Communicate with students
Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether a planned absence or because of a crisis on campus. Let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures and broader course expectations. 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.
- Explore NC State’s tools for communicating with students. Use the tools and resources currently supported by the university and students are already familiar with.
- 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. Consider creating an information page or forum in Moodle, and then encourage students to check it 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:
- Choose the best delivery method based on what you’re sharing and how you want it used. Explore NC State’s tools for distributing course materials here.
- Let 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 Libraries’ Course Reserves system, in which library staff make content available upon request in accessible formats. The Google Suite tools are yet another option.
- Keep things mobile-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 reliable Internet access during a crisis. Providing transcripts of video content increases accessibility, and can be useful to all students as study aids.
- Make materials accessible. Use the tools listed here to help you create universally accessible course materials. Accessibility features like captions, transcripts, and well-formatted documents can be helpful for all students regardless of disability status, and making materials accessible from the start reduces the number of last minute accommodations you might have to make in the future.
If you are unable to deliver your lectures on campus, take them online and teach synchronously in Zoom, or record them and provide your students with links to the recordings.
For synchronous lectures delivered in Zoom, keep the following principles in mind:
- Use Zoom’s interactive capabilities (chat, whiteboards, polls and breakout rooms) to increase student engagement.
- Lecture for no more than 10-15 minutes between opportunities for interactions.
- Record your lectures for students to watch at a later time. Recording lectures to the Cloud provides auto-generated transcripts.
- Learn more about Zoom meetings on the Tools and Resources page.
To record lectures for only asynchronous delivery, use Panopto.
- Consider segmenting your recorded lecture into 10-15 minute sections, with one or two topics only per video. Shorter lectures are easier to engage with all the way through.
- Learn more about Panopto on the Tools and 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:
- 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 the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) and Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency. See more tools and examples on the Tools and Resources page.
- Provide lab video and raw data for analysis. Video or livestream yourself (or a colleague/TA) doing an experiment, and send the video and resulting data to your students for the students to use to write lab reports.
- 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.
- Consider your learning outcomes. 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. Design questions specific to the learning outcomes that students should gain from the modified lab activity (e.g. data analysis, troubleshooting and problem solving).
- Read about other strategies in these useful articles: “How to Quickly and Safely Move a Lab Online“ (Chronicle of Higher Education); and “How to Rethink Science Lab Classes“ (Inside Higher Ed).
Foster communication and collaboration among students
Fostering communication among students supports any collaboration you build into your course, and maintains a sense of community to keep students motivated. Having student-to-student online activities (for example, Moodle discussion forums) in place to begin with is helpful 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 and internet connectivity/bandwidth 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.
- 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?
- Make forum activities meaningful. If your forum prompt is likely to generate the same answer from all students in the class, that knowledge check would be better in a quiz. Richer forum discussions can be generated by setting up debates, asking students to contribute their own real-world experiences, or otherwise having them bring different perspectives to the discussion.
- 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 students to analyze their own participation via strategies such as 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.
- Learn more. Find tools and resources here, and read the articles “Tips for Engaging your Students from DELTA Instructional Designers” and “Building CommUNITY through Peer Engagement Online” for more ideas.
Collecting assignments during a disruption is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. Whatever you decide, student access should be the most important consideration. 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. Learn about other tools for collecting assignments on the tools and resources page.
- 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 as demands on students increase outside of the classroom during a crisis.
- 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 your plan to proctor an exam on campus is dashed, you could shift your schedule to push an exam later in the term or divide the exam into several (lower-stakes) quizzes that can be given online. You can also investigate alternative approaches, keeping these core principles in mind:
- Authenticity: What are the most important skills or knowledge that students should have at the end of my course?
- Meaningfulness: Can I create an assessment that asks students to apply their knowledge in deep ways and becomes a learning experience in itself?
- Practicality: What kinds of assessments are practical given any time or technological limitations that I and my students are facing?
With that in mind, here are a few ways to assess student learning that are not monitored exams:
- Open book exams
- Papers, projects or digital posters
- Presentations (live or recorded) via Zoom
- Oral exams via Zoom (or even via phone)
- More frequent, lower-stakes quizzes
- Annotated bibliographies
- Reflective portfolios of students’ work throughout the course
You may even present students with options and allow them to pick which one they would like to do. For students facing technical or time-related problems, this may spare them the anxiety of asking for special accommodations.
If a disruption occurs mid-semester, consider whether you already have enough graded assignments such that further grades may be unnecessary. You could then give students the option to stick with the grade they have or complete optional assignments to raise their grade. This does not mean that you stop teaching, only that you may not give a graded final assessment.
For unmonitored exams, security options are available in Moodle to help ensure their integrity. Options include limiting time, randomizing questions, and using question sets so each student receives a unique test. The Moodle Quiz module supports many different question types. Allow time to research different question types and determine how best to configure your exam.
If a monitored exam is the only feasible option to assess student learning in your course, investigate the services and software available through DELTA Testing Services.
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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