessive numbers of assignments; or, we see a long list of assignments—like showing the entire course at once.
Maybe there’s a lack of organization in the LMS. Perhaps the instructor was unclear about the student workflow, or there’s insufficient feedback for student work. Maybe the professor was not familiar with and then underutilized communication tools. We’ve had many discussions about selecting and delivering quality subject matter content; ways to deter and eliminate cheating; and the importance of having your course materials clearly set up and easy to navigate.
Extra points for balance and flexibility
The topic we haven’t had as many conversations about is the emotional side of an online course. Because of the urgency, many professors hadn’t had the chance to really reflect upon course design and effective tools to support students. Just how on earth do you create an online environment with that in mind? If we want students to stay enrolled and engaged, we need to strive to find a cognitive-emotional balance in your course.
We’ve got to be flexible.
Perhaps this might include reflecting about things like growth mindset, embedding study tips, or sharing best practices for students for online courses. Although we might acknowledge the importance of these in theory, their significance is frequently buried under a mountain of other concerns about accessibility, the content, tracking of student progress, and data reporting…
Let’s talk about the assignments first. There is a mind-numbing list of possibilities. What strategies do work? You can read more in The Learning Scientists, but they boil down to this:
Utilize concrete examples: illustrate ideas with examples that students can easily grasp.
Be a coder: a dual coder: integrate words with images.
Utilize elaborative questions: ask questions that help students connect new learning with prior learning.
Practice retrieval: have students practice with test questions on what they remember.
Interleave the practice: mix practice test questions from a variety of lessons.
Space the practice: delay interval periods between practice tests.
Ah, you ask, what happens when we really check these out? Read a recent article about student performance. In this study, note the role of student ability and the finding that spacing particularly increased quiz performance for low ability students.
Here’s a mental note: we should think about the amount of material we release at one time—that can be overwhelming. Instead of having the entire list of assignments show, many of us share only a unit or chapter at a time.
We know, however, that it’s not just content we need to think about.
Wowing the judges
Next, let’s quickly review the importance of communication! My team has heard complaints from professors recently that online learning means dumbing-down material. That’s not the case. It does mean, however, that your course material—as well as the ways your students engage with it and learn from it—will look different.
Many online courses become primarily asynchronous, for example, while others may preserve an element of synchronicity via video-conferencing tools. I find it helpful to have live “review” sessions and make use of tools like Live Response for engagement and practice.
How about some other things to do? Try weaving some of these into your discussion boards, orientation assignments, etc.
Have you seen the “Keep Teaching” community hosted by Katie Linder, executive director for program development at Kansas State University, and her colleagues at the university’s Global Campus? You can “follow” several groups within the community, including a faculty group that is already a lively exchange of ideas and support.
Don’t forget—if your institution has a teaching-and-learning center, that should be your first stop as you begin to transition your course.
Obviously, the ways in which a course can be moved from an in-person to an online experience are virtually limitless. I want to encourage you to reflect and choose wisely. 🙂 Think of this as a smorgasbord—you cannot eat it all! I tell faculty—no one uses all the features. No one has every single thing in the course shell covered. You have to choose what works for you; you’ll have some combination of your own pedagogy, choices, experiences, and skillset. If we feel overloaded, imagine how our students feel.
As painful as the decision was to close campuses and force virtual learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators must make new, perhaps more difficult, decisions about how to resume classes in the fall. Many schools are asking: can learning happen both digitally and in lecture halls?
The hybrid model of teaching and learning uses both online and in-person options in a purposeful way. Not only does this model give you the flexibility to craft your course to reduce the risk of exposing you or your students to the virus, but it also gives students more ownership over their learning.
Here are our top tips taken from a review of existing research on how to make it work for you.
1. Build around what you want students to learn
Successful hybrid courses fully integrate online and face-to-face instruction, planning interactions based on good teaching practice. That means starting off on the right foot:
Don’t think of your hybrid course as your normal course directly translated to be online, or your normal course with added online components. One meta-analysis cited that many blended courses were not successful because they were “a course and a half”.
Do build your hybrid course starting with the learning objectives listed in your syllabus. Then, as you’re building your course, select and align the delivery method, technology, and assignments that will best help students learn the objectives and content.
Consider what is best done:
in person versus online
in real-time versus giving students flexibility
facilitated by the instructor versus facilitated by the learning resources
For example, few students reported being satisfied with their institutions creating a sense of belonging during the pandemic. Since it can feel more difficult to build relationships online, take advantage of in-person opportunities.
Online learning resources have advantages that enhance learning, such as immediate feedback and progress monitoring. In fact, across many studies, research shows that on average, blending online and in-person learning is slightly more effective than face-to-face learning.
There are two things to consider when selecting how to approach the online parts of your hybrid course:
Is there educational technology that can help solve any problems you have? For example, students may focus on getting through learning activities as quickly as possible, rather than engaging deeply. Adaptive learning technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated at detecting when students are engaging productively and when they are not, and can react to keep students’ attention.
Are you at risk of using digital technology solely for its own sake? Purely replicating an analog experience with digital technology can add complexity without bringing any benefits.
For more resources, this paper is designed as a starting point for thinking about how to use technology in your class.
Generally, a hybrid course is balanced to have more online, technology-facilitated work and fewer in-person meetings. For example, one model many schools are considering to encourage social distancing is to hold a large lecture online with small, in-person discussion sections.
Here are just a few examples of how others have blended online and face-to-face learning:
This course was delivered via a blended learning format in a flipped model, with online lectures followed by a two-hour face-to-face workshop tutorial each week.
This class met both in person and online. They used a flipped learning approach where students were expected to complete assigned activities before coming to a four-hour face-to-face class.
This hybrid course met once a week for three hours in a computer lab with the remainder of the course activities completed online.
2. Plan effective interactions
After you’ve identified your objectives, think about what interactions you’ll use to facilitate learning. Hybrid learning gives you a lot of flexibility in how to interact. These different types of interaction fall into the following three categories.
Learner–instructor interactions, like emails, announcements, and discussions. Instructor interaction is a major driver of successful learning, but feels more difficult online. You can make a point of fostering connections by using students’ names and humor.
Learner–learner interactions, like discussions, collaborative group work, and peer review activities. These can either happen at the same time in person, or online and outside of class. Each mode has its pros and cons:
face-to-face, synchronous interactions are good for creating a sense of spontaneity and connection, but not as good at fostering participation or giving flexibility.
online, asynchronous interactions encourage participation, depth of reflection, and flexibility, but they can lack spontaneity and connection and may let students procrastinate.
Learner–content interactions include activities, like reading content, watching a video, or working through a problem set.
3. Integrate the experiences
You can design the online and in-person interactions in such a way that they support each other, rather than feeling disjointed. For example, assign challenging and engaging online learning activities and then discuss them in person, inviting questions. If you’re encouraging online discussions, reference them in class to confirm their value.
4. Craft a learner-centered approach to learning
In a hybrid model, encourage your students to take control of their learning. Start by enabling students to choose how they engage with the content. Then encourage them to monitor and reflect on their learning. By using technology with progress monitoring functionality, you can also help them stay on track. Professor Manda Williamson has over 700 students every semester and uses the dashboard in her online course material to give students ownership over their learning. She talks more about it in this guide.
5. Support student success
In hybrid learning, students must be more self-driven. Set clear expectations and build in support for self-directed learning, such as encouraging students to plan, check their understanding, study more as needed, and reflect on their learning.
To further support their success, help them use the tools by holding a technology “onboarding” session on how to use the tech and where to go for help.
This approach can not only help keep students motivated, it also builds an important lifelong skill: self-management. If you’re interested in learning more about how to teach self-management, this paper goes into detail.
6. Assess learning online
Since you won’t be in the room with the students when they are taking the test, clearly communicate the rules and instructions before the exam. The rules may include how many opportunities students have to complete the exam, if they can save and come back later to finish, if they need to put away all mobile devices, and whether it is an open or closed book exam.
Technology can help you reduce the opportunities for cheating:
password protect your exam and limit students to one login attempt.
require students to complete a statement of honesty before beginning the exam
open and close access to your exam session within a predetermined time period
shuffle items or create multiple versions of the exam to randomly assign to students
create a pool or item bank to pull random questions from, a function built into many learning management systems ask students to justify or explain their answers by adding an open response field after each selected-response question
if you don’t have these capabilities, use more open-ended question types instead of true/false or multiple choice questions
This blog post gives more advice on crafting quality assessments online.
7. Continuously improve
Keep your approach simple at first and aim for continuous improvement, not perfection. We encourage you to try something, get feedback from your students, and keep improving your course. And you’re not alone: your colleagues may have advice too. You can build an informal or formal learning network to learn from each other.
This fall will be a learning experience for everyone. When faced with the unknown, as researchers we first look to what others have studied and the lessons they’ve learned. These seven tips, which are based on findings from over a decade of implementing hybrid teaching, can give you direction on how to bring together the best of in-person and online learning. For even more detail and research on hybrid teaching and learning, check out this paper.
Pearson Faculty Advisors have become educational first responders during this COVID-19 crisis; diving in to help professors use online tools effectively. We are teachers partnering together to share, learn, and pave the way in this brave new world of internet instruction.
Teaching online is nothing new to us. We’ve logged many years of working online with tools, instructional designs, and various learning management systems. But, watching every teacher in the United States move online in a matter of a few days, regardless of their comfort with distance learning, has been eye-opening. It’s challenged attitudes about online learning environments and the role of a college professor.
So many instructors are struggling with old ways and new challenges, trying to pound traditional classrooms to fit into bits and bytes. I’ve begun to recognize a clear dichotomy in instructional methods: restorative vs punitive. Looking to the experts for ideas, I discovered abundant pedagogical literature on this, making it far from being an original idea. The research is often directed at classroom management and changing student behaviors, but the principles apply to the consequences associated with our assessments, and whether they dish out “punishment” or increase learning.
Liberating learners vs. catching cheaters
There is much consternation amongst “instantaneous” online higher education teachers struggling to hold on to teaching methods that may not be functional for online classes. In brick and mortar classrooms, student mastery was often assessed through paper tests distributed with time limits, monitored by the roaming instructor to reduce cheating, and collected and graded by the teacher.
I’ve seen much hand wringing about how online environments simply cannot police students the way the classroom teacher could. And while the sudden shift to all things digital may revert to traditional classrooms, there may be lessons to be learned. These may be applicable for teaching anywhere and at any time. These atypical days are giving us time to reassess and find new ways to view classroom strategies or policies.
I’ve listened as teachers have listed the many ways they’ve discovered students can cheat by sharing information, invalidating their final scores. I’ve watched frustrated teachers try to create duplicate online classes that were once face-to-face, missing opportunities to increase student success. They are often missing the chance to use digital methods effectively, teaching the same principles in a different manner.
After hearing so much anxiety, I want to share some thoughts about how to be the rock star content expert, maintain your teaching rigor, and remain true to your unique personality with online learning. This may even transform that physical classroom in a return to the old normal.
What do I want from them?
There are so many disciplines and courses in higher education; it’s impossible to cover how every discipline should assess their student’s success. The following suggestions can be generalized and customized to meet the needs of specific courses and content.
