The Coulter Faculty Commons often entertains questions throughout the summer about ideas for fall teaching. Here, we share some of those commonly asked questions and our responses.
Q. Can a shift in the syllabus verbiage encourage a better learning environment?
A. Ken Bain, who conceptualized the term “the promising syllabus,” argues yes, in his book What the Best College Teachers Do. You can find an excerpt – and strategies for incorporating self-determination theory into a course, visual design elements, and more, on the Montclair State University website. You can find his book in the WCU library.
Q. What can I do in the first week of class to keep my students engaged all semester?
A. A professor from the University of New Mexico, Gary Smith, has shared a strategy he used on the first day, after many years of feeling his students were only learning at a surface level.
On the first day of class, he asked his students the following question: “I’d like you to think about your college education and this course in particular. Which of the following is most important to you?
1. Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts)?
2. Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations? or…
3. Developing lifelong learning skills?
He writes about the back-and-forth negotiation – and the wonderful outcome it had on his students and his course – in an article entitled First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom (Smith, 2008). A highly recommended reading!
Q. Am I required to use the WCU syllabus template?
A. The WCU syllabus template has been offered for many years as a single document/place where institutional policies are maintained and updated.
Q. Is there anything new in the WCU syllabus template for fall 2020?
A. Yes, and they have been substantial. Over the past few months, the Coulter Faculty Commons has been steadily making changes to the university syllabus, based on the impacts brought about by COVID. In May, we included a statement about the use of Respondus Lockdown Browser and Lockdown Monitor, including instructions for students to download the software. In June, we provided the university statement on the wearing of masks (this was revised again in August to include faculty processes when students are non-compliant). In August, we also published an update to the Course Recording and Broadcasting sub-section. The two major changes are 1) the need for faculty to obtain student waivers (to adhere to FERPA), 2) the particular need for waivers if faculty intend to use a video for a governed research project (outside normal class use case), and 3) language in a faculty syllabus if they intend to use Lockdown Browser or Lockdown Monitor.
Q. Have there been recent changes to the CFC Syllabus webpage?
A. Yes. In early August, we added a MWF and TR calendar document for faculty to use and distribute to their students. These are for fall 2020. We also added a link to Rice University’s Course Workload Estimator tool, to help faculty allocate hours and minutes to each activity, assignment, or lecture in an assigned week for a course in development (note: this tool is useful at any week in the term, for what lies ahead in a class). Due to the shift in online and remote teaching, we have had a lot of questions about “how much work is too much?” This tool helps you decide.
Q. Do I need to include all the institutional policies in my syllabus?
A. As stated above, if your syllabus includes a statement pointing to the Academic Toolbox, then you do not need to include those statements in your syllabus.
Q. What technology will be available in my classroom?
A. Upgraded Audio Features in Standard Classrooms
The Instructional Technology Team has been hard at work all summer trying to meet as many of the unprecedented needs of this coming fall as possible. The CFC wanted to highlight a few things for faculty who are just returning to the university to teach hybrid courses.
As part of the preparations for hybrid teaching in WCU classrooms, additional audio connectivity was installed to allow for the use of a personal microphone, as well as to assist in the use of common software tools using the classroom audio system.
These enhancements include:
- Expansion of the feed from the existing wireless lapel microphone to feed into audio recordings in Zoom and Panopto.
- A Standard XLR Microphone Connection
- Handheld XLR Microphones that are being distributed to the departments by the Provost’s office
For more information
The Instructional Technology Team and the Help Desk will have technicians available during the first two weeks of classes to troubleshoot issues.
Q. If I choose to record my classes, what responsibilities do I have? Can students record me without my permission?
Students may make visual or audio recordings (Recording) of any class related content, using any approved recording device (e.g., smart phone, computer, digital recorder, etc.) upon the prior permission of the instructor and subject to the following restriction(s). The Recording, along with the video capture of visible course materials (e.g., visible PowerPoint slides and/or visible lecture notes), shall be limited to the student’s personal, course related, educational use and shall be subject to all applicable copyright laws and institutional policies. The student may not transfer, transmit, or otherwise disseminate the Recording to any third party, including classmates, without the permission of the instructor. Any violation of these restrictions, or any other restriction verbally communicated by the instructor, may subject the student to the provisions of the WCU Academic Integrity Policy, the WCU Code of Student Conduct or both.
Meetings of this course may be broadcast and/or recorded. Broadcasting and recording are intended to complement the classroom experience. Instructors may broadcast and/or record courses for pedagogical use, student reference, to meet the accommodation needs of students with a documented disability, or any other reason deemed appropriate by WCU and/or the instructor.
Any recording of class that includes the image or voice of a student, or reference to the student’s name, would be considered FERPA, thus, protected. If faculty intend on making the recording available for future viewing (any viewing that is not live),it will require a waiver by each student. The waivers may be collected by email or as a Canvas discussion board post or assignment with the following statement attached: By sending this email (by replying to this discussion board, by completing this electronic form – any use of WCU official identity verification) and typing my name below I acknowledge I have read and fully understand the terms of the VIDEO CONSENT AND RELEASE FORM FOR CLASS RECORDING and hereby release the University as stated in the Form.
If a student refuses to sign the waiver, then their likeness may not be included in any video made available. In other words, they would need to be excluded from video and not allowed to ask questions. If this happens faculty would be able to grade consistent with syllabi. In other words, the faculty member has the right to penalize the student by lowering their grade for not participating. The faculty member is also free to create alternative assignments at his or her discretion.
