Lessons Learned: Back to School in the Time of COVID-19

Author – Lisa Bloom is the Jay M. Robinson Distinguished Professor at Western Carolina University where she has been a member of the faculty since 1989. Her current research interests include using technology to personalize learning environments and to promote creative and critical thinking, problem-based learning, culturally responsive teaching, and the social and emotional well-being of children. She is the author of Classroom Management: Creating Positive Outcomes for All Students published by Pearson, as well as numerous journal articles related to her research interests. She teaches both online and face to face courses in instructional technology, classroom management, and creative and critical thinking.

Navigating Engagement for Online Meetings

I’ve learned through the COVID crisis that I have amazing colleagues at WCU who don’t let a pandemic keep them from prioritizing student learning. Even so, the pandemic has brought some challenges to our instruction. Moving typically face-to-face classes to online and hybrid formats and navigating remote class meetings hasn’t been easy. In August, I sent a survey asking faculty to share their creative ideas and solutions for pandemic instruction as well as their questions and concerns. In addition, a small group of faculty has been meeting weekly to problem solve and share ideas. I want to share a snippet of the strategies that have emerged and invite your input where challenges remain.


Strategies for Negotiating Zoom

Zoom’s Breakout rooms have been a source of frustration for many because of the difficulty with pre-assigning groups. If there’s no need to strategize team membership, the automatic group assignment randomly put students into breakout rooms. However, for pre-assigned groups, if students use the Zoom link, the assignments will disappear.

Some of us became accustomed to sending students links for our zoom rooms. For pre-assignments to function students must log into Zoom with their WCU Zoom account and the meeting id instead of entering through the link for the professor’s Zoom meeting

As an alternative, Dr. Adrienne Stuckey came up with a creative solution. She has students change their user name to start with the letter she assigned based on the breakout room she wants them in. Think Aardvark Nan or Bobcat Derek. In this way, she can arrange students in strategic groupings by quickly transferring all the students that start with A to the A room, B to the B room, and so forth. Providing students with a set of easy to follow directions for changing a Zoom name allows this method of breakout room assignment to work efficiently.

Personally, I’ve found it difficult to monitor a large group of students on Zoom. Faculty have debated whether it is best to ask students to have cameras on or off during Zoom meetings. There are pros and cons to each side. Perhaps if delivering a lecture, cameras off is sufficient. But for active discussion, I found that cameras on as optional added an intolerable level of discomfort. Students were less likely to ask questions and add to the discussion. Hence, I ensured students had a quiet place on campus to access Zoom during our meeting time. I learned that not only were there conducive spots on campus, but a room had also been set aside at my class time for students to access Zoom. With this information, I then asked students to go to one of those locations on campus or an appropriate place in their own apartments and dorms to be ready to have cameras on. What an improvement!

In addition to my new cameras on policy, I asked students to sign up for roles, including class manager and note taker. The manager keeps time, monitors the zoom text chat for questions and comments, and watches for students raising their hands. Hence, I can devote full attention to the discussion and learning activities without the added stress of monitoring the screen. Similarly, a note-taker who uses a shared document to make notes of important points that arise during class discussions allows students to more fully engage rather than diverting attention to their notebooks. Roles rotate so that all students take their turn at each.


Dynamic Instructional Videos

Dr. Candy Noltensmeyer makes instructional videos using her smartphone, laptop connected to her TV, and a circular light. She displays a PowerPoint on the TV screen. The circular light aids with lighting and visibility. The PowerPoint then becomes her backdrop as she uses her smartphone to video herself narrating the PowerPoint. She keeps the narration informal and lively. She loads her instructional videos directly to her You-tube channel for easy student access.

Dr. Niall Michelson uses Numerade. This free online education platform provides access to a wide range of previously recorded lessons and a platform to create videos on any topic.

The tool provides the ability to track student engagement and offer lesson recaps.


Other Tools

Instructors are finding useful tech tools and apps for supplementing and facilitating remote learning. Dr. Kristy Doss uses Microsoft Teams for her students to collaborate on class assignments. She says that Teams “Provides a platform for easy and quick communication, a collaborative place to express opinions and explore ideas that are a tad easier to access and navigate than the Blackboard discussion forums.”

Other tools and strategies for student access and engagement in course content mentioned in the survey include lockbox activities, Zoom jigsaw, case studies, online simulations, home lab kits, home art kits, mini-lecture videos, and mini-quizzes.