“What should my students know by the end of my class?” should be the first question we ask when determining how to assess student progress. Much, or most, of class energy is spent acquiring information to pass the final assessments demonstrating mastery. Whether the course is psychology, speech, statistics, advertising, marketing, biology, or nursing, the time spent acquiring content is the formative stage of learning. Instructors are responsible for providing tools during these acquisition stages to help students “learn” the material in order to critically think through how to apply the new information in real world settings.
What do they need from me?
We are the facilitators of formative activities that help increase our students’ metacognition; helping them to know what they don’t know, and how to acquire the unknown information so they can apply it when required (tested). While formative activities will vary widely, their purpose remains the same.
These classroom techniques are meant for student learning, not assessing mastery by the instructor. I like to ask myself when selecting formative activities, “Is this something I can get out of the way of my students’ learning and let them be the captains of their own ship?”
Low stakes assessment of student progress includes activities that encourage students to reflect, collaborate, teach others, review, apply, or create. Incentivizing with points is vital for full participation. However, exams designed in anxiety producing high stakes testing environments seldom produce the long-term retention that incremental low stakes self-assessments do.
Consider formative activities such as group projects, encourage collaboration through discussion forums, offer opportunities for reflection through journaling, or ask opened ended questions on short, low-stakes quizzes.
Get out of the way and let them learn!
If you like auto-graded, time-saving multiple choice quizzes, leave them for student self-assessments. They can be great tools to let the student know what they don’t know yet, encouraging them to go back and review. But they tell us little about what students are retaining long-term and are rife with possibilities for easy “cheating.”
If quizzes are low stakes, there is little reason to spend the energy to cheat. I would ask, “If the student Googles the answer in a low stakes self-assessment, who cares?” It matters little whether they learned the information from reviewing the content I provided or from Google. If they spend the energy to look up the answer, they most likely will remember the question for some time to come. My passion for teaching is to produce life-long learners who seek information from every source available.
How do I know they got it?
There is a time for all instructors to summarize the total progress their students have made, or are making, during the term. Again, these “summative” assessments will take many forms depending on your specific course. I encourage instructors to think about limiting the number of these high-stakes assessments.
Keep in mind most of class time is spent in acquiring information or forming a new knowledge base. Students need enough time to get comfortable with the content before they really show you their critical thinking skills and applying their new information to unique and practical situations.
A personal example
Here’s a scenario that shows moving from formative to summative student assessment techniques:
Weeks are spent training psychology students through low stakes assignments to write in correct APA style.
The formative assessments are 250-word discussion forums in proper APA, encouraging students to review classmates’ work, compare their thoughts, and make comments on each other.
There are usually 8-10 short, shared essays.
By the end of the term, students demonstrate their mastery of both content and APA writing style through a summative research paper.
All assessments, both formative and summative, provided little chance or incentive to cheat as the essays and paper are submitted for originality checks. Students are ENCOURAGED to collaborate with each other, asking classmates’ input before submitting their final research paper.
Becoming a Titan
We all are challenged to keep teaching fresh and alive, to stay abreast of what is changing in our world, our students’ lives, our students’ learning, and our own wants and needs. I don’t want to create a classroom made for my needs. Rather, it should be one to help the maximum number of my students achieve their goals, persisting toward their degrees. As you think through how to provide formative steps toward knowledge acquisition that summarizes student progress, ask these questions:
In each segment/chapter/module/increment of learning, what should my students remember?
How can I help them submit that information to their long-term memory? See this source for some ideas on retrieval practice.
How can my students demonstrate they have mastered the concepts I feel they need from my course?
What kinds of assessments can I use that limit cheating and demonstrate real learning? See this resource for ideas about summative assessments.
Rock stars, every one
This may seem radical, but I want my students to share questions and answers, learn from each other, and become co-intelligent. I want to teach them that life is a group, not a proctored exam. Life is about solving large problems as a community, not being checked in isolation to see if we know everything about anything on one big exam. I want to be a learning facilitator. It’s all about my students’ learning, not about my need to perform. I may not be the rock star from your past. You may not remember my name. But if the tunes I taught you long ago hum in your head when you see a problem needing a solution, I’ve earned the title “Teacher”.
I like a good deal. Getting something for less than what you expected to pay is rewarding. However, if that item doesn’t work like you thought, or even breaks soon after you get it, it may not be such a good deal after all. I think we’d all agree quality matters. The developers of a set of instructional guidance felt the same and even named it, “Quality Matters”. Let’s take a closer look at this tool whose namesake is what most professors and course designers strive for every day.
What exactly is Quality Matters?
Quality Matters (QM) is a tool used to assess the quality of a course. With increased emphasis on online courses and the need to design materials with accreditation in mind, the best way to design a course is with QM built in from the start. As a result, it’s helpful for all of us to keep these types of recommendations in mind when talking with customers and assisting them with curricular materials.
Where did this all get started?
Quality Matters began with a small group of colleagues in the MarylandOnline, Inc. (MOL) consortium trying to solve a common problem among institutions: how do we measure and guarantee the quality of a course? At the time, I was teaching at a university. Later, I taught at a community college, and the discussions about online courses were extensive at both places. Yes, we wanted to meet the needs of our students, provide flexible scheduling options, etc., and we wanted to offer these courses everywhere because geography would no longer be a constraint for enrollment.
We were also, like many other institutions, simultaneously updating transfer agreements. Administrators and educators across the country needed a way to ensure course quality for their students, regardless of where the course originated. Ideally, courses would be equivalent. Otherwise, transfer agreements would be impacted. In 2003, the consortium outlined how the Quality Matters program could create a scalable process for course quality assurance, and applied for a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The FIPSE grant enabled QM to develop a rubric of course design standards and create a replicable peer-review process that would:
Train and empower faculty to evaluate courses against these standards
Provide guidance for improving the quality of courses
Certify the quality of online and blended college courses across institutions
The QM commitment
Today Quality Matters is a nonprofit organization comprised of dedicated staff from all over the United States who work together virtually to support everyone’s quality assurance goals. To truly achieve their mission of defining and maintaining quality assurance in online learning, the QM staff rely on a much larger community of QM coordinators, workshop facilitators, peer reviewers, program reviewers, conference presenters, and all other individuals and groups who champion QM. Some of Pearson’s faculty advisors participated in QM training in the past and became reviewers with this program.
QM’s mission is to promote and improve the quality of online education and student learning nationally and internationally through the following: development of current, research-supported, and practice-based quality standards and appropriate evaluation tools and procedures.
Recognition of expertise in online education quality assurance and evaluation.
Fostering a culture of continuous improvement by integrating QM Standards and processes into organizational plans to improve the quality of online education.
Providing professional development in the use of rubrics, tools and practices to improve the quality of online education.
Peer review and certification of quality in online education.
A well-designed course is more likely to engage learners and positively affect their performance. Using the QM Rubric and relevant review tools as a guide, faculty and their colleagues, or a team of QM-trained, experienced online instructors can evaluate the design of an online or blended course and ensure it meets QM Standards. When professors are ready to put a course through the review process, they can receive fresh ideas from colleagues who are interested in the course. These QM-trained peers can offer specific feedback in a positive tone that will help improve the quality of the course and create a more active learning experience for students.
So what are the QM standards?
Chances are, if you’ve worked with a faculty advisor, you’ve heard references to these or something very similar. These are also familiar if you’ve looked at the teaching online toolkit and other resources from our Learning Design team.
The eight General Standards of this Rubric are:
Course Overview and Introduction
Learning Objectives (Competencies)
Assessment and Measurement
Learning Activities and Learner Interaction
Accessibility and Usability
Don’t let the short list above fool you into thinking it won’t take long to work through. In fact, there are many resources for each one of these. Here, for example, is a rubric which can be helpful for faculty to refer to as they develop a course.
What if a faculty member is trying to “retrofit” or “overhaul” or redesign a course? QM has an article with suggestions to help you improve existing courses. Again, you’ve heard things like this from our team.
And if you’re looking for a webinar to share in addition to the Pearson webinar offerings this summer, you can direct people here.
If you’re still wondering whether it’s worth it or not…
“Hinds Community College eLearning has been using Quality Matters as the basis for our instructional integrity initiatives for many years now, probably since around 2015. We want our students to feel that they are getting a quality course…when they take a Hinds Community College eLearning course. We know that begins with Course Design and alignment. We ask a LOT of our Hinds eLearning faculty. They dig deep to give us what we ask for. The QM General Standards and course alignment of the critical course components are incorporated into our Hinds eLearning courses through thorough training and course evaluation. All of our pedagogical trainings and evaluations are related to a QM general standard directly or indirectly.
So, why QM? I like the quote by Malcolm X that says ‘If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.’ That is why we look to Quality Matters…the research-based, GOLD standard of online course evaluation for the framework of our Hinds Community College eLearning courses.”
-Katherine Puckett, District Dean of Instructional Technology and eLearning, Hinds Community College
Your faculty meeting starts, and one of the key items on the agenda is a focused discussion about cultural diversity and inclusion in online courses. Of course, you must also consider curricular content, pedagogy, accessibility and universal design, and their impacts on education. All of these affect your students’ learning, motivation, and satisfaction in a course. Where do we even begin with this discussion?
Why explore diversity in our courses?
Researchers agree it can promote student growth and reflection. In our increasingly globalized world, it can help students begin to foster a sense of empathy for others and bring about open-mindedness. Supporting tolerance is critical: allowing students to feel unique while still being part of the group helps them prepare for the twenty-first century workplace.
As professors, we are committed to ensuring an inclusive environment for all of our students. This includes people of all abilities, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, religious traditions, socioeconomic classes, and ages. We could discuss these for a long time; however, most instructors are not afforded the liberty of a lot of time to consider these and design a course. How can we take current research and utilize it to deliver a course that meets these needs?
A profoundly critical aspect of any online course is communication; research in sociology, psychology, and cognition supports this. Consider also the importance of student viewpoints towards power structures in the classroom (for example, the role of the instructor versus the role of the student), how information is processed, and subject matter content.
One of the most predominant differences between online and traditional courses lies in how students and faculty interact in the classroom. Not only does the online classroom remove the physical, synchronous presence from the learning community, it regularly shifts the bulk of communications to written exchanges.
Often, the instructor is the one who facilitates the emails and discussion forums. Instructors typically provide feedback in writing, using embedded course tools for grading notes and comments. In addition to the Learning Management System (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas, Brightspace by D2L, or Moodle), the faculty and students can engage outside of the classroom via social media and other tools. Again, these environments are normally driven by text, with varying emphasis on live or verbal exchanges.
Tools such as Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate can be useful; however, it’s frequently difficult to find times that everyone can meet virtually. More often, the meetings are recorded and shared so all can access the material. Live chats, video conferencing, Wikis, and blogs are all tools that are available to you to engage your students.
Emphasis on the written word, regardless of platform, can create potential issues related to the interpretation of content, particularly for students whose first language is not English. Students, particularly English as a Second Language (ESL) students, may look for hidden messages in feedback and/or decipher feedback differently.
Consider the potential (mis)interpretation of written forums or feedback and the impact on student performance and attitude. Be clear and thorough. We find it helpful to create samples of frequent errors with detailed notes that we can easily share with any student. Making mini lessons with apps like Educreations is useful, too. These are useful for all students.
