As we start this semester, you may find yourself shifting to remote teaching due to the surge of the COVID-19 omicron variant. In an Intentional College Teaching blog post, Dr. Bridget Arend suggests that if you are shifting to remote teaching, it is beneficial to do thoughtful planning about how to use the first few remote/online weeks and sessions intentionally. She provided some tips for educators who are starting the semester teaching remotely. Consider your goals for the first few days/weeks of class. What is important? What additional aspects may be necessary due to the current circumstances? Use the answers to these questions to focus your efforts.
Dr. Arend shared the following ideas for starting the semester remotely:
Build Community – It is important to build a community of learners in your course.
Set Participation/Guideline Norms – The added challenge of a new course format, new technologies, and continually changing policies, makes this aspect more necessary.
Get Students Excited About the Content – Perhaps you can front-load some of the more engaging or exciting aspects of the content during these first remote weeks.
Be Mindful About Logistics – As you develop your first weeks, keep in mind how things will change with a shift back to an on-campus or hybrid format.
Address Your Pedagogical Challenge – Each course has something about it that makes it challenging to teach that subject to the students in that course. Address this challenge head-on from day one, no matter what the format.
Take Care of Yourself – Set realistic boundaries for yourself and share these with students. Let students know you genuinely care about them and their learning, but you also need to take care of your own family, health, etc.
Thanks to those of you who attended last week's workshop on how to be effective and inclusive in mixed-mode teaching. For those who were unable to attend, we hope this video recording of the workshop will be helpful.
A common question in online learning is “How do we keep students from cheating in online exams?” A shift from traditional means of assessment (quizzes, tests, exams) to authentic and alternative assessments is critical in virtual settings.
If faculty try to assess their students the same way they did in a face-to-face setting, they will most likely find themselves frustrated, as well as frustrating their students.
In a recent Faculty Focus article, Laura McLaughlin, EdD, and Joanne Ricevuto, EdD, provided some recommendations to improve the use of assessments in virtual environments and decrease concerns regarding cheating. Their recommendations are:
Allow choice in assessments: Let students decide how they will demonstrate their learning.
Authentic and stackable assessments: Students should be told why they are assigned a particular assessment, and why it is relevant to their learning.
Trust students: Provide alternative assessments (not quizzes and tests) where the concern of cheating is off the table.
Frequent feedback and communication: Provide feedback that helps learners improve their learning.
Teaching in a virtual environment creates an opportunity to rethink your practices, try something new, and embrace deeper and more engaging ways of assessing students without using lockdown browsers or worrying about students cheating.
Did you miss our (Re)Thinking Exams workshop? If you want to learn about ways you can challenge your students to demonstrate what they've learned while teaching in an online environment, watch this (Re)Thinking Exams workshop recording. In this workshop, Dr. Elizabeth Yost Hammer and Dr. Jay Todd discussed and demonstrated ways that focused active learning activities can be used in place of more traditional methods of assessment like quizzes and tests.
The sudden shift to remote learning has led to concerns about new opportunities for students to engage in unauthorized shortcuts. Last spring, three academic integrity and STEM professionals from the University of Maryland Global Campus, a primarily online institution, shared research on academic integrity in online courses, strategies for promoting integrity in remote learning environments, and examples of how content learning is achieved in any setting designed for online education. ICYMI, here's a link to the Proactive Approaches for Academic Integrity in Remote and Online Learning workshop recording.
A lot of faculty at Xavier have found, when they are teaching multiple sections of the same class, that it is helpful to merge those sections on Brightspace. Janice recently posted about the process to get your courses merged, so I won't go into those details. Instead, this post is going to consider the rather unique challenge many of our faculty will face this fall: teaching one section online and one in person.
