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If you're like me, you spent a lot of time in the past week thinking about how you will hold your classes online, but not a lot of time thinking about how you will hold your office hours online. Office hours don't usually require much forethought. You show up and deal with whatever comes up.

But now we need to think about our office hours, in particular, how we will make ourselves available to our students during those times. There are a number of options for doing this, including Virtual Classroom and Google Hangouts. I've decided to use Zoom, since that's what I'm using for my synchronous class meetings. But instead of creating a new Zoom meeting for every office hour (which would make for a real mess every time I log into Zoom, even if I just did recurring meetings), I'm going to use my Personal Meeting Room in Zoom.

Personal Meeting Room

Zoom's Personal Meeting Room is a meeting you set up once (although you can change the settings whenever you want), but that you can start and stop whenever you want. This way, there's only one URL you need to provide your students. It's sort of like telling your student where your office is on the first day of class. Once they now where it is (theoretically) you never have to tell them again.

For the most part, setting up your Personal Meeting Room is the same as setting up any other meeting in Zoom, but you don't give it a special name or description, and you don't have to worry about any scheduling details. To change the settings, click on the Personal Meeting Room tab.

The toolbar for Meetings on the Xula.Zoom.Us web site.
The tabs available when on the meetings page on the Xula.Zoom.Us site.
The toolbar for Meetings when in Brightspace.
The tabs available when on the meetings page on the Zoom page in Brightspace.

Branding

One of the nice options with the Personal Meeting Room is that you can change the Join URL to make it more personal. Whereas with regular meetings, you just use whatever 9-digit code the system generates for you, with your Personal Meeting Room, you can customize the link. This makes it easier to for students to remember (just like how they remember your office location). It also gives you the opportunity to do a little personal branding.

A screenshot of the Zoom page listing the settings for my Personal Meeting Room.
With Personal Meeting Rooms, you can customize the Join URL to make them easier to remember (and to do a little personal branding).
Screenshot of the main menu on the Xula.Zoom.Us web site.
The profile settings, and many others, are only accessible by logging into Xula.Zoom.Us.

However, you don't change it on the Edit This Meeting page. Instead, you need go into Profile, but you can only do this through the Xula.Zoom.Us web site. You can't access your profile settings by going in through Brightspace. When you log into Xula.Zoom.Us, you'll see the following menu on the left of the screen. Click on PROFILE, and you'll be able to change a number of details about your account, including the profile picture that will appear in a meeting when you have your video camera turned off. You can also connect your Zoom account to your Google calendar, and many other things from this page. What we're interested in here, though, is your ability to change your Personal Link. Click on Customize, and you can change what follows the the main part of the URL (https://xula.zoom.us/my/). Instead of a randomly generated string, I plugged in my name: jason.s.todd. Your customization can be between 5 and 40 characters, but it can only contain letters (a-z), numbers (0-9) and periods (".").

A screenshot of the profile settings page on Xula.Zoom.Us.
From the profile page of the Xula.Zoom.Us site, you can change a variety of settings that you can't access through Brightspace.

So now I can add this link — just one link — on my Brightspace course. I can start and stop this "meeting" whenever I want, so when it's time for an office hour, I just go into Zoom, click on Personal Meeting Room, and click Start Meeting. I should note that this new URL I've created is just an alias of my real PMR link, that string of random characters. Still, it's a handy way to make it easier for your students to get in touch with you.

Calendar Events

I've also created recurring events in Calendars for each of my courses in Brightspace noting my office hours and providing the link. I've done the same thing with our regular class meetings. This way, when the students look at the Upcoming Events or the Course Schedule on Brightspace, they'll see, in addition to their upcoming deadlines, reminders with links for my office hours. In addition, if the student has installed Brightspace's Pulse app on their smartphone, they will receive notifications about these events.

This is a screenshot of the upcoming events section in Brightspace.
Using Calendar events and Due Dates in Brightspace provides students with clear reminders about what's coming up in your class. For new remote learners, this may have a significant impact on their ability to keep on schedule with your class.

 

This is a guest post from Dr. Renée Akbar.

Dr. Renée Akbar
Dr. Renée Akbar is an associate professor in Educational Leadership at Xavier University of Louisiana, in the Division of Education and Counseling.

When the university was closed for Katrina, many of us continued, online. For the Division of Education and Counseling (DOEC), this is what kept our Division alive. We were forced to connect with and teach the graduate students, who were displaced to every corner of the Unites States. We maintained our graduate program online and not one of us had online teaching experience; so, we improvised. The online platform was suspended when the university returned to campus.