Keep in mind that students do not necessarily have to be English language learners for their culture to influence their interpretation or understanding of the meaning of written text within a course. Culture can impact the dynamics of the exchanges as well. Cultural norms — the common beliefs, expectations, and practices of a society — may impact how and when students respond to questions.
For example, students from Western cultures may be more apt to view the instructor as a facilitator, rather than non-Western students. In some cultures, the instructor is viewed authoritative in nature. You’ve probably had a student or two who argued that you should just “tell them what to do” instead of asking them to “guess.”
Tips for better communication
Use icebreakers and “getting to know you” activities on your discussion boards. Share the expectations for student comments/behavior before the course even begins. Consider disciplinary content in a global context as you post questions and problems of the week. Think and share about your own identity.
First and foremost, consider universal design principles in your course design. It may be as simple as paying attention to color and size of fonts, the volume of material on any given page, the embedding of objectives and directives for the learners, etc. You already know it’s critical to use only captioned videos, images with alt text, etc, but do you know how people tend to scan/read web pages? Are you designing your course with that in mind?
Explore more about accessibility for Pearson products by visiting the product websites. We also have more detailed training resources for many products such as MyLab (Math, Business, etc.), MyLab IT, and Mastering.
The aesthetics of a course are important. How will your course users see and interpret images, art, photography, movies, and so on? What is the reading level of the material chosen? Is the material engaging? Does the media reflect diversity?
Universal design principles help educators consider how to reach every learner by providing flexible instructional materials, techniques, and strategies. It promotes the engagement of each learner by making learning more accessible. A guiding principle of universal design is that we need to provide multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement for students.
Acknowledging and understanding cultural differences
It’s important to note that it is very difficult to identify and address every critical area in a course. Countless articles, some very extensive ones, cover the concept of inclusion and diversity. This short blog is only intended to get you thinking about key components of designing an online course with diversity in mind.
If we acknowledge that diversity influences learning, then we may be able to create discussions that result in examples that are culturally relevant. Your work as an instructor sets the tone for a safe space in the classroom where students can share their experiences and perspectives.
For those of us who are “accidental” instructional designers or instructional designers for real, we might want to consider learning more about things like wisdom communities that offer a framework for orienting and engaging students.
How do we promote diversity in our classes?
We strive to understand our students.
We utilize different teaching strategies and materials.
We structure the course to provide equal opportunities to all students.
We celebrate diversity. We keep this in mind when designing discussion posts or sharing articles, for example.
We encourage differing perspectives. We ask students to share their views and substantiate why they feel/think that way.
We seek to include diverse learning materials.
Understanding the unique differences in traditional and online learning environments and how culture plays a role, can help shape a positive educational experience for students and their faculty. With increasing emphasis on online learning, we need to have more conversations about understanding and supporting students from diverse cultures. It’s helpful to reflect on your own experiences, because our personal cultural influences or teaching styles might guide our choices in course design.
Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education This is a text by Sonia Nieto, University of Massachusetts Amherst (Emerita) and Patty Bode, Tufts University in Affiliation with The Amherst Regional Public Schools. Effective multicultural education must consider not just schooling, but also the larger social, economic, and political factors that affect students’ success or failure in the classroom. Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education helps readers understand these pervasive influences by presenting extensive research and data on the sociopolitical nature of schools and society, information about different sociocultural groups, and a conceptual framework for examining multicultural education. Real-life cases and teaching stories dominate in this book that offers a first-hand look into the lives of students and educators from a variety of backgrounds. Additionally, tips for classroom activities and community actions offer aspiring teachers concrete suggestions to provide high-quality, inclusive education in spite of obstacles they may face.
To say that people are stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic would be an understatement. The accepted social norms and values, like shaking hands or visiting the elderly, have gone out the window in an effort to stop the spread of disease.
We’re navigating according to new rules, and as a result, decisions about how we behave and the choices we make have become more complex. Understandably, other’s actions are sparking strong emotions and reactions, sometimes referred to as “cancel culture,” making it difficult to talk about at home or in the classroom.
As researchers, we turn to research to help guide our behavior and thinking. Social responsibility helps us be thoughtful about our actions, particularly our actions in relation to other people. We published a framework for social responsibility, based on the body of existing research, that can be used as a lens to understand human behavior in a complex situation.
The dimensions of the framework can be used to spark an emphatic, non-judgemental discussion about making choices during a pandemic. We offer a suggestion for how to initiate a discussion with learners for each of the four dimensions:
Multicultural: Is knowledgeable about different cultural identities and sensitive toward cultural differences.
Example of how to engage: Present a set of different choices someone could make during the current pandemic (i.e., decisions related to social distancing). For each choice, discuss how a person’s perspective or prior experiences might influence their decision to make a specific choice.
Ethical: Demonstrates knowledge and awareness of ethical standards and issues and applies ethical reasoning and standards to make decisions in ethically ambiguous situations.
Example of how to engage: Present a set of different choices someone could make during the current pandemic (i.e. decisions related to social distancing). For each choice, discuss how a person’s values could have influenced their decision to make a specific choice.
Civic: Is an informed and active citizen at the local, national, and global level and understands and acts on issues of local, national, and global significance.
Example of how to engage: Have learners explore the role that the local, state, and/or federal government is playing in managing the pandemic (it can be in their own context or a new context). Learners could also discuss strengths and weaknesses for having a certain level of government managing response to the pandemic.
Environmental: Is knowledgeable about current issues of environmental significance and is concerned about the wellbeing of the planet and engages in sustainable behaviors.
Example of how to engage: Have learners explore how the COVID-19 pandemic, and human responses to the pandemic, could impact environmental and sustainability endeavors.
If you want to learn more about how to teach social responsibility, a Pearson colleague discusses it in detail in this webinar.
By taking time to teach socially responsible thinking and decision-making, you’re also helping your students develop a life skill that will help them navigate challenging situations in the future, whether daily decisions about climate change or even what career path to take.
It is also a skill that is considered to be important for employees to demonstrate. Regarding hiring decisions, 81 percent of employers rated “ethical judgment and decision-making” as very important, but only 30 percent thought recent college graduates were well prepared in this area (this source and more listed here).
For these reasons listed above and more, that’s why we have listed it in our framework for what makes someone employable and are working to embed how to teach social responsibility into our products to enable classroom conversations during normal, less stressful times.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities to move to remote learning environments, many universities lacked preexisting contingency plans or infrastructures for running not just some of their classes but all of them online. Suddenly, many professors were working on short notice to implement online course management tools and facing numerous logistical hurdles along the way.
The recent disruption to education extends well beyond those trying to keep up with normal coursework. Senior year has also been interrupted for thousands of students whose focus has shifted toward internships, career preparation, and employment. With campuses and career centers closed across the country, online tutoring is a valuable tool to support all students as they prepare for the end of the term.
Improving engagement with targeted help
Once education transitioned to full-time virtual environments, many students lost the face-to-face interactions that made up the core of their classroom support. Online tutoring can provide the help students need, right when they need it, helping to avoid the possibility of them giving up when they hit a roadblock. And these one-on-one sessions can bolster a student’s confidence, giving them more freedom to ask questions and delve into discussion that they might never approach in a full-class setting.
In addition, Smarthinking can help faculty identify at-risk students using alerts and session mapping to drill down to specific concepts where they’re seeking assistance. Instructors can see whether students are keeping pace with course requirements, and recommend supplemental help from an online tutor to get them back on track.
Helping students prep for careers
For this year’s seniors, going virtual is affecting much more than just classes. Many who were in the midst of completing career programs and solidifying internships when career centers and university-provided services closed down are left asking, “Now what?”
The spring term is always a busy time for those in programs focused on preparing for the workforce. Smarthinking online tutors have emerged as a go-to resource for live interview coaching and assistance honing presentation skills. In fact, for those students who may be introverts or just plain nervous to get up in front of a classroom, an audience of one can be a much more comfortable environment in which to practice these skills than a class full of their peers.
Resume and career writing help is also in high demand among this year’s graduates. Smarthinking supports students with 24/7 resume and cover letter help, personal branding consultation, and business writing reviews. Tutors are trained and monitored to ensure they do not proofread or edit student papers; instead, their writing review centers on leading students to a broader comprehension of the fundamentals of writing (both higher-order issues as well as lower-order skills) and key strategies for revision.
“Employers and recruiters in 2020 are looking beyond applicants who simply have the required educational experience. Employers want new hires who can think creatively and who are fluid in the use of technology and adept at writing well. Smarthinking tutors can help students develop effective career materials for this new world of work, whether that be a strategically-focused cover letter or eye-catching details to polish a LinkedIn profile.” — Michael Goodfellow, Sr. Lead Writing Tutor
How else can online tutoring support your virtual classroom?
Get the infographic and explore three other ways online tutoring can empower your students to succeed, no matter where they are.
Many students are learning virtually for the first time, which means they’ll need to find new ways to get additional help outside of regular lessons, like online tutoring. Students often think that since a tutor isn’t the professor, they won’t be able to help with understanding course materials. And as an instructor, maybe you’ve had the same thoughts. But the truth is, many online tutors, especially Smarthinking tutors, are experts in their field. They could even be your peers from down the hall. The right online tutors work with you to make sure students are mastering the right skills.
Our tutors are fellow experts
We have more than 1,500 highly qualified, professional tutors and educators, 90% of whom hold a master’s degree or PhD in their discipline of expertise. Plus, our tutors average 12 years of experience working directly with students: they’re expert teachers as well as subject experts. It’s no wonder Smarthinking has served thousands of higher education institutions around the world.
Smarthinking tutors are trained, monitored, and evaluated on their ability to employ a Socratic method to engage students by asking questions, making students show their own work, and encouraging them to demonstrate overall mastery of the concept or problem.
Tutors are available in more than 150 subject areas, at all levels from developmental through graduate and professional school. Plus, we offer ESL-specialist tutoring, including math in Spanish. No matter the course, we’ve got you covered. And since each tutor is an expert in their field, students can get 24×7 help in the subjects they need, even if that means they need math help one day and then chemistry help the next.
Problem-solving strategies that lead to success
Online tutoring asks students to demonstrate mastery of skill after learning in the classroom. With Smarthinking, faculty can easily share assignment goals, writing prompts, and other course details so tutors can contextualize their instructional assistance with learner outcomes in mind.
Online tutors don’t “hand out answers” but instead teach problem-solving strategies so that students learn to engage with content, break down problems, and build the skills to succeed on their own on future assignments. Tutors teach just the way you would.
Online tutoring encourages learners to ask for help when they need it and raises their confidence to do so. In a classroom setting, some students feel shy or don’t ask questions due to peer pressure. One-on-one tutoring takes this out of the equation, making students feel comfortable enough to ask even what they may feel is a silly question.1
“We recognize that students most in need of academic tutoring often find it difficult to ask for help out of shyness or because of a perceived stigma or simply because it’s new and unfamiliar,” Dr. Cheryl Cephus-Vickers of Gadsden State Community College explains. “We also know that students who form a habit early in their college career of accessing resources/services perform better and feel a greater sense of belonging and ownership of their learning. These outcomes lead directly to higher rates of persistence and completion.”2
There even when students can’t take advantage of on-campus help, Smarthinking tutoring extends your resources, improving achievement, completion and graduation rates, and workplace success.