Flipped Classrooms

For hybrid classes, many faculty such as Dr. Pam Buskey are using the flipped classroom concept where students access and learn content prior to class. Face-to-face time is then used for clarification and discussion. An anonymous survey respondent said, “I have split 3 of my courses into cohorts of 7-8 students, and my 4th course in half. Despite social distancing guidelines, I don’t believe that my classrooms can safely hold 25 students at a time. I will be performing a flipped classroom model, in which my students learn at home asynchronously and come to class to discuss their process, engage in peer feedback, get one-on-one instruction from me, and otherwise engage in an in-person community. Away from class, students will utilize Microsoft Teams for ongoing discussion and peer support.”


Concerns and Lingering Questions

Amongst faculty concerns are students who disengage and do not complete home assignments, keeping ourselves from being overwhelmed, the difficulty of demonstrating clinical skills online, too much screen time for students and faculty, dealing with students who fall ill, and the uncertainty of what spring term will bring.

One of the survey respondents reminds us of the need to take care of our own emotional well-being. Yoga and other exercise options can certainly help. Equally as important to ensure that we all flourish during these difficult times are the camaraderie, and support that comes from engaging with our colleagues. No one has all the answers, yet there are many untapped possibilities and innovative solutions that we can share.

If you are interested in sharing your ideas, solutions, or seeking support or solutions for your concerns, please join the Teaching Innovation Group on Microsoft Teams at https://teams.microsoft.com/l/team/19%3a36a11d49a475436dac08dbbcbc09d05c%40thread.skype/conversations?groupId=4e777b88-66fa-4d31-b002-b9118b09e714&tenantId=c5b35b5a-16d5-4414-8ee1-7bde70543f1b. If you are interested in attending meetings of the Teaching Innovation Group contact Lisa Bloom at Bloom@wcu.edu. I invite you to join one or both options.

Faculty Can Register for Video-Conference Mid-Semester Course Analysis

Videoconference with laptop

Coulter Faculty Commons facilitating a mid-semester course analysis with students.

Faculty may now schedule Coulter Faculty Commons staff for a mid-semester course analysis for a fall course.

The Quick Course Diagnosis (QCD) takes about 20 minutes and helps faculty better understand challenges their students are facing with content, pacing, performance, and student behavior.

All fall 2020 QCDs will be conducted during a regularly scheduled class time which occurs in any video-conferencing software (Bb Collaborate, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom) during the weeks of September 21 – 25, and September 28 – October 3.

For the fall 2020 term, we have capacity to visit 12 classes, and scheduling is first-come, first-serve.

Faculty may schedule through a Qualtrics link.

The process generates student insights about the course, teacher, and student behavior, ranging from observations about testing, reading load, clarity of assignments, accessibility of the professor, and even systematic issues that go beyond the individual classroom. It is no surprise that students usually know more than they let on and are very happy for the chance to contribute to the value of their learning experience. Often their reports align with hunches the professor already had, but now there is real data to work with and the CFC can partner with the faculty to develop creative solutions to learning challenges that are now clearly defined.

This year, the Coulter Faculty Commons developed a video that explains the process more fully; it can shared with students ahead of time prior to the virtual class visit, so students understand what is expected.

To Learn More:
Text-based information about the QCD
Video for sharing with students prior to virtual course visit

To Schedule (first-come, first-serve):
Register for the QCD

Dr. Eli Collins-Brown
Dr. Terry Pollard
Mr. John Hawes
Coulter Faculty Commons

 

 

Strategies and Tools for Fall Class Planning

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. You may also point to students to the Academic Toolbox, where academic resources, technical resources, and campus resources are maintained and linked to. Find the link in the left navigation menu of any Blackboard course.

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, Panopto, and Blackboard Collaborate.
  • 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 Blackboard 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?

Blackboard Collaborate and 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Prepping for Finals Workshops This Week

Image show an open notebook and books, pen and paper

We still have a few more workshops available this week!

The end of the semester is quickly approaching and to help you prepare your final assessments for the online environment, we are offering research-based best practices segmented into four workshops. WCU does not have an online proctoring solution and, because of technology challenges and privacy concerns for students, the LMS Governance Committee, whose members include experienced online faculty, have voted not to adopt any online proctoring solution, including not requiring students to use Zoom or Panopto to video themselves while taking an exam (1).  These workshops, which will be recorded, will be accessed from within the Blackboard Learn for Instructors course (2) in which all instructors are already enrolled. No need to sign up, just show up!

Additionally, the Educational Development Team is open for group or individual consultations to partner with you to complete this work.  Go to https://affiliate.wcu.edu/cfc/partners-in-pedagogy/ to schedule with us!