Fast forward to 2016. DOEC faculty designed an online Ed. D. program, but could not fully adopt the “online philosophy” of do-it-yourself learning. Instead, we preferred to stay connected with our students as you do in a face-to-face environment. Sometimes the Ed. D. faculty hold a 3-hour lecture for a class, via Zoom. Sometimes we have virtual discussions where we view and discuss projects or work in small groups. We call this virtual teaching or teaching online. And, that is different than online teaching.

Currently we are all called to virtual teachers. So I am sharing some of my Lessons Learned:

  • Time has to be spent orienting the students to the online format and your style of virtual teaching.
  • Be specific as to where you post what is needed for class on Brightspace.
    Know that the students will actually use Brightspace.
  • Just like a face-to-face lecture, a virtual lecture can also be non-engaging.
  • You can be just as engaging, virtually, as you are face-to-face.
  • Don’t use a large (e.g., three-hour) block just for lecture.
  • To cover a large block of class time (e.g., three-hour), combine different modes of learning available in Brightspace and/or Zoom—Discussion Board; Quizzes; Videos; Breakrooms for small group instruction, to name a few.
  • Expectations should be clear and nonconfusing.

As we prepare to teach remotely, please know that CAT+FD is here for you. We have compiled suggestions, tips, best practices, and resources in one handy place, on our wiki at: catwiki.xula.edu/KeepTeachingXULA

African American female sitting with hands on computer keyboard

If you are teaching a face-to-face class, you may be thinking about how can you put some of your course materials online in a hurry in case of an unplanned event. The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University developed a resource with suggestions on how you can go about putting some of your course content online when you are in a hurry. The resource includes some Brightspace specific examples to give you ideas on how to move some of your course components online.

We have a series of Brightspace workshops planned over the next few weeks. Visit our events page to sign up for an upcoming Brightspace workshop.

Want more information?

Put Contents Online in Case of an Unplanned Event
Check out our Instructional Continuity Wiki
View all the Brightspace training recaps
Brightspace Known Issues
Request a sandbox course
Sign-up for Brightspace training sessions
You can find Brightspace help at D2L's website.
Join the Brightspace Community.
Try these Brightspace How-To documents.
Visit our Brightspace FAQs for additional Brightspace information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

Note: Are you doing something innovative in Brightspace or perhaps you've discovered a handy tip? Share how you are using Brightspace in your teaching and learning in The Orange Room.

Image credit: "wocintech stock - 69" by #WOCinTech Chat licensed under CC BY 2.0

image showing various disasters

Course delivery is vulnerable to unplanned events. Potential interruptions to class activities include but are not limited to natural disasters, widespread illness, acts of violence, planned or unexpected construction-related closures, severe weather conditions, and medical emergencies. Whatever the event, an instructional continuity plan will help you to be ready to continue teaching with minimal interruption.

For those who missed our "Preparing to Teach During an Interruption: Strategies for Maintaining Instructional Continuity" workshop and for those who want to learn more about instructional continuity, you will find a link to the workshop recording, PowerPoint slides, and resources discussed in the workshop here:

It's not too late to consider developing an instructional continuity plan for your courses. Visit our Instructional Continuity wiki for resources to help you develop your plan.

office desktop with My Plan written on notepad

Do you have a plan? If so, we would like to hear about it. If you had a classroom disruption and found a way for students to continue to make progress in your course, we encourage you to share it with your colleagues. Please email a brief description of what you did along with your reflections on how it worked for you, and we will post it to our Instructional Continuity wiki resource.

Image credits:
"The threat of disasters is real" by jflorent is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
"My Plan" by jflorent is dedicated to public domain under CC0 and is a derivative of office by FirmBee on Pixabay.

image showing various disasters

Today's heavy rains and street flooding should be a reminder that course delivery is vulnerable to unplanned events. Potential interruptions to class activities include but are not limited to natural disasters, widespread illness, acts of violence, planned or unexpected construction-related closures, severe weather conditions, and medical emergencies.

Here are a few things you can do in Brightspace to help you prepare should the need arise.

For those who missed our "Preparing to Teach During an Interruption: Strategies for Maintaining Instructional Continuity" workshop and for those who want to learn more about instructional continuity, you will find a link to the workshop recording, PowerPoint slides, and resources discussed in the workshop here:

Want More Information?

View all the Brightspace training recaps
Brightspace Known Issues
Continuous Delivery release notes
Request a sandbox course
Sign-up for Brightspace training sessions
You can find Brightspace help at D2L's website.
Join the Brightspace Community.
Try these Brightspace How-To documents.
Visit our Brightspace FAQs for additional Brightspace information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

Note: Are you doing something innovative in Brightspace or perhaps you've discovered a handy tip? Share how you are using Brightspace in your teaching and learning in The Orange Room.