“As a tutor and a writing instructor, I encourage my students to utilize the tutoring services the college offers. I remind my students that we are all facing this tough time together, and that there is absolutely no shame in needing some help completing assignments. I am transparent with my students: I let them know I am an online tutor myself, and just one session can make a difference in their writing.” – Lauren Williams Magaw, Writing Lead Tutor
How else can online tutoring support your virtual classroom?
Get the infographic and explore three other ways online tutoring can empower your students to succeed, no matter where they are.
Today’s students are digital natives, so whether they‘re face-to-face with tutors online or in-person, they’re savvy at getting the help they need. So, support their success with online tutoring. Data shows that online tutoring can help increase student confidence, engagement, and outcomes.
Tear down the roadblocks to engagement
As a student, getting stuck on a concept or problem and not knowing how to move forward can feel like coming up against a brick wall — and no one likes running into a brick wall. Lend students a hand by helping them overcome their learning obstacles. With online tutoring students can get help when and where they need it, rather than giving up in frustration. Online tutoring services, like Smarthinking, let students access live and asynchronous tutoring help at the point of need, so students can get immediate support to overcome academic roadblocks and continue on their learning paths.
A bird’s eye view for precise instruction
Don’t guess at what your students are struggling with when you have the data to guide you. Smarthinking “Taxonomy Reports” highlight the specific concepts that students have sought help for in their classes. This information is categorized and logged by Smarthinking tutors after each tutoring session so instructors can easily pinpoint what their students are having trouble understanding. Instructors know what students are struggling with before exams and can address the issues beforehand. The data and reports can also help instructors plan their programs, curriculums, and activities better.
Early intervention to stop problems at their roots
It’s not always easy to see when a student needs additional academic intervention, but Smarthinking Alerts can help. These alerts were designed to flag students who may be at risk. After a tutoring session, tutors can record alerts that will then display in the reporting dashboard. Instructors and administrators can clearly see sessions that were flagged and find out the exact issues the student is struggling with. This lets instructors respond quickly to emerging issues and improve learning outcomes.
Success and satisfaction with Smarthinking
The vast majority of students who use Smarthinking tutoring services would recommend them to a friend. We’ve also repeatedly shown significant improvements in key student success metrics such as course completion. Here are some of our results from recent studies:
83% of students indicated they had more confidence in their academic skills after working with Smarthinking tutors
100% of students surveyed said they intended to keep using Smarthinking tutoring services
Students enrolled in a pilot program with Smarthinking online writing tutors were 8x more likely to complete courses than non-users
“As each of us learns to manage our time and responsibilities in this ever-changing world, it’s important that we use all the resources available. The LMS offers a variety of tools to make virtual learning engaging and flexible, a win-win for both students and ourselves. The LMS also offers many resources for faculty by providing the tools to manage the class virtually, such as checklists, various communication options, and ease of grading.” — Kathy Adams McIntosh, Business Tutoring Coordinator
How else can online tutoring support your virtual classroom?
Get the infographic and explore three other ways online tutoring can empower your students to succeed, no matter where they are.
Like many others, you’re going through the experience of having your home become your office and classroom. Your students are facing just as much — if not more — of an abrupt transition. That’s why it’s important to talk to them about getting the course support they need during this disruption to their education. In addition, learning to seek out support is a valuable skill in and of itself, and can help students succeed in both college and their careers.
Searching for a new normal
Since mid-March, service providers and instructors around the world have been in emergency mode, establishing workable course delivery and an educational presence online for all classes in response to the coronavirus.
Now that we’re solidly in the midst of this large-scale transition to remote teaching and learning, we’re looking ahead in search of a new normal. Summer and fall sessions seem likely to introduce an entirely new set of considerations rather than a return to the educational practices we were recently forced to abandon. Quite apart from merely delivering courses online, schools must be ready to provide a quick transition to online courses that offer reliable course navigation, equitable access, support for learners with disabilities, and academic integrity.
The one constant is that students will need support as education, by necessity, becomes increasingly nimble and remote. We only need to look back 15 years for a parallel of our current challenge.
The lessons we’ve learned
In 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, approximately 100,000 students were displaced from their colleges and universities. Many never returned to their campuses. Today we’re facing the same type of disruption, albeit on a much grander scale.
Andre Perry, fellow at the Brookings Institution, was a professor at the University of New Orleans during Katrina. He urges repeated, proactive contact with students — especially in the early stages of such a disruption to their education — and stresses the obligation of faculty to maintain the student-teacher connection.
Research shows that a key role in students’ retention is their relationships with professors. Perry fears that if those relationships weaken or lapse during this disruption, “we may collectively lose thousands of students across the country.”
One valuable tip for supporting students during a transition to remote learning is that educators provide an asynchronous approach to classes. While the routine of a regularly scheduled class might seem to offer consistency and a semblance of normalcy for learners, there are clear challenges. Many have work and/or family obligations, inadequate technology and internet access, and time zone considerations that put them at a disadvantage.
For schools that require a synchronous approach, educators should accommodate students who can’t join the session as scheduled. Recorded lectures are recommended so that they have the same opportunity to listen, and then participate in discussion in the classes they can attend.
According to Christopher Heard, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Pepperdine University, “The key is to keep students feeling like a class, rather than scattered individuals.”
“Although challenging, it’s important that students don’t see this period as a gap in their education or as an impossible obstacle in their studies. Pearson employees and Smarthinking tutors are familiar with using technology to support students digitally, and they’re willing and able to help students who may find the new, online-only environment challenging or intimidating.” — Michael Goodfellow, Sr. Lead Writing Tutor
How else can online tutoring support your virtual classroom?
Get the infographic and explore three other ways online tutoring can empower your students to succeed, no matter where they are.
Are you having to transition teaching your traditional face-to-face summer class to an online environment? This can be a daunting task with a full 16-week semester, let alone for a super short 5-week mini-mester! Compound that with the fact that you may not have taught online previously, and this could easily intimidate even the most seasoned instructor. Have no fear! Many have traversed this path before you and come out successful—you can, too!
Summer courses are short, rigorous, but can be very rewarding for both you and the student when taught with a few best practices in mind. For instance, they usually have smaller enrollments meaning less to grade for you (YAY!), but that means more rapid feedback for them since you can get your grading done more quickly. The smaller class size allows you to have more frequent interactions with each student thereby giving them the support they need to be more successful. Plus, most summer students are highly motivated and typically are only taking one or two classes at a time. This means they are going to be dedicated to learning your material.
There are a few guiding principles you can utilize to help you as you work to design your summer online course. First, let’s do a brief overview on “how” you will be teaching, then we will address the “what” to teach online in more detail.
When designing online courses, you should always start by talking to your institution, or search their website, for information about any specific requirements they have for teaching online courses. Then, by answering these few questions, you’ll be well on your way to success as you design and implement your online course.
Now, onto the teaching of online courses. Once you’ve ascertained how you are going to teach your course online, now you need to figure out the what, as in “what am I going to teach?” There are four guiding principles as you try to determine what exactly you are going to teach in your summer course.
If you’ve only taught 16-week courses, trying to fit all of that material into a 5-week course is like trying to fit ten pounds of candy into a five-pound bag. You need to prioritize the “have to knows” from the “good to knows.” Think about this, what information do your students really need from your course to be successful in their career years down the road? Assess your required Learning Outcomes and determine the essentials that must be taught in order for you to meet those objectives.
These essential Learning Outcomes should then be clearly communicated to your students in the very beginning of the course. The students should know what they are working towards learning, and what it is they will be assessed on throughout the length of the course. Refer back to them as you progress through the course, helping students realize that these are the foundational skills they’ll need to apply your course materials to their careers.
Now that you’ve decided the specific topics you will be covering in your summer course, it’s time to organize it in a logical flow that teaches your objectives in a scaffolded manner. In other words, make sure the prerequisite/foundational knowledge and skills are reviewed/taught early in the course, and then build upon these as you address your Learning Objectives. You can’t teach a student to solve for “x” in the equation x + 4 = 6 if they haven’t yet learned how to add and subtract. Don’t be afraid to skip around chapters, especially in the summer, to help create a more logical flow for this shortened semester!
While contemplating how best to design the flow of your course to meet your Learning Outcomes, keep in mind, this is a fast-paced course. Again, reiterating the importance of focusing on what you need to teach, extraneous information should be cut from your teachings. You may also want to consider relating much of what you teach to real-world situations. This will convey the importance of what you’re teaching and make it more memorable to the students at the same time.
How do you design your assignments for this short course now that you’ve figured out what you are teaching? Easy! Take what you’ve been doing for your 16-week course, shorten the assignments, and give them more frequently. Your students are already going to be studying, rewriting notes, practicing, and reading – you don’t want to give them homework assignments that take 2 – 3 hours on top of all of that. If you can, break the assignments into bite-sized chunks that take no more than 30 – 45 minutes to complete (or less), and give them a few assignments per week. These will be easier to digest for your students and will also help them retain the importance of the material. You may even offer more flexible due dates in this summer course than you would in your 16-weeks.
Consider using the discussion forums discussed in the How to Prepare for Online Teaching blog. These can be short but powerful assignments. If you’re having the students write papers for your course, consider shortening the length of the paper, or the number of papers they have to submit, and focus more on the content you’re having them address. Lastly, really give thought to group projects as well. Sometimes students learn more from each other than they do from us.
These 5-week classes are not only tough to plan out and teach, but they are a heavy lift for the students as they try to learn this material in a compressed time frame. Try offering an extra level of support for these students you don’t normally give your 16-week classes. If you are doing live virtual class sessions (or even pre-recorded videos), consider providing them with copies of the slides or the notes you use while teaching. Set up extra virtual office hours for them to pop in and ask you questions. Create practice quizzes or tests for them to use as study guides, or even provide them with a more detailed study guide than you usually hand out.
By following the guiding principles for how to teach online and what to teach in summer courses, it will set both you and your students up for success. These principles will put you on track to create an effective, efficient, and enjoyable online summer course. Bottom line, these summer students will work diligently, but they will work even harder if they know you’re really trying to help them be more successful in such a short, intensive course!
Technology has really changed the way we teach. It doesn’t seem that long ago that my classes brought their paperback workbooks to class; they tore out review pages and turned them in for grading. They brought notebooks to take notes in, and we gave paper/pencil tests. Now? They can use e-books on a tablet. They access assignments on their phones. Course materials can be available with one click, anytime, anywhere.
But those changes don’t all happen overnight. They take time and preparation. And sometimes that’s not a luxury we have. We might have catastrophic weather or a pandemic or some other event that closes the school for a while. Every course needs an online presence. And it needs to happen now.
So where do we start? Let’s assume our primary goal is to deliver some assessments online while the campus is closed. You may have existing question banks you can use. Or, you may have texts with materials like TestGen available.
