This blog post is an Instructor Spotlight authored by Xiaohui Chang. Xiaohui is a Toomey Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor of Business Analytics in the College of Business. This post is a follow up to Improving Student Engagement and Connection in Online Learning: Part I, Proactive Support.


Introduction

Since the first post in the series appeared a few months ago, we have received plenty of feedback from other instructors who are actively engaged in online education. Some of the stories shared by them reiterate the points we discussed, and others included tips and techniques that have worked particularly well for them. Almost all of them agreed that teaching well online remains a challenging task.

“I love the notes on proactive student support … especially the notes on checking in with those who are behind. Sometimes all they need is a little empathy!”

Vic Matta, Associate Professor, College of Business, Ohio University 

“I regularly incorporate each of these in my relationships with my students, to include weekly zoom “what’s up” meetings with my students. I check in on them if they’re behind on assignments…Yes, it takes effort; but my mission is to help these students find the greatness within themselves to succeed.”

To quickly recap what we have discussed in Part 1, we touched on how to employ empathy statements in communications with students, restructure and promote the office hours, provide personal feedback for students, and periodically check in with students who are behind. You may also refer to the first article here: Improving Student Engagement and Connection in Online Learning: Part I, Proactive Support.

Continuing from the first post, Part II will revolve around six specific practices that I have found particularly helpful for online teaching and learning.

Practice 1: Adopt a variety of communication methods

I provide assignment instructions and guidance using a variety of communication methods including texts, diagrams, images, and short video clips. I have learned that instructions with screenshots and videos tend to be better in explaining complicated procedures than text alone.

Video Tutorial Example: Creating a random sample using XLSTAT

Practice 2: Create a Q&A Discussion Board

I have a separate discussion on Canvas for students to address issues with the class in general (content questions, technical issues, deadlines). Instead of emailing the instructor regarding issues other students may also have questions about, students are encouraged to use this forum so that all can benefit from the questions and answers. I usually wait for a few hours for students to answer each other’s questions first before I provide mine.

When students email me questions that are a good fit for the Q&A Discussion Board, I’d respond through email first and then recommend the students submit the questions to the discussion board so that other students can learn from the questions and answers. This discussion board also creates an inviting and engaging learning environment for the students who don’t get to meet their classmates in a face-to-face setting.

Practice 3: Estimate the amount of time taken for each assignment

I was skeptical of this at first as the time taken would vary drastically for each individual. However, student feedback indicates that estimated times helped them plan for the week and set aside an appropriate amount of time. We don’t need to worry too much about making the estimates accurate for everyone as students will automatically adjust given their own work styles. A workload calculator that I have found helpful is developed by the Center for Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University, called the Workload Estimator 2.0.

For more information about estimation rates, see the explanation here – Workload Estimator: How We Calculated.

Practice 4: Ensure timely replies

This practice is obvious, but difficult to do when one is teaching multiple sessions with hundreds of students. For online classes, timely replies make students feel as though they are taking an in-person class with all of the built-in support and resources. I understand that we all have different teaching priorities and schedules, however, it all comes down to figuring out how to most efficiently organize our days so that we can be available to students.

Setting aside a couple of times a day for handling emails has worked quite well for me, e.g., the first thing in the morning, after noon, and before the end of the day. I try my best to respond to students’ emails within 24 hours and check my mailbox at least once every day on the weekends.

The timely replies in discussions were super helpful. It really felt as though I took this in person with all of the built-in help and support.

Student quote

Practice 5: Synchronize assignments with Canvas calendar

I have also synced all assignments and my office hours (renamed as Ask Me Anything Hours) on Canvas so that there are office hours available around when assignments are due. This proves to be incredibly convenient and useful for both students and instructors.

Practice 6: Reorganize course content

Here are several Canvas LMS tips that have helped in organizing the course content and saved my time. I try to organize everything in modules. Under each module, all items are split into two main components: resources and to-do lists, so students know exactly what assignments they would need to complete for each module. I also adopt a fixed set of systems for titling Canvas items. Items within modules are indented to help with organization.

Weekly agenda and announcements are also hyperlinked to guide students with the course navigation. I could not emphasize enough how much I value the internal messaging in the Canvas grade book that was briefly discussed in my previous post. This feature allows instructors to message students who haven’t submitted yet or who scored less than a certain point. Definitely a slick way to send quick emails to a target group.

Recently, I have been experimenting with a range of visual cues (e.g., emojis) to categorize course content. An example is provided below.