Anyone who has spoken with me in the past month knows that I am not a fan of synchronous remote teaching. Beyond the basic belief that teaching in the classroom and teaching online are two radically different pedagogies (in other words, A ≠ B (in other words, "You can't fit a square peg into a round hole")), there is the greater problem of imposed pedagogy -- requiring faculty to teach in a specific way rather than empowering them to teach in the way they think best. Moreover, the use of Zoom and other teleconferencing systems as a means of achieving that required synchrony have raised other concerns, such as the unfortunately named zoombombing, wherein bad actors disrupt the virtual classroom, often with hate speech, and the as yet unnamed problem of invading our students privacy.
Despite all that, I have done my best to follow the expectation to meet online with my classes according to the original class schedule, and to be honest, many of those meetings have not gone well, in part because getting students to engage in a large-group synchronous discussion online is even more difficult than getting them to do so in person. I find they are more willing to do small group discussions, using Zoom's Breakout Rooms function (here's a quick tutorial on setting up Breakout Rooms), but I have learned over the years that while consistency in teaching is good, redundancy in teaching is not good. So, I've been trying to find ways to run my classes that give them work that both challenges them but that keeps them connected to the actual class.
One of the classes I'm teaching this semester is called Dystopias, Real & Imagined (I think I deserve some kind of award for that level of prescience, to be honest), so for the past six weeks, I've been able to do a lot more just-in-time teaching than I had anticipated. Last weekend, I came across a video interview with Edward Snowden talking about the risks to civil liberties that come with the COVID-19 pandemic. Under normal circumstances, I would have posted the link to Brightspace and told the students to watch it on their own before Thursday's class, since under those normal circumstances, I don't like using class time to deliver content. Given our current circumstances, I thought about using Zoom's screen sharing function to watch the video together during class, but I've seen other people try this, and the video usually ends up being unwatchable (choppy audio and such).
So I did what I often find myself doing and borrowed an idea from my wife, who teaches high school English. Since going remote at her school, she has been using EdPuzzle, a site that lets you create assignments by embedding videos and inserting questions and commentary at specific points during the video. While this can be used to simply test understanding/attention (by asking a simple multiple choice question about something that was just said in the video), they can also be used to encourage/demonstrate critical thinking and to prepare students for a post-video discussion.
At one point in the video, Snowden starts to talk about the expanded surveillance powers the federal government gave itself after 9/11. Before he does so, I inserted a multiple choice question that asked students when they thought those emergency powers were retracted. After they answered the question, the video resumed, and Snowden gave them the correct answer. (Take a look at the screen shot below for the answer.)
At another point, Snowden explains how our cellphones are being used to analyze social distancing at the local level. Here I paused the video and gave the students a more complex task by asking them to use Unacast's Social Distancing Scoreboard, a site that uses the data Snowden discusses in the video, to look up the county in which they are currently living. Although the text box seems small, it expands with whatever the students type. A few of my students wrote short essays on why they think their home counties are getting such bad grades for social distancing.
One of the best functions of EdPuzzle is that you can prevent students from skipping ahead or even going backwards, so in order to answer these questions, they had to watch the entire 22-minute video. While this is a useful way to monitor student engagement, it's also, I think a way to make the task more transparent -- the system makes it impossible for the student to misunderstand what is being asked of them. Moreover, EdPuzzle tracks everything they do with the video -- when they started it, how much of it they watched. For the MC questions, EdPuzzle will automatically grade them; whereas for the open-ended questions, I went through after class and read each one and awarded the points.
To be honest, I was hesitant to use this. The interface for EdPuzzle is clearly designed for grade school teachers, as are many of the settings (EdPuzzle integrates very well with Google Classroom, but not at all with Brightspace). Also, sometimes my students get frustrated with my attempts to trick them into learning more actively. Two things convinced me I was wrong to worry though. First, about a third of my students, without any prompting, told me how much they enjoyed this activity.
this is a really cool activity
Second, once everyone was done with the video (after probably about 40 minutes, since some wrote really long answers), we had the best discussion we've had since going remote. Both these things really moved me. I don't know about you, but this past week, the students have really seemed to sink deeper into the malaise they've been in since going remote. They've been a lot less engaged, so it was great to see that must natural positivity coming through the screen.