If that’s the case, you’ll need to download TestGen software if you want to make a paper/pencil test and then export it to your Learning Management System (LMS). You then need to download the question banks at Pearson’s Higher Ed site to build your library of questions. You may already have these from your existing tests. (By the way, if you want to export a TestGen test to your LMS, be careful to export it in the correct format. You typically need to look at the Blackboard export option.)
You may find it easier to access the TestGen question bank files from Pearson’s website and upload them directly to the Learning Management System. You will need to search by your text to see if files are available. You might need to use an older edition if the new one is not available or use a similar text if you need more variety of questions. Again, note that TestGen question banks are not necessarily available for every text.
Once you have identified the question banks, download them, and then use the LMS to upload the question banks. Here are links you can use to learn more about the process for your specific LMS.
After you have those loaded in your LMS, you can then create quizzes/tests. Your LMS administrator on campus has training materials for how to do this, and you can also find extensive instructor resources for each LMS online.
As you design your quizzes/tests, keep in mind things like pooling questions to provide variety. You might also be able to scramble the question order. Allow some extra time on tests so students are able to navigate the technology and still have time for the test itself.
In addition, you may want to have a “mini test” for students to practice with, especially if you require them to use Respondus or Proctor U or Honor Lock or a similar tool. You can learn more about the technology tools your school has by checking with your LMS administrator.
When teaching a science class, we often use experiences in the lab to foster critical thinking skills and reinforce the concepts we introduce in lectures. But with campuses closed, students cannot access the lab.
So what do you do? Is it better to forget about labs at all, or is there value in online or hands-on at home methods? This is what one study published by the Journal of Formative Design in Learning tells us.
Don’t ditch labs
Students who take lecture and laboratory concurrently outperform their lecture-only peers, regardless of whether that lab is face-to-face or non-traditional.
Non-traditional labs can be as effective as face-to-face labs
A good non-traditional lab tool can increase test scores, improve students’ attitudes and preparedness for the hands-on lab, and strengthen conceptual knowledge.
In one particular study, the students said the online laboratory experience was the same as or better than their prior experiences in the traditional setting.
Students can access the lab whenever and wherever suits them. Flexibility will be important at the moment, particularly for those suddenly having to care for children.
In an online lab, students can reflect on what went right and what did not go as planned, and then can repeat the experiment as many times as they need.
Virtual chemistry labs can help students visualize structures and processes at the molecular level and allow types of experiments not possible in a standard undergraduate laboratory—e.g., quantum chemistry.
Examples of online labs
Online labs can range from simple videos and games, to graphing and 2D simulations, to interactive 3D virtual reality experiences. Simulations, as mathematical models of processes in the physical world, allow users to manipulate parameters and can be used by faculty to customize laboratories in various disciplines. Some examples include:
Hands-on kits available from various vendors can provide students with practice of experiments, and manufacturers usually assume liability. One example is Chemistry LabPaqs from Hands on Labs (http://holscience.com/)
A good tool should have
Software that is easy to install, user-friendly, and intuitive, yet challenging.
Experiences similar to the traditional laboratory.
Useful sequences for learners that scaffold their use of the system.
Some form of feedback (even if it is just immediate results of labs and simulations).
Help for visualizing and demonstrating concepts and constructs that might otherwise be difficult to observe (depending on exactly what domain it is).
Alignment with the learning objectives across all learning activities.
Clear instructions (even if the task is more open-ended in the lab) and criteria so students know what to focus on.
The ability for students to “experiment” in the environment without penalty.
Digital laboratory manuals that accompany hands-on lab kits must also be user-friendly and intuitive.
When students are actively learning, they are making connections to their own lives, questioning, and collaborating, which we know leads to more significant, durable learning outcomes. In the classroom, we deliberately plan learning activities and discussion to engage learners and keep them active. We stay alert during class to pick up on cues that learners are tuning out or struggling so we can pivot and improvise as needed.
One of the toughest adjustments to teaching online is that we lose this immediate feedback-action loop. We can’t adjust in real time to keep learners engaged in specific activities or assignments. So, it’s important to set up learning opportunities that extend past the activity or assignment itself.
Here are some ideas for encouraging active engagement online.
1. Incorporate their lived experience
We usually encourage students to bring their experiences into our classroom. But now, we have to figure out how to bring our discipline-specific content into their experiences. Now we’re all at home, students are not focused on our content at a specific time or in a specific place.
To keep them engaged and actively learning, we have to help them experience their lives through the lens of our content. We don’t want them to only think about our content when they’re sitting in front of their device. Give them things to look for, think about, and capture as they clean the house, care for family members, walk the dog, and watch Netflix. Encourage them to find the ways your content manifests in everyday life. For example:
Laws of physics scavenger hunt. Ask learners to take pictures/videos of laws of physics in action around their home. Share online and ask the class to vote for the best examples.
Neighborhood visual ethnography project. Learners walk around their neighborhood (using safe social distancing practices) and take pictures. They use grounded research techniques to analyze images and categorize characteristics to make hypotheses about their neighborhood’s culture. They could incorporate public records searches to consider property values and census information.
2. Make them research assistants
In a discussion-based class, we would generally provide learners with some context and content in lecture and readings and then engage them in discussion and analysis to promote deeper understanding and durable learning. Online forums can be lively and contribute to significant learning, but they are not a straight substitute for classroom discussion. So, instead of providing them with all the relevant readings and context, ask them to find it. Imagine you now have a class full of research assistants.
Here are two examples showing how you might transfer what you do in the classroom to an online environment:
Classroom: Lecture on elements of Victorian society that influenced Jane Eyre and discussion to apply to reading and incorporate learner experiences
Online: Learners research specific aspects of Victorian society, looking especially for contemporary sources that would help learners empathize with Victorian readers. Find examples in the reading of things that would have resonated with or be significant to Victorian readers that today’s readers might not find as significant or understand.
Classroom: Assign journal readings about applying theory to curriculum design and then a practical assignment to create a lesson plan.
Online: Provide summaries of major learning theories and then ask learners to find journal articles that apply one of the theories to curriculum design in their discipline. Post the article, a summary, and then explain two specific ways they would incorporate that theory into their own curriculum design.
3. Ask them to write the test
You’re right to be concerned about cheating when learners are taking assessments online from home. There are proctoring apps that can help mitigate this risk, but not everyone has access to that technology. Turn testing into an active learning experience (and reduce the risk of cheating) by asking them to write the test.
Quantitative disciplines or introductory skills-based courses
In quantitative disciplines or introductory skills-based courses, give learners the learning objectives and ask them to write items that assess the learning objectives and provide the correct answers with justification. Ask them to create multiple choice distractors that represent common mistakes, miscalculations, or misconceptions and explain what error each distracter represents.
Qualitative disciplines or higher level theory-based courses
In more qualitative disciplines or higher level theory-based courses, learners can create their own rubrics to evaluate existing works or their own projects. They can use the rubrics they created to evaluate their peers’ work, or they can use someone else’s rubric to evaluate their own or others’ work.
4. Read together
Asking questions while you read and talking to someone else about what you’re learning are two proven active learning strategies. Use online tools to allow learners to annotate readings together.
The app Hypothes.is allows people to annotate PDFs or even websites.
You can upload a reading to Google Docs, Microsoft OneDrive, or Adobe Cloud and share it so learners can make and reply to comments.
In any of these apps, learners can tag you or each other for specific questions or responses. Just remember to turn on your notifications.
5. Solve problems together
Often, online group projects are less collaboration and more divide-and-conquer. You can both lean into and disrupt this tendency by using a jigsaw strategy. In a jigsaw strategy, groups of learners become “experts” in one concept or topic, and then they shuffle into new groups where they become the representative of their concept in a new mixed-expertise group. The new group has to work together, sharing and leveraging their specific expertise, to solve a problem.
Classroom: A lecture and readings introduce the concept of sustainability and provide an overview of the types of sustainability initiatives in which corporations engage. In groups, students research the sustainability initiatives of three companies and decide which has the best strategy.
Online, option A: Each group is given one company to research. They find out everything they can about that company’s sustainability initiatives and the impacts of those initiatives on the company, consumers, and planet. They create a scorecard to represent the criteria they think is important and how that company scores. Then, in a sync session, breakout jigsaw groups are created where learners have to make the case for their company. Together, the new jigsaw group comes up with a consolidated scorecard and scores all the represented companies.
Online, option B: Each group researches one aspect of corporate sustainability and creates a rubric to score companies on that aspect. In a sync session, breakout jigsaw groups combine their score cards and collectively evaluate a company.
We’re all familiar with trends coming and going in higher education; we’re also used to seeing a lot of research too. How do we know what’s really worth it?
Throughout my years as a professor, one subject that has garnered significant research is building community in the classroom. Building community is a valuable tool for improving equity. When I began teaching online, I found it to be far more difficult to achieve.
I would assign students to groups in my Learning Management System (LMS) and encourage them to work together on a weekly Relevant Application assignment (to see how the mathematics we were doing realistically applied to the world around them). These group assignments were regularly met with resistance from students – citing, “I took an online class so I wouldn’t have to work with other people!”
This attitude is one we can’t afford to tolerate, especially as our world increasingly becomes digital, and more people are working in teams with folks from around the country and the world virtually.
What can we do about it?
A few years ago, I attended a talk at InstructureCon (Canvas developers annual conference) on creating Affinity Groups for students in online classes. I loved what I saw; implementing their strategies eliminated complaints from students about working in online groups.
How Affinity Groups work
As in many online classes, at the beginning of the quarter my students are assigned to post a short biography to a discussion board; in this post, they introduce themselves to me and the rest of the class. They are asked to discuss their educational goals, hobbies and interests, as well as something unique about them.
When I read their submissions, I make notes of hobbies and interests of all the students. As I see trends of topics being mentioned 3 or 4 times, I list them as a potential group category. I then create a group set, and name the groups based on the categories that stood out for that particular group of students.
It’s fun to belong
Almost every quarter I have “Parents”, “Binge Watchers”, “Gamers’, and “Travelers” to name a few, as recurring group themes. You can even add alliteration for more flare, like “Proud Parents” or “Great Gamers”. It is fun to keep an eye out for those unique groups that surface in a given quarter. One quarter we had “Anti-Coffee-ers” for example – a group of students who surfaced declaring their dislike for coffee, or “Foodies Forever”.
A tight knit group
I choose to cap the groups at 5 and create more groups than necessary, because I don’t know exactly what students will be drawn to. Lastly, I always create a “z. None of the Above” group, as an option for students who don’t identify with any of the other group. In Canvas, you can simply rename the groups while you’re creating them. In Blackboard, after you’ve created your Self-Enroll Group Set, you’ll have to go to each group individually and rename them by selecting Edit Group.
Freedom of choice
At this point, I ask students to self-enroll in the groups of their choice through my LMS (both Canvas and Blackboard have the option for students to self-enroll). Note: If your LMS doesn’t allow for this action, there are other ways you could use to have for your students choose their group, like a poll or survey where they choose one option.
No one is left behind
Once the given deadline has passed for choosing a group, I put those who haven’t selected a group into the newly created “Non-Responders” group and encourage them to choose a new name amongst themselves. Not surprisingly, that group of students tends to not succeed as well as the others. I also check for groups with just 1 or 2 members, and combine them, getting creative with the name – like “Binge Hikers” (combination of “Binge Watchers” and “Hikers-R-Us”). Lastly, I delete the groups that didn’t attract any students; now you have students in groups with similar interests.