Image credit: "The threat of disasters is real" by jflorent is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

image showing various disasters

Tropical Storm Gordon should be a reminder that course delivery is vulnerable to unplanned events. Potential interruptions to class activities include but are not limited to natural disasters, widespread illness, acts of violence, planned or unexpected construction-related closures, severe weather conditions, and medical emergencies.

Here are a few things you can do in Brightspace to help you prepare should the need arise.

For those who missed last week's "Preparing to Teach During an Interruption: Strategies for Maintaining Instructional Continuity" workshop and for those who want to learn more about instructional continuity, you will find a link to the workshop recording, PowerPoint slides, and resources discussed in the workshop here:

Want More Information?

View all the Brightspace training recaps
Brightspace Known Issues
Continuous Delivery release notes
Request a sandbox course
Sign-up for Brightspace training sessions
You can find Brightspace help at D2L's website.
Join the Brightspace Community.
Try these Brightspace How-To documents.
Visit our Brightspace FAQs for additional Brightspace information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

Image credit: "The threat of disasters is real" by jflorent is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Thanks to Janice Florent for her annual post on instructional continuity and disaster preparedness.  Since we'll be nearing the height of hurricane season in a couple of weeks, her post is quite timely.  I would also ask that you keep in mind the practice of "transparency" and perhaps consider tweaking some of the instructions for assignments that you may have to post online in case of disaster, especially if you're currently teaching the course face-to-face.

Many Xavier faculty have already been introduced to "transparency" in CAT+ workshops, and several faculty already practice "transparency" as they build their assignments, but perhaps don't associate what they do with this current initiative.  To learn more about TILT (Transparency in Learning and Teaching) please visit the website:  https://www.unlv.edu/provost/teachingandlearning.  For now, I would just like to share the following handout which asks instructors questions about their assignments and the accompanying instructions in order to help make it as clear as possible for the students.  For purposes of transferring your course to an online environment in case of a disaster, this worksheet can help you better explain the assignments to students whose faces you can no longer see in a physical classroom, nor whose questions can be quickly answered for all to hear.  Remember also that students will have additional stress during the disaster, so further clarification of assignments would be most helpful.

DRAFT Checklist for Designing a Transparent Assignment

This checklist as well as examples of transparent assignments may be found at the previously mentioned URL.  Please also feel free to contact CAT+ for additional help and information.

1

image showing various disasters

Course delivery is vulnerable to unplanned events. Potential interruptions to class activities include but are not limited to natural disasters, widespread illness, acts of violence, planned or unexpected construction-related closures, severe weather conditions, and medical emergencies.

Here are a few things you can do in Blackboard to help you prepare should the need arise.

Additionally, you should consider developing an instructional continuity plan to help you to be ready to continue teaching with minimal interruption. More information about instructional continuity plans can be found on our Instructional Continuity web page. There you will find planning guides, resources, and a link to our September 2015 Instructional Continuity workshop presentation.

Want more information?

Get more information about instructional continuity plans.
Sign up for Blackboard workshops or request one-on-one help.
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Visit our Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

Image credit: "The threat of disasters is real" by jflorent is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

image showing various disasters

Course delivery is vulnerable to unplanned events. Potential interruptions to class activities include but are not limited to natural disasters, widespread illness, acts of violence, planned or unexpected construction-related closures, severe weather conditions, and medical emergencies.

Here are a few things you can do in Blackboard to help you prepare should the need arise.

Additionally, you should consider developing an instructional continuity plan to help you to be ready to continue teaching with minimal interruption. More information about instructional continuity plans can be found on our Instructional Continuity web page. There you will find planning guides, resources, and a link to our September 2015 Instructional Continuity workshop presentation.

Want more information?

Get more information about instructional continuity plans.
Sign up for Blackboard workshops or request one-on-one help.
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Visit our Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