Screenshot of the module view of the course, demonstrating using of emojis as visual cues next to assignments. A written assignment has a pencil and paper emoji, a quiz has a question mark emoji, etc.

There was also a recent post on using emojis for visual way finding and fostering a friendly tone in online classes here: My Experience with Emojis in Online Courses: Affordances and Considerations.

Conclusion

It’s always best to keep an open mind when trying out new teaching practices and adapt them to your individual style and subject matter.

If you have any online teaching practices that you’re fond of, please feel free to contact me at Xiaohui.Chang@oregonstate.edu as I will be very excited to hear them and test them out. 

team collaboration

According to the 2020 Brandon Hall Group Team Development Pulse Survey findings (Werder, 2021), at least half of work is currently done in teams in over seventy percent of companies. Global Human Capital Trends (2016) confirmed that this trend is continuing, with over 7000 organizations moving towards more team-based designs. However, the success of team collaboration is not a guarantee and requires diligent planning and hard work. Tannenbaum and Salas (2020) suggest that there are seven “Cs” (or drivers) of teamwork, namely: capability, cooperation, coordination, communication, cognition, coaching, and conditions.

To contextualize and apply each of these 7 “Cs”, I’ll use a recent team collaboration I participated in as an example. A team of four staff from Oregon State University Ecampus gave a virtual presentation on the role of instructional designers in research. Speaking of the first C – capacity, thanks to the selection of team members, this team had the perfect mix: the facilitator was in charge of setting up the stage and engaging the audience with an opening poll and scenario. A second team member was assigned to cover the institutional level, a third team member was assigned to cover the team level and the last team member was assigned to cover at the individual level. Capability: checked ✅!

Cooperation: During the preparation for the presentation, each of the four team members worked individually on our own parts. When we met again, we reviewed each other’s parts, felt comfortable voicing any concern or areas that could use improvement. We each revised our individual parts and met again to review. At this point, we felt we had the content nailed down. Laurie, Tianhong and Heather already know each other very well since we all work in the same instructional design team at Ecampus. Naomi opened herself up and welcomed us to give her feedback and ideas for improvement up front, which is very helpful for Laurie, Tianhong and Heather to connect with her, and built trust for working together on this project. Viola, Cooperation: checked ✅!

Coordination: During the two rounds of peer review sessions, we made many changes, based on feedback from team members. Naomi opened up with a poll of attendee roles and a scenario to illustrate why instructional designers need to be involved in research. Laurie demonstrated diligence and surveyed the entire instructional design team at Ecampus and was able to present some solid data on our team composition in terms of degree/education, and years of career in instructional design. Laurie also provided Tianhong with two prepared slides on areas to be covered as a suggestion. Tianhong conducted comprehensive research and her findings demonstrated that over 50% of instructional designers at Ecampus have participated in research activities with support from Ecampus. Heather’s storytelling of her research involvement was rich and fascinating. So she had the pleasant struggle of cutting down her content to fit within a nine minutes time frame. And we all put scripts of what we plan to say in the notes area of the google slide we were collaborating on, which help us to stay within the limited time and allow us to have discussion time with all participants. Since each of us diligently completed our individual work as planned, the whole presentation is full of data and stories. Coordination: accomplished✅!

Communication within the team of four presenters was relatively easy since we use slack as a communication tool internally and we used calendar invites and emails for scheduling purposes. Our slack messages were quite active throughout the preparation and on the day of the presentation and after the presentation with many suggestions, encouragement, and compliments! Communication: accomplished✅!

Cognition or shared understanding among the team members is vital. In my opinion, this should be the first C on the list! For our team project, Naomi hand-picked the three panelists to join her on this collaboration because she sensed that all three of us share a common understanding on the value of instructional designers being involved with educational research. This common understanding and vision is visible the entire time while we worked on this project. Cognition: checked✅!

Coaching: Does leader and/or team members demonstrate leadership behaviors? Yes, Naomi is a great leader in this project. It was a pleasure to work under her leadership since the role of each panelist is very clear, and we started the collaboration early enough so that we have plenty of time to review, revise, practice and practice again before the actual presentation. Laurie also demonstrated leadership by offering help to cohesively formatting and beautifying each of our slide decks into one presentation file. Coaching: accomplished✅!

Conditions: Does the team have favorable conditions such as resources and culture? Yes, each team member brought with them expertise in their own roles, we were also able to use existing tools such as slack and google slides, and ecampus presentation template for this collaborative presentation. Naomi could have done it all by herself. But she invited a panel of three instructional designers to collaborate with her on this presentation. Our combined effort makes our story stronger, richer and more impressive because we work as instructional designers and we have experience doing research as instructional designers. Conditions: checked✅!