A little change makes a big impact
This may seem like a small distinction from randomly assigning groups, but it is fascinating to me how the knowledge that they are all parents, or they all like to cook, helps them to engage with each other more effectively and actively. Rarely do I get any resistance from students saying they don’t want to work in groups anymore.
Your assessment plans, just like all your other learning plans, have probably been suddenly disrupted during this crisis. And, due to family responsibilities, or anxiety, your students may not have the time or ability to concentrate on full length exams like they would typically be able to in a classroom setting.
But all is not lost. As you know, the goal of giving an exam is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit. If there are other ways of doing this — for example, a culminating project, portfolio, or other open-ended assignment that a student could submit online, consider these before an online exam, particularly a multiple-choice exam.
If you decide to use a traditional summative exam, these research-based tips can make the online experience better for you and your students.
1. Create clear and specific rules and instructions so students know exactly what to do
Online assessment is new for your students. Reduce anxiety by clearly communicating the rules and instructions before the exam so there are no surprises.
For example, if you would like them to write their essays in paragraphs or to show their work for problem sets, be sure to explicitly state this.
The rules may include how many opportunities students have to complete the exam, if they can or cannot save and come back later to finish, if they need to put away all mobile devices or whether it is an open or closed book exam.
Provide other details such as the list of learning objectives the exam will address, how many questions to expect, the amount of time they will have to complete the exam, how many points each question is worth, etc. A study guide or a practice test can also help your students prepare.
2. Reduce the opportunities for cheating
Password protect your exam and limit to one attempt.
Require students to complete a statement of honesty before beginning the exam (this can be done through a digital form or added as the first item of the exam).
Open and close access to your exam session within a predetermined time period.
Shuffle items or create multiple versions of the exam to randomly assign to students.
Create a pool or item bank to pull random questions from (many platforms allow for this, including MyLab and Mastering, and most learning management systems (LMS)).
Ask students to justify or explain their answers by adding an open response field after each selected-response question.
Use more open-ended question types instead of true/false or multiple choice questions if you don’t have the capabilities listed above.
3. Make sure students can reasonably complete the exam within the time allotted
Unless you are assessing how quickly your students can complete the exam, allow them ample time to complete it. It is important to keep in mind that your students don’t know the knowledge and skills as well as you do, so be sure to cushion each item with more time than you would expect to take to complete the exam yourself. If possible, have an assistant or colleague proofread your exam before it is time to administer it.
4. Align your exam questions to learning outcomes.
Regardless of whether the exam is online or on paper, if you are creating it from scratch, make sure you use the objectives as your guide as you develop the questions.
Determine which types of questions or items best reflect the learning objectives. For example, if the objective requires a student to critique a poem, then an essay question would be a logical and efficient choice, whereas a multiple choice question would not typically be the most efficient way to gauge a student’s ability to critique.
5. Scoring and point values should be based on the complexity and difficulty of the questions
For instance, if you have a multipart question, consider assigning partial credit for each part of the question if the system allows. For math or science problem sets, allow students to show their work such as sending in a photo of their workings or describing the steps they took to solve a problem or complete a process.
Sources American Educational Research Association., American Psychological Association., National Council on Measurement in Education., & Joint Committee on Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (U.S.). (2014). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Burton, S. J., Sudweeks, R. R., Merrill, P. F., & Wood, B. (1991). How to prepare better multiple-choice items: Guidelines for university faculty. Brigham Young Testing Center and The Department of Instructional Science. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University. Sawyer, R. K. (2006). The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Instructors are an integral part of teaching and learning, regardless of whether it takes place face-to-face or online. During the current crisis, many are discovering that delivering high quality teaching online requires some changes. If you are supporting instructors who are transitioning from the classroom to online, once you have a chance to come up for air we have eight strategies for effective training.
1. Work from the ground up to obtain educator buy-in
The success of any type of professional development program depends partially on the buy-in from participants. They need to believe this is being done ‘for them’ not ‘to them’.
Due to the relatively new nature of online learning, instructors might have misconceptions (e.g. about the level of rigor of online learning). To avoid this, clearly communicate important points about the transition. Using technology isn’t just an emergency response, it will be a method used in the future.
As well as referring to research when developing an online training program, ask for feedback from instructors, and make sure it’s taken into account. You could send a survey, or conduct focus groups.
2. Offer high quality professional development opportunities
Whether you are training instructors that will be teaching online or face-to-face, the same rules apply. High quality professional development is training that is:
Supports the construction of a professional learning community
Based in classroom practice
Grounded in current research
Tailored to instructors’ specific needs and embedded in their daily lives
Diverse, offering a wide range of learning activities
3. Give instructors authentic learning experiences
Run the training on the same platforms that instructors will be using in their class so they can experience roadblocks (e.g. signing onto the platform) or challenges (e.g. navigating content) that students might experience.
Use content that instructors will use in real life. For example, if an instructor will be teaching Science, learning that content during training will help the instructor become familiar with the types of resources or labs available online and how to navigate them.
4. Differentiate instruction and use a wide array of resources unique to online learning
When instructors transition to an online environment they will likely introduce new and different types of instruction, and these strategies should be modeled during the training.
For example, training should include both synchronous and asynchronous discussion, as well as the use of various resources including web-cameras, videos, instant messaging, and online whiteboards.
5. Online teaching pedagogy and content are important, but an online teacher training program should also focus on soft skills
In addition to online pedagogy and subject matter, instructors need to be competent in organization, time management, and self-direction.
A great deal of an online learning course is asynchronous and is therefore occurring at a student’s pace. Teachers need to know how to best organize this mode of learning, when to be available for student inquiry, and when they are “out of class time”. Conversely, instructors should also be self-directed so that they know when they are “in class time” and monitor discussion, or grade assignments. (Read more about developing these skills here)
6. Develop a community of online instructors
Developing a community gives instructors a support system as they are delivering their courses so they can share experiences and best practices. You can:
Pair new instructors with mentor veteran instructors.
Create the space for instructors to collaborate.
Use online environment tools, such as discussion boards with questions posed by a veteran instructor, chat rooms that are monitored by faculty who trained the instructors, and/or asynchronous discussion.
7. Expect instructors to demonstrate mastery before they teach their own course
Given that online instruction requires active, hands on learning techniques, these should be the types of activities instructors should demonstrate as an end of training assessment.
8. Train instructors to be aware of data security
When all information in the course is being transmitted online it becomes easy to leave data vulnerable for security breaches.
Teachers should ask students to reduce their transmission of personally identifiable information to times when it is necessary. When transmitting files, they should be locked and/or transmitted through a secure file transfer site.
Instructors should house student background, demographic, and identifying data in a secure file, and performance data should be transmitted privately and securely.
Online education has been a vital part of higher education for many years, but with the current COVID-19 pandemic, many faculty and students are experiencing this for the first time. As with any method of delivery, online education has its advantages, as well as its own challenges.
Both faculty and students can save time by meeting online instead of commuting to a physical classroom. Having course materials and various learning activities posted online provides students with more flexibility on both how and when they can study.
On the other hand, heavy emphasis on technology can be foreign and intimating for some people. There may also be a perception that online education causes distance between the learner and their instructor. For faculty, there can be valid concerns that students may slip through the cracks in a virtual classroom. Fortunately, there are ways to both identify and support students who may be struggling online.
Use all available forms of communication
Communication is key when it comes to bridging the distance between the instructor and learner. Some faculty may opt to send out their course syllabus and contact information before the class even starts to help address any preliminary questions or concerns that their students may have. It is generally considered a best practice for faculty to check their email at least once a day and reply to student inquiries within 24 hours whenever possible.
If faculty find that a student is asking a lot of questions and does not appear to understand the materials, then they may want to consider scheduling a quick virtual meeting with that student to go through their questions together. Most virtual meeting software allow for the sharing of audio, video, and other application files, thus making it easier for faculty to accommodate their students’ various learning styles.
When hosting live virtual meetings, try to encourage all the participants to turn their web cameras and microphones on in order to make it a more personable and engaging experience. As most online learning classes are asynchronous in nature, it is okay if some students cannot make these live sessions, but it is a good idea for faculty to make note of who cannot attend, and try to find other ways to reach out to those students. Most virtual meeting software also allows for sessions to be recorded and shared.
Many online classes make use of discussion boards for class communication and group work. Discussion boards are usually asynchronous, meaning students can review and contribute whenever they can (within a set deadline).
Pay attention to participation
Most LMSs offer ways to track both the students’ attendance and their discussion board postings; this is very useful to help faculty identify which students are active. Not all classes are designed in such a way where students are constantly required to log in, but faculty should try to make note of any missing discussion posts or assignment submissions. If inactivity is becoming a pattern, it is a good idea to either follow up with that student, and/or notify their school’s student support services department. It is better to catch these patterns early when there is still time to offer additional support.
Watch for trends in data
Finally, it is a good practice for faculty to keep an eye on their grade book for trends. If a certain student is scoring low, it may be a good idea to reach out to that student with some additional constructive feedback and guidance. If faculty notice that many students scored low on a certain assignment, then they may want to take time out of their next virtual class meeting to discuss this.
For faculty who want to learn more about their LMS, most schools have an information technology services webpage where training resources can be found. In addition, it is always a good idea to have the school’s IT help desk contact information saved in case of any issues or urgent questions. Online education can feel ‘distant’ at times, but having a strong support system can go a long way in ensuring both faculty and students succeed.
You’re driving around in Boston at rush hour on one of the notorious old carriage roads that seemingly twist without reason. You’re searching for a particular street downtown. The kids in the back seat are singing, as loud as they can, along with The Wiggles, which is blasting through the car speakers.
I can’t handle it. What would make this better? Silence. My brain can’t process all of this at once. I’ve maxed out my cognitive load.
Cognitive load is defined as the mental resources used in working memory to perform a task. Most people can store between 5-9 items at any given time, and 2-4 of those can be processed simultaneously. If you don’t use new information within 15 seconds, it gets taken out with the trash.
How can we increase our working memory? Practice makes perfect. This is why teachers go over practice problems and, at the higher levels, assign homework that allows for practice of the new skills learned in lecture. To have students learn effectively, their working memory (ability to store information) must be greater than the total cognitive load of the task. I’m usually at my peak when driving in Boston.
Types of cognitive load
A task can contain many different types of cognitive load. There are three in particular that we as educators should be aware of:
Intrinsic cognitive load
Sometimes a task is just hard. Consider calculus vs. arithmetic. Perhaps you’re great with math and this wouldn’t be a heavy lift for you. For others, this task would require a great deal of mental concentration.
Germane cognitive load
This refers to the actual processing of information. How will we organize it in our brains? Does this information connect with anything we’ve previously learned? Making connections is part of learning, and strengthens knowledge moving forward.
Extraneous cognitive load
This is the part that teachers have the most control over. It is generated by the way the information is presented and has nothing to do with the task. Are you learning calculus in a rock concert or a library? Have you used a PowerPoint slide theme that is distracting or clean?