Course recordings will be available to students registered for the course pursuant to applicable university policy and instructor preference. All broadcasts and recordings are limited to personal, course related, educational use and may not be transmitted, transferred, distributed, sold, or posted on social media outlets without the written permission of the instructor. Unauthorized transmission, transfer, distribution, sale or posting of the broadcast and/or recording for any purpose other than the student’s personal, course related, educational use is not permitted. Students are expected to follow appropriate university policies and maintain the security of passwords used to access recorded materials.
If the Lockdown Browser and Monitor are being used, it is necessary that the instructor have both a syllabus statement and a waiver on file.
Any course recordings for purposes beyond the normal conduct of a course (promotional videos, videos related to a governed research project, etc.) will require an additional waiver and appropriate approval (such as IRB approval).
University Policy 122
For a more detailed version of when a waiver might be needed see:
Policy Considerations of Classroom Technology Use
Q. What are the supported synchronous streaming platforms?
Zoom. There is limited support for Microsoft Teams, but it is not recommended for virtual course meetings beyond small groups at this time.
For more information see the Guidelines for Technology Use at WCU
Q. I’ve heard that the CFC isn’t recommending synchronous meetings with students physically present and at a distance? Why is that?
Research and experience guide us to note that trying to hold class with a small group while trying to moderate interaction with students at a distance will lead to an inferior experience for everyone, including the instructor. There are advantages and disadvantages to using synchronous and asynchronous activities in online and hybrid learning; in most cases, asynchronous activities provide the best experiences for students. In our testing scenarios, attempts at synchronous activities using Zoom or Collaborate resulted in less-than-desired experiences, and were not comparable to using Zoom in a private meeting space.
We must recognize that mixing one group with synchronous digital technologies and one group with live synchronous meeting will increase both instructor and student difficulty (i.e., just turning on Zoom for the half of the class who isn’t physically in the classroom).
Consider whether your arrangements and the limitations of the technologies are equitable for all students.Particularly consider whether your activities are appropriate given the computer requirements for students in the university and in your department. Consider the student experience, including their access (or lack thereof) to sufficient broadband speeds.
Student needs are changing during this move to offering alternative modes of instruction. Faculty who want to find out what challenges students are facing can utilize a new web form created in Office365.
The form can be modified by faculty prior to sending out. The survey should take students 5 minutes to complete, and asks for the following types of information:
- whether students expect to have reliable Internet access
- times of day students expect to do online work
- preferences for asynchronous or synchronous activity
- accessibility requests (content in different formats, for example)
- basic psychological and physiological needs
The survey form is available below. Note the options for modifying the survey questions, collecting data, and sending out the link (the Settings icon can be found top-right of your screen, to the right of the Share button).
Open the Form
A heartfelt thank you to our colleague Dr. Mae Claxton, Professor of English, for reaching out to the CFC with this idea.
• Carefully consider your objectives for a discussion. Do you want students to apply newly learned skills, mull over new subject matter, learn to analyze arguments critically, practice synthesizing conflicting views, or relate material to their own lives? These goals are not mutually exclusive, but they require different types of direction.
• Use discussion to help students link concepts to their own lives; to encourage students to evaluate material critically; and to address topics that are open-ended, have no clear resolution, and/or can be effectively addressed through multiple approaches.
SETTING THE AGENDA
• Share your planning decisions with your students. Let them know what your focus is, and why it is important; also invite students to contribute suggestions for discussion topics and formats.
• Make sure the assigned material is discussed in class; if the students don’t come prepared with questions and responses, do not let the discussion wander. Bringing in specific quotes, problems, or other samples of the assigned material can ensure that even under-prepared students will have something to talk about.
• Consider asking students to email or post to a discussion board their thoughts. This will also give you insight into the students’ thoughts while you plan the discussion.
FACILITATE, DON’T DOMINATE
• Use open-ended questions and ask students for clarification, examples, and definitions.
• Summarize student responses without taking a stand one way or another.
• Invite students to address one another and not always “go through” you.
• Pause to give students time to reflect on your summaries or others’ comments.
• Consider taking notes of main points on a whiteboard or document camera.
• Toward the end of the discussion, review the main ideas, the thread of the discussion, and conclusions.
CREATING A GOOD CLIMATE FOR DISCUSSION
• Arrange the room to maximize student- to-student eye contact; e.g., chairs around a table or in a circle.
• When students ask questions, realize you (the instructor) do not have to provide the answer.
• Notice who did and who did not participate.
• Check the tone of the discussion—was it stimulating and respectful?
• Ask students about their reactions to the discussion session.
For more information on this topic, please contact the Coulter Faculty Commons Educational Development Team at 227-7196.
“Scaling up Courses”
Has your class size grown? It seems like just a few more students should not matter but often it does. Our Profhacker friends at the Chronicle of Higher Education offer some recommendations for how to adjust when your class gets “scaled up”.
- Eliminate assignments that have a low return investment
- It’s more beneficial to provide meaningful feedback on fewer, necessary assignments
- If some assignments are indisposable, they can be switched to participation grades
- Consider peer-review for assessment of early stage assignments where and when possible
- While detailed feedback for the students is ideal, it can consume time that could be spent on giving vital feedback on large assignments
- Course management tools can also be beneficial in addition to providing in-class time for peer review
- Examine the benefits of individual versus group projects
- The decision between the two is significant, but individual projects can be more time-consuming to grade and give feedback
- Group projects also present their own set of issues such as uneven contribution and participation and missing group members
- Anticipate questions and provide supplementary materials
- A challenging aspect of having a large class size is the continual routine of answering constant emails with questions from students
- Take questions at the end of the class
- Possibly provide a FAQ portion on the syllabus or for each assignment
- Streamline grading and rubrics where appropriate
- Pre-written comments for general problems that students run into saves time and energy
- This leaves more time for comments and feedback on the crucial and unique parts of students’ work and for future improvements they can make