On the day of the virtual presentation, Laurie and Tianhong were presenting from campus offices housed inside the campus library while Heather and Naomi were presenting from their remote offices. In the middle of the presentation, there was a 🔥fire alarm in the library which required everyone to evacuate from the library. Laurie and Tianhong moved to a nearby building and logged back online and re-joined the presentation within 10 minutes. We are so thankful that the four of us are presenting from different locations so that the fire alarm did not stop us from presenting. This is how virtual team collaboration saved our work during a fire alarm emergency. And this is how the 7 Cs led us to a great team collaboration. The next time you sit down to plan a team project or initiative, you might benefit from reflecting on these following questions:

  1. Does the team have the right people with the right mix? (Capability)
  2. Does each team member have constructive attitudes about their team? (Cooperation)
  3. Does each team member demonstrate necessary teamwork behaviors? (Coordination)
  4. Does each team member exchange information effectively with each other and outside? (Communication)
  5. Does each team member possess a shared understanding? (Cognition)
  6. Does leader and/or team members demonstrate leadership behaviors? (Coaching)
  7. Does the team have favorable conditions such as resources and culture? (Conditions)

I hope I have encouraged and convinced you a tiny bit in your next decision for teamwork and have fun collaborating and doing effective teamwork!😊

References:
Werder, C. (2021). How to develop a winning team. Brandon Hall Group. Retrieved from https://www.brandonhall.com/blogs/how-to-develop-a-winning-team/

Global Human Capital Trends. (2016). The new organization: Different by design. Deloitte University Press. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/HumanCapital/gx-dup-global-human-capital-trends-2016.pdf

Tannenbaum,S.I. & Salas, E. (2020). Teams that work : the seven drivers of team effectiveness. Oxford University Press.

Introduction

Co-Authored by Benita Blessing

Relationships matter for successful collaborative work. Yet, when it comes to online/ blended/hybrid course design, development often begins with a focus on course content, assuming that the collaborative relationship between faculty and instructional designers is secondary to the design process (Tate, 2017). If we care about student success, we must turn our attention to the ways in which effective collaborative relationships among design partners contribute to the course feel — that is, the online learning environment as perceived by students. In our recent OLC presentation, we proposed an interactive strategy for developing collaborative relationships between faculty and instructional designers based on curiosity, enthusiasm, and mutual respect. 

Faculty and instructional designers often find themselves at cross-purposes. The design process expects two groups of experts to bring their unique perspectives and skill sets together in course creation, without providing instruction or support for the kinds of intentional shared knowledge transmission and production necessary for collaboration (Richardson, J. C., et al., 2018). In fact, faculty buy-in to a collaborative working relationship ranks as the number one obstacle to instructional designers’ success (Intentional Futures, 2016, pp. 3, 15). Institutional frameworks must be in place that set up faculty-instructional design teams for success, so that together they in turn can set up students for success. 

We suggest that fostering curiosity in each other’s disciplinary norms and approaches serves as  an igniting spark for establishing effective instructional designer-faculty autonomy supports. In this way, relationships begin with trust, mutual respect for professionals’ expertise, and socioemotional growth. 

ID-Instructor Cooperative Instrument

To aid in this process, we developed an ID-Instructor Cooperative Instrument for individual, flexible needs of both parties. Through a series of definitions and short prompts, users can see similarities and differences between their viewpoints on topics like student success, well-designed courses, and course feel. Feel free to use the spreadsheet linked above or this list of questions:

  1. Course feel: Name up to 5 keywords that describe how you want the course to feel.
  2. Student interactions: List the kinds of interactions your students will encounter in your course. Feel free to list them in order of importance, or to modify the categories. 
    1. Teacher ⟷ Student
    2. Content ⟷ Student
    3. Student ⟷ Student
  3. Definitions:
    1. How do you want students to define success in this course?
    2. How do you define success in this course (for yourself and/or students)?
  4. Working Together:
    1. Name your best course — one you have designed, taught, taken, etc.
    2. Name a course activity you are proud of, or one you would like to be proud(er) of.
    3. Identify 3-5 keywords or phrases that describe your working style.
  5. Anything else you would like to note?

Initial Feedback

In our OLC presentation, some session attendees were purely instructional faculty, while others worked full-time in instructional design. Many people served in joint roles, including some administrative responsibilities for facilitating course design, or had started their careers in one area and then switched roles. Despite these different backgrounds, almost everyone agreed with our assertion that lack of mutual respect between faculty and instructional designers negatively impacted their ability to create and deliver high-quality courses. 

