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Best Practices

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Best Practices

Assess and plan

To move parts of a course online, first consider your facility with the relevant instructional technologies, the structure of your course, the particular needs of your students, the requirements of your material or your discipline, the assignments and assessments typically used in the course, and the limitations caused by timelines and scalability. Above all, because you are working with unexpected limitations, we advise you to observe (and encourage your students to observe) reasonable expectations for success.

Communicate with students

Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es) — whether a viral outbreak like COVID-19, a planned absence on your part, or a crisis impacting all or part of campus. You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. 

Keep these principles in mind:

  • Communicate early and often: Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions. 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. Don't overload  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, if 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. Let them know, too, if you are using the Canvas Inbox tool, since they may need to update their notification preferences.
  • 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 Canvas, 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 – or all – 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 Canvas be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted. For Canvas, refer them to How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as a student?
  • Keep things accessible & mobile friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a mobile device available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats including PDFs and Canvas Pages.  Consider saving other files in two formats, it’s original application format and a PDF.  PDFs are easier to read on phones and tablets and keep the file size small, and original file format often have application features that are helpful to students who use accessibility software for accessibility reasons. Also note that videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them during the current situation.
  • Utilize accessibility tools such as Zoom's closed captioning, and Microsoft PowerPoint's automatic captions.

Substitutes for face-to-face class meetings

Prioritize course work that doesn't require real-time interaction. While real-time interactions on platforms like Zoom enhance student engagement by allowing instructor-to-student and student-to-student interactions, online learners often prefer the flexibility of self-paced material with fewer technical barriers.

If you feel that video is the most appropriate tool for your instruction, instructors have the following options:

  • Zoom is an existing tool available to all instructors, staff, and students that can facilitate remote attendance.  Hold online real-time, interactive classes and office hours. In Zoom, you can share your computer screen, poll students, hold live chat, and open breakout rooms for smaller discussions. Learn more about Zoom.
  • Host phone-based audio conferences for small classes through Zoom.
  • OU MyMedia allows you to prerecord lectures and screencasts, with captions, and distribute them to your students via Canvas. You can also and edit Zoom videos and update captions in MyMedia.

Regardless of which of these tools you use, your sessions should be recorded so they can later be captioned for students.

Video ResourceAdd Zoom Files to Canvas

Run lab activities

One of the biggest challenges of teaching online from anywhere is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.

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). Save the physical practice parts of the labs until access to campus is restored. It is understood that the semester will be 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.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are about providing time for direct student interaction; consider other ways to replicate that type of interaction or create new online interaction opportunities, including using available collaboration tools, such as Zoom. 

Translating performance/dance to online

  • Assign monologue work to replace scene work. Have students record their solo monologue performances on their smartphones and submit the video file. Faculty can respond with written feedback on ways to improve their performances, or use Zoom to remotely coach the monologue work.
  • Dance style/technique-specific possibilities
    • Composition - ask students to identify a composition of an online video (frontal, easily repeatable) and them ask them to challenge those norms (face away from the camera, retrograde)
    • Tap - Use call-and-response techniques since its not incumbent on outside music
    • Modern/contemporary - Use Zoom Breakout rooms and ask students to create site-specific work based on their current environment

More Resources

Foster communication and collaboration among students

Fostering communication and collaboration among students to build and  maintain a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn.

Consider these suggestions when planning activities:

  • Use asynchronous tools when possible: Having students participate in live Zoom conversations can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like Canvas Discussions 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. Define how this activity helps students 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 communication and collaboration with the additional effort it will require on everyone’s part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.
  • Ensure equity and inclusion: Considerations for equity and inclusion do not require a major overhaul of a class, but they do require intention.
    • Remind students of campus resources available to request student accommodations.
    • Create a course information sheet for students that outlines how to respectfully communicate in an online environment.
    • Look for ways for students to work together (e.g., through e-mail or video chat), and when possible, build in opportunities for interaction.
    • Continue to communicate that you value the diversity represented by the students in your class through your communications to students.

Collect assignments

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 and/or the internet, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid email for assignment collection: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using Canvas Assignments instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
  • 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

The Office of Digital Learning (ODL) and the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) can provide individual consultation to instructors wanting to adapt exams to a different format to ensure that the new format is measuring what the instructor wants. Here are some options for adapting your final exam:

  • Distribute Exam PDF electronically and ask students to scan their submissions with their phones: You can distribute a PDF of your exam via Canvas at an appointed time for printing using Files or Assignments. Students can work on it in the privacy of their room and scan it to a multi-page PDF using an apps like Microsoft OneDrive or GeniusScan, then upload it to Canvas Assignments. Instructors should not expect that students will complete these exams closed-book and therefore need to consider adapting assessments to ones that cannot be answered with an open textbook. Canvas Assignments can be used for essay exams (recommend File Upload option), but do not ask multiple graders to enter grades at the same time in SpeedGrader or they will overwrite each other’s work; instead download all files and have one person enter grades.
  • Use Canvas to offer exam online: Canvas allows final exams to be timed and offered online. This may not work for all classes, however it may be an option for many. Canvas can also auto-grade in many instances. Instructors should not expect that students will complete these exams closed-book and therefore need to consider adapting assessments to ones that cannot be answered with an open textbook. Instructors should also offer students flexibility by offering a larger availability window for completing exams as opposed to traditional 60, 75, or 90 minute periods.
  • During this period, proctored exams are discouraged. The page on Best Practice for Academic Integrity details multiple strategies instructors can utilize in efforts to deter academic misconduct.