Strategies to reduce cognitive load
Many teachers already use strategies to reduce the total cognitive load of a task. Some of that is out of our hands (intrinsic cognitive load) and others we can revise for the better (extraneous cognitive load).
Here are some general suggestions:
Make connections. The more connections to previously learned material that you make, the less germane cognitive load there is for your students.
Use routine. Start and end class in the same way each day, perhaps with a warm-up and a time for questions. This will allow students to forecast that there will be time for questions to be answered.
Provide time. Allow students time in class to think about how this new material connects with what was previously taught.
Be clear and concise.
Pay attention to purpose. What is the goal of this assignment? If a particular question isn’t getting you there, delete it.
Don’t forget emotions. Anxiety limits learning, and excess cognitive load creates stress. Allow your students space to focus on the material, not their emotions.
Classroom materials can also have an effect on cognitive load.
How many teachers are guilty of using the same handout semester after semester until it looks like this? The media is crooked, there are streaks across the pages, and it is difficult to read.
Consider moving your media digitally to a platform of your choice so you can clean things up a bit. Cleaning them up is relatively easily done by opening up a PDF in Google Docs. As a caveat, while this works well for the humanities, Google does struggle here in my discipline (chemistry).
Ensure that your media isn’t distracting. Don’t add pictures frivolously. Be sure that the media that you do add contributes toward getting you to your overall lesson goal.
Here are some good rules of thumb to keep in mind for classroom presentations and assignments:
What is your primary goal in this assignment or presentation?
Consider suggestions for reducing extraneous cognitive load.
Organization and layout
Clarity of goal
Breaking down of steps
Clarity of expectations for student work
Wordiness and vocabulary
In short, whether you are a teacher or not, you can use the theory of cognitive load to better engage your audience. While you’re creating your next presentation, think about these considerations. Also, if you’re driving in Boston any time soon, be sure to turn down the music.
Being a leader can be challenging at the best of times, but even more so in a crisis situation like the current pandemic. Transitioning Survey findings from Pearson identified that people’s satisfaction with the work from home experience has declined: Only 82% of those in the US are currently satisfied with working remotely versus 93% in early March.
But how do you lead well when you can’t physically meet with the people you are leading? Here are our tips for effective leadership in a virtual world
1. Focus on inspiration and motivation, rather than just managing or controlling
Motivating and inspiring leadership strategies are especially important when leading virtually because we lack many social cues and tools we usually use to influence others. Be more mindful and practice this.
Examples of these types of strategies include:
Displaying ethical and inspiring behavior, taking a stand, and acting with conviction.
Supporting others and attending to their individual needs.
Motivating others by projecting a positive vision.
Supporting innovation and creativity.
2. Be optimistic, but honest
In times like these, people look to their leaders for hope, while also expecting honesty and transparency. This can be a difficult balance, when you might be experiencing personal stress and worry and often have to communicate bad news.
Delivering information in a timely manner, and in a compassionate, caring, and straightforward way. Here is a checklist from the CDC on how to communicate in a crisis.
Giving others an opportunity to process the information, and a space to share their thoughts and experiences.
Finding opportunities for realistic optimism, pointing toward the future and highlighting ways that everyone can work towards it.
3. Support trust and cohesion within virtual teams
It can be challenging for virtual teams to develop trust and cohesion.
As a leader, you can:
Set norms and processes around communication.
Encourage and schedule time for personal and social conversations as well as work discussions.
Include regular opportunities for video conferencing, which allows for much richer interaction.
Be a role model for these strategies.
4. Provide frequent and explicit opportunities for coordination
Because virtual teams have fewer opportunities to spontaneously interact and coordinate work, it is particularly important to provide clear channels and expectations for communication and coordination.
Leaders play a key role in establishing these norms and expectations, such as:
Plan regular calls so that everyone in the group can share their progress.
Use instant message or chat functions to take the place of impromptu in-person meetings.
5. Take care of your own mental health
Leaders are not immune to experiencing worries, stress, anxiety, or sadness at times of uncertainty. In fact, you may experience a unique set of stressors, making it all the more important for you to take the time to take care of yourself. For strategies to do this, read our blog on wellness.
As we get further into the semester where we all quickly moved to online learning, motivation, like the style of your wardrobe, may start to wane.
In addition, learning online is just different from the classroom. It’s a bit more challenging for students to engage with you, the content, and each other. Plus they have something new to engage with – the technology. These 5 strategies can help keep them motivated and on track for success.
1. Build a sense of community
One challenge of online learning is that students often feel quite isolated. Consider how you can make direct contact, through emails, instant message and video, to as many learners as possible, helping them see how you are invested in their learning. In addition, encourage ways for learners to see each other as resources through methods like peer feedback and peer review, as well as potentially helping students find peers to study with.
2. Help students feel like they can succeed
When learners feel like they are capable of succeeding, they are more likely to persist. Consider how to structure tasks so that students can experience “quick wins” on the way to more difficult challenges. In addition, seeing how similar peers progressed can help motivate a student who might otherwise feel unlikely to succeed; see if any students with more experience navigating online learning would be willing to share some of their ideas for how to succeed in the course.
3. Establish ways to monitor progress
If students aren’t sure of how they are doing, they may not engage productively. Establish and communicate explicit goals for the course, and tie student activities and progress back to those goals. Look for tools in your online system (e.g., practice questions with instant feedback, study organizers that check off when students use different resources, etc.) that can help learners stay on top of their progress. Be explicit about how you think those tools can help and recommend students use them, so that they see the potential value in them.
4. Reward and celebrate success
While it is true that learning is its own reward, everyone can use a little help now and then to stick to their goals. Think of ways to provide students with rewards, whether those are in the form of praise, points towards their grades, or some collective goal the class works towards. Focus on rewarding good effort, progress, and the kinds of learning behaviors you want to see more of, not just achievement.
5. Relate class to students’ lives
It can be hard to stay motivated when we don’t see the value in what we are doing. One important source of value for academic learning is the connection to our everyday lives. How can I use what I’m in learning in class to advance in my career, achieve my goals, or help my friends, family, and community? Offer students some potential connections like those, and also help them try to make those connections for themselves!
Many of us are having to move teaching quickly online (tips here if you are still setting up your course). Once you have your technology in place, take a deep breath. Teaching online requires different types of interactions with students. We’ve simplified what works into nine strategies based on research that will help set you and your students up for success in your newly online course.
1. Know the technology
This is new to everyone, so be prepared to troubleshoot and let your students know you are working on it. Take an hour to familiarize yourself with the technology. Most companies are offering additional training right now.
Be very clear to students about where they should go for technical support (good digital technologies will have support services). Make the contact information readily available, and be prepared to direct students there if they come to you.
2. Expect the unexpected and remain flexible
At some point technology will fail, whether it is a video chat not connecting or assignment and/or resource links not working properly.
Have a backup plan for all assignments and assessments that rely on technology.
Be transparent in your communication to students about technology failure. For example, put a policy in place that outlines the actions students should take if they are unable to submit assignments due to technical issues.
Don’t be afraid to solve technical challenges in real time, such as during synchronous discussions or collaborative real-time activities, to save time.
3. Create and maintain a strong presence
Send a message to all students, by video if possible, to welcome them to online learning and reassure them.
Use video chat rather than basic instant message when interacting with students.
Get the students talking by beginning discussions in the discussion board, and then contributing rapid, regular, and open responses to questions.
Use non-verbal communication such as emojis.
Complete your profile with professional and personal traits.
4. Set clear expectations for the course
Online learning is new to the students as well. Make it clear to students how their grade in the course will be determined now (participation often makes up a much larger portion of the grade than in face to face classes).
Set expectations for response time. For example, make it clear that you will respond to emails within one business day, otherwise students may expect you to answer an email within a few hours, and disengage if you don’t.
5. Establish a sense of comfort and develop a community of learners
Students are looking to you to set the tone. Demonstrate enthusiasm and excitement about teaching the course to alleviate fear, anxiety, and isolation.
Humanize yourself by posting a welcome video, a biography, photos that tell stories about what you are doing to keep busy during social isolation, links to news articles or video clips.
Encourage each student to personalize their homepage and spend time going around the class asking students to share information about what they have posted.
Incorporate instant messaging, web cameras, blogs and vlogs.
Ask questions that empower participants to question each other, and elicit rich discussion.
Respond to the community as a whole rather than directing all responses to individual participants outside of the community.
6. Promote reflection and communication through quality asynchronous discussion
Return to posted topics that have not been fully discussed and promote contribution and reflection.
Monitor participation and contact students individually if they are either not participating, or are taking over conversations and not permitting contributions from other individuals.
7. Have a good balance of active leader and active observer
You will begin the course as the manager of the learning community. As the course progresses, slowly transfer the responsibility to the community of learners. The online community building steps in point 4 will help with this. You should also gradually retract further out of communal discussions.
8. Request regular feedback and be mindful of misinterpretation
Check in with your students to see how things are going. You can do formal or informal surveys to assess attitudes, workload and challenges. Make course correction as necessary — we’re all learning.
Use ad hoc quizzes to assess learner comprehension of material.
9. Regularly check content resources and applications
Regularly check all links, resources, modules, and activities. Online content can move or change, which can lead to disengagement.
Assist students who are having difficulty navigating course links or managing the material spanning across various web pages.
Model the process of navigating to websites that are not embedded in the course, and demonstrate how to appropriately manage keeping track of navigation when jumping from site to site.
Under different circumstances, creating an online course from the ground up using online learning best practices would take considerable time and effort. Given this current unprecedented situation, we understand that your immediate concern is likely simply ensuring that your face-to-face course can be converted rapidly for online delivery.
As educators, we love to see our students get engaged in class! Interaction with peers as well as with their teacher is an important part of student learning. But how do we do this when the class is offered online? A discussion board, if used well, can be a great tool in providing a platform for quality interaction.
Almost all Learning Management Systems have this capability. If you are delivering your online course with software that lacks a discussion board, check to see if the publisher of your text has a tool for this purpose or search online for some free options.
Here are some tips provided by Pearson’s Faculty Advisors to help you get the most from your discussion boards.
Post a grading rubric
Consider posting a grading rubric to set expectations and guide students to a complete response.
A good discussion begins with a good question
Avoid questions that read like exam questions. Provide students with a debate prompt. Ask students to express an opinion and back up their position by applying course concepts. Encourage them to practice being critical consumers of information by having them use primary literature to back up their statements.
Allow student-led or peer-driven discussion
We like having the students pose a question at the end of their post to prompt better discussions. Many times the original post reads more like a report and then the replies are “good job” or “I agree” because there is nowhere to go.
Throw out questions like “Can you think of an example of this you have encountered?” or “What about this article stood out to you?” or “Did this make you think about something else that is related but different from this?” If you ask your students to provide “substantive responses,” be specific about what “substantive” means.
Require that students respond to classmates
Many faculty require at least three classmate responses, and additionally, ask a question of their classmate based on the posted response. You might suggest a minimum word count for both posts and responses (students frequently ask for this).
Some discussion boards (this can depend on the Learning Management System) have the ability to hide other students’ responses until they, themselves, have responded. We like to have opinion questions in this format so that a student’s response isn’t colored by what has already been written.