During the presentation, we enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm and excitement from participants wanting to share their own stories and experiences. Working through the instrument questions as a group for this session was engaging for both participants and for us as presenters. Participants were able to quickly and clearly pick up the instrument and begin to share their ideas right away. Feedback both during the interactive presentation and during the Q&A suggests that our instrument serves the purpose we created it for: to get faculty and IDs excited about talking with one another about teaching and course design. 

Conclusion & Getting Started

We advise other faculty and ID teams to rethink their working relationships, starting with curiosity about each other’s experiences and hopes for the course and their future students. Administrators — who often need to increase faculty buy-in to course development programs, and help instructional designers meet faculty where they are in their pedagogical experience and comfort levels in online instruction and design — can play an important role in encouraging design teams to take the time to work through the kinds of questions and conversations outlined in this tool. The road to pedagogical expertise is often varied, windy, and complex, for everyone involved. When the course design process focuses on growth and learning for the faculty and ID, it leaves a positive mark on a course that reverberates for the students experiencing that online space.

We invite faculty and IDs to get curious about their counterparts. If there is not currently an intake meeting for faculty and IDs at your institution, you could share this instrument either for a one-on-one meeting, or with a dedicated pedagogy session through your Center for Teaching and Learning and discuss how it could be a starting point for a collaborative working relationship. If there is already an intake meeting that is part of the course design process, think about bringing in aspects of this instrument that might be missing from that session. 

If you are an administrator, suggest that your faculty or IDs spend some time at the beginning of a project getting to know one another. You might even help spark some curiosity by including a professional introduction — what excites you about having a particular instructional designer or faculty member working on a specific course or program? What can you share about the unique experiences of your faculty or IDs that would help start that initial conversation?

We hope that this instrument will be a tool you can use as new course developments begin, whether you are working with a new collaborator or wish to get to know someone better that you have worked with previously. We would also be interested in continuing to learn about faculty and instructional designer relationships. If you have feedback, comments, or experiences you would like to share, we invite you to leave a comment on this blog post or reach out to us via email.

References

Intentional Futures. (2016). Instructional Design in Higher Education: A report on the role, workflow, and experience of instructional designers.

Richardson, J. C., Ashby, I., Alshammari, A. N., Cheng, Z., Johnson, B. S., Krause, T. S., Lee, D., Randolph, A. E., & Wang, H. (2018). Faculty and instructional designers on building successful collaborative relationships. Education Tech Research Dev 67: 855–880.

Tate, E. (2017). Easing Instructional Designer-Faculty Conflicts. Inside Higher Ed.

Lately I’ve heard from a number of faculty whose students have expressed stress or overwhelm at the workload in a course. Further, students as well as faculty have had to adjust to a new routine or pace in their lives in recent months. All of this change gives us a chance to examine the workload and pace of a course so that it is manageable for both students and instructors. To that end, I offer three simple things that faculty can do to make their workload more manageable:

  • Manage expectations
  • Post time estimates for each activity
  • Consider your own availability

Manage expectations

One of the most effective ways to help students understand how much they should plan to do each week in the course is to be explicit and specific about the workload, early in the course. Refer to the credit hour policy to help students understand expectations. At OSU, it is expected that students engage with course materials and activities for 3 hours per week for every credit hour. So for a 3-credit course, students should expect to work about 9 hours each week on reading, studying, assignments, discussion boards, and other activities. This information is generally listed in the syllabus, but it’s nice to highlight this in an announcement early in the course, or perhaps even in an intro video or weekly overview video. Being explicit early in the course sets expectations for everyone, builds trust, and cuts down on negative emotions from students who feel there is too much (or not enough) in a course.

Post time estimates for each activity

One complaint that students occasionally have is that there is an uneven workload from week to week. One way to address this is to post estimated times for each activity for the week. This could appear in a task list on a weekly overview page, for example. This helps in several ways. First, it helps students who struggle to manage their time effectively. If they know that the assignment takes about 2 hours to complete, they can plan for that chunk of time in their week. Moreover, perhaps there are six readings posted in one week, but each reading is only about 5-10 minutes long. Posting this helps students understand that there are a number of short readings this week. That way students don’t assume each reading takes too long and decide to skip some of them. Moreover, being explicit about time estimates helps students know that you are sticking with the credit hour policy as well, which is another way to build trust.
If you find that the tasks you’ve outlined exceed the credit hour policy, let your learning objectives for the course guide your decisions for what to keep and what to cut.