Image credit: "The threat of disasters is real" by jflorent is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Having students decide on what type of community action they wish to engage in is a great way to generate that elusive "buy-in." Student-designed community actions instill a sense of ownership in the project for students, and the learning outcomes for the course may become more deeply instilled, more effective, and longer-lasting. But even in the best-designed service-learning courses, the degree of student involvement, of student choice, in the shape and nature of the community action may be limited. Somewhat counterintuitively, as service-learning courses get refined after numerous semesters, the degree of student involvement in the design of the project may decline, the parameters of the action becoming more rigid and prescribed. This phenomenon presents a key conundrum in service-learning: As our courses strengthen over time and our relationships with community partners smooth, students may become more excluded from the thinking and the process that led to the initial design of the course. As each year we as teachers want for students to understand the purpose behind the actions we design, students become further removed from early days of the course, when our passion for causes melded seamlessly with the design of the project as it took shape.
Students coming into a well-honed service-learning course may find an organized and efficient experience, with community partners who are familiar with the purpose of the course and who know exactly how to funnel service-learners into areas of greatest community need. As any of us who have built courses, and particularly have cultivated community relationships from the ground up, know, students in early versions of a course may have felt a great sense of excitement, but community sites may have been scenes of chaos, with partners busy doing good work, and students left feeling confused, under-utilized, or ineffective in contributing toward that work.
Thus, it's important that we as teachers revisit our initial thinking behind a course each time that we teach it. I recall an early teaching experience (not service-learning) as a graduate teaching assistant, working under a brilliant mentor and teacher, in a literature class. My mentor had a keen sense of the purpose in the course, but I did not. And when I asked him one day what it was that he wanted students to take from the readings, he said that that was a question whose answer he hadn't thought about in a long time. Of course he knew the answer, and over the course the answer would become clear to students as well. But the point is, he hadn't thought about the answer at the outset, and thus hadn't elucidated it to either himself or the students. The purpose was there, just as it almost always is there in these courses that we put our hearts and minds into designing. But without active revisitation, the purpose can fade from its place of centrality. And with a successful service-learning course, the relation between the community action and the course content must be present throughout.
While much literature on service-learning is written toward an audience of teachers, administrators, even community groups, there is less written toward an audience of college students on what service-learning means. One excellent text toward this end is by Christine M. Cress (et al), called Learning through Servi

by Jeremy Tuman

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Having students decide on what type of community action they wish to engage in is a great way to generate that elusive "buy-in." Student-designed community actions instill a sense of ownership in the project for students, and the learning outcomes for the course may become more deeply instilled, more effective, and longer-lasting. But even in the best-designed service-learning courses, the degree of student involvement, of student choice, in the shape and nature of the community action may be limited. Somewhat counterintuitively, as service-learning courses get refined after numerous semesters, the degree of student involvement in the design of the project may decline, the parameters of the action becoming more rigid and prescribed. This phenomenon presents a key conundrum in service-learning: As our courses strengthen over time and our relationships with community partners smooth, students may become more excluded from the thinking and the process that led to the initial design of the course. As each year we as teachers want for students to understand the purpose behind the actions we design, students become further removed from early days of the course, when our passion for causes melded seamlessly with the design of the project as it took shape.

Students coming into a well-honed service-learning course may find an organized and efficient experience, with community partners who are familiar with the purpose of the course and who know exactly how to funnel service-learners into areas of greatest community need. As any of us who have built courses, and particularly have cultivated community relationships from the ground up, know, students in early versions of a course may have felt a great sense of excitement, but community sites may have been scenes of chaos, with partners busy doing good work, and students left feeling confused, under-utilized, or ineffective in contributing toward that work.

Thus, it's important that we as teachers revisit our initial thinking behind a course each time that we teach it. I recall an early teaching experience (not service-learning) as a graduate teaching assistant, working under a brilliant mentor and teacher, in a literature class. My mentor had a keen sense of the purpose in the course, but I did not. And when I asked him one day what it was that he wanted students to take from the readings, he said that that was a question whose answer he hadn't thought about in a long time. Of course he knew the answer, and over the course the answer would become clear to students as well. But the point is, he hadn't thought about the answer at the outset, and thus hadn't elucidated it to either himself or the students. The purpose was there, just as it almost always is there in these courses that we put our hearts and minds into designing. But without active revisitation, the purpose can fade from its place of centrality. And with a successful service-learning course, the relation between the community action and the course content must be present throughout.

While much literature on service-learning is written toward an audience of teachers, administrators, even community groups, there is less written toward an audience of college students on what service-learning means. One excellent text toward this end is by Christine M. Cress (et al), called Learning through Serving. I've included a section of this book as a link here. The book speaks plainly to students about key concepts in service-learning including notions of civic responsibility, reciprocity, global citizenship, and how service-learning differs from volunteerism and other forms of community engagement. Assigning this text or one like it at the beginning of a course might prompt us to revisit our thinking behind the design and purpose of the course from all those years ago. And the more of this information that we share with students, the better chance we have of getting that "buy-in" that we so covet and is so crucial to the success of our course. As a teacher of rhetoric and composition, I stress the importance of clear thinking to my students and the reciprocal relationship between clear thinking and clear writing. As a service-learning teacher, my students may benefit from me applying this idea to myself and to the course, and to sharing the results at the outset.