Set regular deadlines
You might want to have a set day to submit a main post and another set day to submit peer responses. For example, the main post could be due on Wednesdays and the peer replies due on Fridays. This regular schedule helps students organize their time and remember their due dates.
Consider “outside the box” ways for students to deliver content
In addition to written text, you can allow students to respond to discussion prompts with PowerPoint presentations, YouTube videos, and concept maps. Show sample responses from prior semesters that “successful” students shared.
Add different forums for different purposes
A Cyber cafe
Cyber cafe gives students an opportunity to ask each other questions about the course and concepts, as well as seek support and interaction with their peers. Keep this forum separate from the content and teacher-created prompt discussions. But be sure to still check on this forum and ensure the students are following the netiquette guidelines for all written communication that you have posted.
The Water Cooler
The Water cooler allows students a safe place to discuss anything not related to the course. This allows you to get to know your students’ personalities within an online environment even though you aren’t spending time with them in a classroom.
“Ask the Instructor”
“Ask the Instructor” gives students the ability to post questions about the class or course content that you answer. This allows all students to see the same answer instead of getting the same question via email from multiple students.
Enforce rules of netiquette
Finally — don’t forget to remind students of “netiquette” right up front. For some ideas of what guidelines to set, see our blog post on Netiquette for Students.
Remember, many students dread discussion boards. It is just another thing they have to do; it might feel like busy work. They may think nobody cares about their opinion. Give good feedback, encouragement, and appreciation for contributing, even if the contributions need to be improved.
We hope these tips will help you get the most out of your discussion boards, leading to an engaging and interactive online experience.
If you enjoyed Downton Abbey as much as me, you might think of etiquette as knowing how to set a table worthy of a stately dinner. But that kind of etiquette might not be so useful in an online course, unless we’re studying the Edwardian era!
In the context of online teaching and learning, it’s more appropriate to think about the etiquette involved in engaging others in conversations and providing guidelines for smartphone use than how to handle a dinner guest’s dietary restrictions. We want to apply the best practices of etiquette to every interaction in the course.
Netiquette (net + etiquette) is the “code of conduct” applied to online spaces. Teaching students about netiquette is just as important (if not more so) as teaching them to use technology or master content.
Crafting a netiquette document or post for your class and informing your students about the importance of these rules can help you create an engaging, respectful, and meaningful learning environment.
If hosting lectures or office hours live online, you might want to include guidelines for expectations around arriving on time, reducing noise by using earphones and the mute button, and minimizing distractions the best they can.
Keep in mind that students might have their children or siblings home from school or day care and some flexibility and understanding might need to be extended during this season.
Another area for need of netiquette guidelines is in the use of discussion boards. I often share things like this with my students:
Use proper language. This means no emoticons, text message language, or swear words. The discussion board is like a workplace and is meant to be professional.
Run a spelling and grammar check before posting anything to the discussion board. This is especially important if your instructor is grading these comments.
Read through your comments at least twice before hitting submit. (Some professors use settings that allow students to edit their responses, while others don’t.)
Don’t type in ALL CAPS! If you do, it will look like you are screaming.
Recognize and respect diversity. It’s ok to ask questions to clarify things you don’t understand. If you’re not sure, email the professor privately for more information.
Avoid sarcasm and dark humor. Take your posts seriously. Never say online what you wouldn’t say in real life to another person’s face. Your posts are a permanent record, so think about the type of record you want to leave behind.
If you are frustrated and finding the course material difficult, please reach out to the professor, use the tutor resources, etc. You can ask your peers for study tips. A discussion board is not the venue to complain about why you need to take this course or how hard you have to work.
Don’t wait until the last minute to make your post. Allow time for other students to respond before the deadline. Likewise, don’t wait to post your replies until the deadline; the author deserves an opportunity to address any questions you have or respond to points you make.
Before asking a question, check the instructor’s FAQs or search your Learning Management System resources and/or the internet to see if the answer is obvious or easy to find.
Be forgiving. If your classmate makes a mistake, whether it’s a typo or grammatical error, don’t badger him or her for it. Just let it go.
The same rules apply for email. “Hey, teach, heeeelp!” is probably not the best way to ask your professor a question. You should communicate with your professor in the same way that you would speak to your boss or a potential employer. Also, any email you send your professor should always include your name and which class you are in.
While it is tempting to think we should only have to focus on content, surveys of Fortune 500 company CEOs over the years have resulted in very similar responses: they want students who can communicate clearly, collaborate well, think critically, etc.
We know those skills are being developed and enhanced in our courses everyday, so it’s worthwhile to spend some time encouraging them to be respectful, contributing members of our online course communities.
Cheating isn’t new. Many students do it, and in many different ways. As courses move to online environments, we might wonder if the lack of the instructor in the classroom makes it more likely cheating will happen. Technology certainly changes how students cheat.
A 2017 study by Kessler International reported that 76 percent of surveyed students said they had copied text from someone else’s assignments. Slightly more (79 percent) admitted to plagiarism from internet sources. Around 72 percent said they’d used mobile devices to cheat.
An astonishing 42 percent of students admit to purchasing custom papers or essays online, and 28 percent have paid someone to do their online work. Sadly, many of them thought it was ok to cheat.
Colleges and universities have implemented a variety of tactics designed to minimize cheating. They include tools such as the following.
Clearly defining cheating and setting expectations
This may seem elementary, but letting students know you are aware of cheating and will take it seriously can help curb cheating. If your assignment does not require the use of their phone for apps or resources, remind them to keep devices out of reach.
Academic integrity policies
Many colleges and universities have policies about cheating in their student code of conduct, and these are perhaps the simplest methods to deter cheating. When students break the policy, they may be dismissed from the program. It is a good idea to require students to sign an honor code statement in an initial assignment or prior to each test.
Using proctored exams
Many schools require students to report to campus or to official off-site testing centers for proctored exams. Proctors are typically required to check students’ IDs, enter passwords if needed, and watch them during tests. Tools like ProctorU support digital online proctoring and record the testing session for the instructor, flagging any concerns.
Restricting IP addresses
Some software will allow you to restrict access only to certain labs on campus. This is often done in conjunction with proctoring.
Use a Lockdown Browser
Require students to use a Lockdown Browser with online quizzes and tests. This is a custom setting that literally “locks down” the browser that displays the test or quiz, preventing students from copying or printing the questions or accessing any other websites or applications.
Utilizing keystroke verification software
Keystroke verification software, such as Keystroke DNA, is perhaps one of the most common tech-based cheater prevention methods.
The approach is simple: Students type a short phrase, which is then analyzed by a software program. The software assesses the students’ typing speed, rhythm, and other personal characteristics to create a behavioral biometric data profile for each user. Before any work is submitted, it needs to be verified.
Embedding text-matching software
These are tools like Turnitin, SafeAssign, or CopyLeaks, where software is used to read an essay or paper and assess the likelihood of plagiarism.
Students tend to share old tests, use study material sharing sites to share answers and methods, etc. To prevent cheating, professors may find it useful to use question banks and randomize the questions so that students have a more difficult time in sharing answers.
Professors should change assessments each semester or create multiple versions of tests or quizzes for a class. Include essay or explanation questions, as it makes it more obvious if an answer was copied from somewhere else. If possible, consider pooling questions so all students get similar but slightly varied test questions.
Offer low-stakes quizzing
It reduces the incentive to cheat because the value of each quiz is lower than that of an exam, but it still provides opportunities for assessment.
Assign collaborative learning activities
Use collaborative activities liberally. Consider using social media, shared documents, discussion forums, cyber cafes, video conferencing, and other types of collaborative tools to engage students with one another.
Studies indicate collaboration in online classes increases problem-solving skills more effectively than the student who is completing all classroom activities alone. There is little motivation or ability to cheat when students are working cooperatively for a common goal.
One study at MIT in the 1990’s forbade student collaboration in a programming class. The students collaborated anyway, and became more effective programmers. MIT determined that collaboration would be the new normal in programming classes. After all, the goal is student learning!
If students learn better when collaborating, and collaborating reduces the chances of cheating, then increasing the collaborative activities in an online environment will lead to increased learning and decreased cheating, which is a win/win by any standard.
Use resources already in your arsenal
You might find it helpful to use your Learning Management System to provide links to resources like Turnitin, which can often be linked directly with assignments.
Students think of cheating as a way to avoid learning the course material. But I tell my students that as hard as they work to avoid doing any actual learning, I will work harder to find ways to encourage and guide them to do what they should.
There are resources out there to help me do that. Check your Learning Management System instructor resources, explore other available technology tools, read Chronicle of Higher Education articles or Learning Scientists posts, and talk to your campus instructional designers. These are all great places to find tools you can use to deter cheating in your online courses.
Here is a scenario that I am sure most of you have experienced in your teaching career:
Sam is one of your students in your course and is having some issues with one of the assignments. He sends you an email asking for help. You respond with what you think is a detailed answer. Sam responds and asks more questions. You then respond again spending more time and energy typing another detailed answer. Unfortunately, Sam emails again still not understanding what he is supposed to do for the lesson.
Now let’s look at this scenario again but add something you may not have thought of doing:
Sam is one of your students in your course and is having some issues with one of the assignments. He sends you an email asking for help. You do a short video and audio of using your computer screen detailing and showing Sam what he is supposed to for the lesson. Sam responds and tells you that he is all set and understands what to do for the assignment.
In the second scenario, by providing the video to the student, he can quickly see and understand the assignment. These short videos are called Screencasting. According Educause’s 7 things you should know about Screencasting, the definition of screencasting is “a screen capture of actions on a user’s computer screen, typically with accompanying audio.”
The above scenario where student is asking a question via email provides just one example of how screencasting can be an effective learning and communication tool. It does not matter if the course is online, face to face, or blended because students will always send you questions.
In other situations, using screencasting for reviewing students’ work can be very powerful. As a personal example, I teach a Web Design class. My students need to complete several activities each chapter where they are building a website using HTML and Cascading Style Sheets.
Each chapter builds on the previous, so it is important for my students to master each chapters’ concepts. I have a rubric that I use to grade the student’s work but, in some cases, doing a screencast to point out the issues with the student’s work is much more effective.
In following video that is 2:32 minutes long I can show and explain to the student what is wrong with their web page and show what it should correct. This is much more effective than typing up a long email.
You will need screencasting software in order to create them. In this section, I will outline a paid and free version of screencasting software.
SnagIt from TechSmith
Snagit is the best option for screencasting if you willing to pay a little bit. The education price for Snagit is $29.95 and worth every dime.
Snagit not only will do screencasting but you will also be able to capture images on your computer. Please watch the short video below about Snagit. I captured from the TechSmith site and used my computer audio to capture the sound. I highly recommend spending the money for this software.
Screen-0-Matic is a free screencasting software. There are some restrictions on the length of the videos which are limited to 15 minutes maximum. This should not be a problem when doing short screencasting videos. Plus, there is a branded logo from the company on all their free screencasts. Again, this may be an issue. Here is a quick example of a Screen-o-Matic video.
Screencasting can be a very powerful way of communicating with your students. An important benefit of screencasting for students is the ability to watch the video as many times as they wish. Students can also stop and watch portions of the video. It is very worth your time and energy to explore the world of screencasting.