Consider your own availability

Lastly, consider your own availability. Be explicit with students about when you are available so that you can be sure to carve out time to recharge your batteries. For example, if you like to have a bit of time to relax on the weekends, you might have your weekly assignments due on Monday of the following week for each module, rather than Sunday. That way, if students have questions about an assignment that they are wrapping up over the weekend, you still have Monday morning to get back to them instead of scrambling to answer multiple emails on Sunday evening.

Connecting with our students is essential, but how do we do it? Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by connected. Zoom works to see one another on a screen, you can attend activities on campus and possibly see some of your students, or we can take a deeper look into what connected means. When I think of education, connecting could be students to each other, students to the material, the material to real life, you to the student, etc. I’ll focus on the last one here: You to the student.

Think back to a time when you were in school and you had a “favorite” teacher or professor. What was it about them that made them your favorite? Did they open up their classroom at lunch to play cards with students? Did they give you a “good luck” note for a sporting event? Maybe they came to your choir concert, attended a theater production you were in, or maybe they made themselves available in a time of need. Whatever it is, that’s what connects you. What made them your favorite is because of the connection that you formed.

Effective connection is:

  • Being available
  • Caring (and showing it)
  • Treating the student with respect
  • Being a trustworthy confidant
  • Showing belief in students
  • Acting warm and welcoming
  • Showing compassion
  • Being on the student’s side
  • Exuding love for teaching
  • Showing true interest in students
  • Being a great listener
  • Accepting every student

For me, there were lots of teachers I liked and many I’d say were “favorites” but looking back, one made that huge impression and connection. How? By giving me a cut up straw on a string. Yes, you read that correctly, a cut up straw on a string. That teacher listened to what I was saying when she asked a question about how a track meet went. If it was not so good of a meet, I’d reply “I sucked from a big straw.” When it came time for an important meet that year, I got a good luck card with a straw I couldn’t suck from. That was over 20 years ago and I still have that cut up straw. Now that’s a connection!

Connection Do’s and Don’ts. 

DO

  • Be available
  • Care (for real!)
  • Treat students with respect
  • Be a trustworthy confidant
  • Show belief in students
  • Be warm and welcoming
  • Show compassion
  • Be on the student’s side
  • Exude love for teaching
  • Show true interest in students
  • Be a great listener
  • Demonstrate acceptance

DON’T

  • Try too hard to be liked
  • Gossip about students
  • Fail to set boundaries
  • Fail to set high expectations
  • Be unable to say no
  • Be sarcastic
  • Pamper students
  • Fail to follow through
  • Pretend to care

 

 

Run through the lists and think of a way you can make the do’s happen and ways you can keep the don’ts from happening. Was there a specific example from your examples that really stood out? Use that to help guide you in the other examples. Perhaps you remember a time where you failed to set high expectations, what happened? Reflect on why you thought you had (or know you didn’t) and what you’d like to do differently next time.

Want to know more? Read “You’ve Gotta Connect: Building Relationships That Lead to Engaged Students, Productive Classrooms, and Higher Achievement” by James Alan Sturtevant, 2014

example of the Hubs toolThe Ecampus multimedia team researches emerging tools, and works with our sibling team of Instructional Designers to help support instructors. So lets take a moment to peek at tools we all might be using in the coming years for communicating with teammates from a distance.

Multimedia developers primarily use a paid tier of Slack (for instant messaging), Outlook (for email), and Zoom (for meetings with live video or audio). While we play around with many other emerging tools, I believe we’re using the same basic trio as most everyone else. Just wanted to be clear that I don’t have a revolutionary new secret tool in my back pocket which you must start using today. We’re all in the same basic boat at the moment.

CDT shares files through a variety of different online services. Documents are usually shared through Box, with Google Drive as a backup. Videos usually end up on Kaltura through OSU’s MediaSpace, but works in progress start out on Frame.io to leverage some handy features for time stamped feedback. We manage our team’s projects through Asana, and store final deliverable files with a wrap-up note in a private internal database tool (that our team created and maintains). So those are handful of tools that might be mentioned when working with us. You may have already been sent a Box folder to upload files into, or a frame.io link to comment on a video.

As we all settled into home office work back in March, there was an interest in new tools for social interaction. I was particularly interested in applications that were connecting Virtual Reality users with phone and desktop users. Mozilla, the creators of the Firefox browser, are quietly building up Hubs, which strikes me as the most promising tool in this space. It’s free, easy to learn, and offers a ton of excellent functionality. Stop by the experimental space I set up for my team. It features a 3D model imported from our sketchfab account, and a video from our YouTube account.