Writing Better Exam Questions

The key to reducing cheating in online exams is to write exam questions that require knowledge application rather than knowledge recall. In this workshop, we will go through the basic steps of taking your existing exam questions and writing better questions.

At the conclusion of this workshop, you will be able to:

  • Identify question stems
  • Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to write higher-order thinking questions
  • Write questions that require application of knowledge instead of recall

Session Schedule:

  • Monday, April 20, 10 am
  • Tuesday, April 21, 2 pm
  • Wednesday, April 23, 1:30 pm
  • Thursday, April 24, 10:00 am

Designing Alternative Assessments

Faculty looking for alternatives to deploying a final Blackboard test will benefit from this interactive workshop. We will explore strategies for connecting prior student work to a final assessment, including the use of reflection-based narratives, photography, infographics, and student presentations. We will examine various technological tools with an eye towards those that are expedient and efficient for faculty use, including considerations for grading and student feedback. Faculty will be asked to share their ideas for their final assessment with peers.

At the conclusion of this workshop, you will be able to:

  • determine an alternative assessment strategy for your final exam
  • select a tool which is expedient and efficient for grading
  • identify various methods for providing student feedback

Session Schedule:

  • Wednesday, April 22, 10 am
  • Thursday, April 23, 1 pm
  • Friday, April 24, 1 pm

 

Creating and Using Rubrics for Faster, More Consistent Grading

Multiple choice tests are popular assessment techniques because they are simple to develop, quick to deploy, and easy to grade. Using alternate assessment techniques are marginally more challenging to develop and deploy but place a considerably greater demand on an instructor’s time to grade. Well-constructed rubrics can save an instructor a significant amount of time and still provide the students with meaningful feedback.

At the end of this workshop you will be able to:

  • Develop rubrics that measure the student learning outcomes of an assessment
  • Associate rubrics to assessments in Blackboard
  • Use rubrics in the Blackboard Grade Center to grade assessments

Sessions:

Friday, April 24, 10 am

 


(1) – LMS Governance Committee decision regarding online proctoring – can be accessed from within the Blackboard Learn for Instructors course.

(2) – Go to wcu.edu > QuickLinks > Blackboard or go directly to https://wcu.blackboard.com/ to log in.

Image – https://collegeinfogeek.com/open-book-exam/

 

COVID-related Modifications to Honors Contracts now in progress and a Reminder about End of Semester Honors Attribution

From the Honors College

Students with Honors Contracts in progress this semester may need to make changes to those plans when warranted by the transition to online classes and/or social distancing or travel restrictions and/or a change to S/U grading option.  The Honors College has been instructing students in this kind of situation to reach out to their faculty member first to start a conversation about the needed modifications and to reset expectations.  Students with needed modifications to their projects have been asked to email the Honors College at honors@wcu.edu with a summary of the agreed upon modifications and to copy (cc) that email to their faculty member.  Faculty members are asked to reach out to students who may be in this situation, if they haven’t yet heard from the student.  Early intervention in this case will help to stave off issues at the end of the semester.  For students who do not need any modifications to their Honors Contracts, no action is needed.

 

Success with an Honors Contract project will continue to be assigned Honors attribution by the faculty member at the time when Final Grades are submitted.  For students with approved Honors Contracts in progress, a special drop-down box appears next to the student’s final grade box for the course in the Final Grades window.  If a student has not been successful in earning Honors attribution, the faculty member can likewise select that option in the Final Grades window.  Faculty cannot assign a grade of Incomplete only to the Honors Contract.  If a faculty member needs to assign an Incomplete, that Incomplete is assigned to the course and then both the grade and honors attribution are assigned when complete.

The link below, to the Registrar’s website (click > Web Grading > Final Grades Reporting), shows the Final Grades screen with Honors Contract options.

https://www.wcu.edu/learn/academic-services/registrars-office/information-for-faculty-and-staff.aspx

The Honors College Office is functioning currently in a fully online mode.  Faculty with questions about Honors Contracts are encouraged to email us at honors@wcu.edu.

 

CFC Open Sessions for Online Design and Blackboard

Open Neon Sigh

Open Help Sessions for All Instructors

The CFC is hosting additional open sessions for all instructors to learn how to effectively facilitate online learning and engage students using Blackboard and its general suite of tools. We will be offering these sessions through the following video-conferencing link:

https://us.bbcollab.com/guest/da120265dc4b4471a96d1bbd8b388946

Dates and times are as follows:

Monday, March 23 – March 25
1:30 – 3:00 p.m.

 

Blackboard Logo