We’ve provided strategies below for several course tasks, including:
- Communicate with students
- Distribute course materials and readings
- Deliver lectures
- Run lab activities
- Foster communication and collaboration among students
- Collect assignments
- Assess student learning
Communicate with students
Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of a crisis impacting all or part of campus. Let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions. Keep these principles in mind:
- Communicate early and often. Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren’t in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Avoid swamping them with email, but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand (for example, the campus closure is extended for two more days; what will students need to know related to your course?)
- Set expectations. Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response. There are many technologies at NC State that help you communicate with your students, such as Moodle (our learning management system) and WolfWare Google Groups. Learn more about your options on the Resources page.
- Manage your communications load. You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating an information page in Moodle, and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.
Distribute course materials and readings
You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving. Considerations when posting new course materials:
- Make sure students know when new material is posted. If you post new materials in Moodle, be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You can also distribute course content using the Course Reserves system and library support is available for scanning and posting content in accessible formats.
- Keep things phone-friendly. In a crisis, many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats, PDFs being the most common. Consider saving other files (for example, PowerPoint presentations) to PDFs, which are easier to read on phones and tablets, and keep the file size small. It is fairly easy to reduce the size of PDF files using Adobe Acrobat, and there are online tools that do the same thing (for example, search Google for “PDF file size”). Videos can take a lot of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them during a crisis.
If you cannot deliver your lectures in class, you can take them online. Lectures can be delivered using Zoom, NC State’s web conferencing solution. You can involve students during your online lectures through two-way video, audio and chat. You can also record your lectures for absent students to watch at a later time and provide auto-generated transcripts. Join a test meeting to experience Zoom.
Alternatively, you can record your lectures on your computer using desktop capture software called My Mediasite. There are several options for recording: your voice, with or without a webcam; your computer screen (which could be limited to a PowerPoint presentation, other software programs, or content from a web browser); or even content from additional cameras (such as a document camera). After you stop recording, you can make minor edits (to start and stop points.) Learn more about My Mediasite on the Resources page.
Run lab activities
One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space. Here are some considerations as you plan to address lab activities:
- Take part of the lab online. Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work), and save the physical practice parts of the labs until access is restored. The semester might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
- Investigate virtual labs. Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
- Provide raw data for analysis. In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
- Explore alternate software access. Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. Depending on the nature of the closure (for example, a building versus the entire campus), the Office of Information Technology (OIT) may be able to help set up alternate computer labs that have the software your students need.
- Increase interaction in other ways. Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.
Foster communication and collaboration among students
Fostering communication among students is important because it allows you to reproduce any collaboration you build into your course, and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some sort of student-to-student online activity (for example, Moodle discussion forums) since students will be more comfortable with both the process and the tool. Consider these suggestions when planning activities:
- Use asynchronous tools when possible. Having students participate in a web conference can be very useful, but scheduling can be a problem. In such cases, using asynchronous tools like Moodle discussion forums and Google docs allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
- Link to clear goals and outcomes. Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments?
- Build in simple accountability. Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
- Balance newness and need. As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require on everyone else’s part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.
Collecting assignments during a campus closure is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Require only common software. Students may not have access to specialty software located in on-campus computer labs. Some of that software may be available via the Virtual Computer Lab, but unless the students have permissions to load software onto a computer they can access, they may be unable to use these tools. Be ready with a backup plan for such students.
- Avoid emailed attachments. It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using the Moodle Assignments tool to collect assignments instead.
- State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions. In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
- Require specific filenames. It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.
Assess student learning
If students are unable to come to campus for a seated exam, or if you are ill and cannot administer one, alternative approaches will be necessary. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Look at non-exam options. Consider whether you could assess student learning outcomes for your course without an exam. For example, by using a paper or a cumulative project.
- Look at alternate exam formats. For small classes, you might consider conducting oral exams in Zoom or have students deliver presentations online to demonstrate their learning.
- Moodle provides online exam options. If a traditional exam is the only option, DELTA supports online exams in Moodle. The Moodle Quiz module supports many, but not all, question types. Allow time to research different question types and determine how best to configure your exam in Moodle before the continuity plan needs to be implemented. There are many security options available in Moodle to help ensure the integrity of your exams, such as limiting time, randomizing questions, and using question sets so each student receives a unique test.
Test your plan
Be sure to test your plan. For example, if you plan to hold online lectures using Zoom, make sure you can initiate a meeting from your home and that you have the proper equipment (microphone, webcam.) Prior to trying out new strategies in your class, consider doing a trial run with a colleague or with support staff in DELTA or OFD.
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