One of the developers of Hubs recently laid out the secret plan for this tool: to build up a persistent global 3D network to rival the world wide web. Exciting stuff for all you fans of the scifi metaverse, and the freedom of early web pages.

There are other interesting tools bubbling around at the moment in the VR space. Facebook is letting anyone sign up for the beta of a shared social universe for Oculus VR users called “horizon.” Microsoft acquired AltspaceVR, which mixes VR users with desktop users and has already hosted multiple conferences during the quarantine. If you’ve invested in a VR headset, it might be worth checking out the bustling communities in VR chat or Rec Room. The makers of Second Life tried out 2 approaches to VR (Sansar and High Fidelity), but recently changed course. My team is currently trying to schedule a time to try out Sketchbox in different VR headsets. I stumbled across “Somnium Space” while writing this blog post. It’s kind of crazy how many things are being developed, but… aren’t quite ready for mass consumption just yet.

There is a cognitive load problem with all the new tools bubbling up in these cauldrons around the world and begging for attention. While Mozilla Hubs is my favorite, it does take a few minutes to go through it’s tutorial and learn what all you can do. These days that’s a lot to ask of people who just seek the simplicity of walking into a room to meaningfully interact with other humans in a natural way. More and more I’m nervous about suggesting new tools to colleagues, because I know they’re already dealing with a lot. And I see a lot of folks casually making a notable pile of work for others without seeming to notice the strain. As a designer, I enjoy walking through a new tool, and once I determine it’ll be useful for others it is hard to appreciate how exhausting it might also be for them. I think the key mistake is to require others learn a tool before they can get back to whatever task they set out to do in the first place. Hopefully we can find ways to design simpler tools, and to help people enjoy learning useful new third party tools. Wait until you’re ready to jump into the ones I’m mentioning here, and take it easy on your coworkers.

Suggestions? Want to meet up and talk about this further, perhaps inside one of the tools mentioned above? Please just leave a comment, or send us an email – we’d love to hang out with you and explore what the world is cooking up!

Flexibility is an inclusive practice. Structure is an inclusive practice. Both of these statements are true–yet, many people might wonder how to reconcile these seemingly opposite approaches in their course designs. How does one build a course that is both flexible enough to accommodate the diverse needs of their students, yet structured in a way that is clear and unambiguous? In a practical sense, what do these words really mean?

First, let’s define these terms and consider why each of these approaches are critical to student success. What do we mean by flexibility and structure and why are they both important features of course design and facilitation?

Flexibility

Flexibility is getting a lot of press right now, due to our global pandemic. We are all encouraged to be flexible and understanding of one another and to recognize that most of us, especially right now, are dealing with increased responsibilities. As a student myself, I recall how much relief it gave me to read in a note from my professor that this term is “all about flexibility” along with detail around what this means in the context of our course. 

For those of us familiar with online learning, accommodating students with full-time jobs and child or eldercare responsibilities, for example, is not new. However, even for our online students, these responsibilities are compounded by school closures and other distancing measures. Everyone needs additional flexibility, understanding, and support right now. Even you, reader! Let’s be explicit and honest about this in our communications with students and each other.

In the context of our online or remotely taught courses, how do we communicate this to students? Here are a few ideas and suggestions to get you started:

  1. Flexible policies: Saying you will be flexible is not enough. Build flexibility into your policies. For example, if students are required to do field observations for a report or lab, are the guidelines for these observations too restrictive? Might students with mobility challenges or high-risk health considerations be unable to spend extended periods of time outdoors? What alternatives can you provide to these students?
  2. Student choice: Providing your students options will increase their autonomy and engagement. Choice is especially important now because it will allow students to make decisions based, not only on their personal and professional interests, but also based on their individual circumstances, which may have drastically changed in recent months.
  3. Communication: Keeping the lines of communication open is essential. Frequent communication builds feelings of connection so that student needs are more likely to be articulated.

Structure

Building structure into your course means removing ambiguity and avoiding assumptions about your students. Structure does not mean being inflexible. You can be explicit and unambiguous without being rigid.

Two helpful tools for adding structure to your course are rubrics and models, or examples. Rubrics will help you to communicate with your students and will allow you to identify your expectations along with how each criterion will be evaluated. Model assignments will help students to interpret your expectations.

When you don’t have enough structure built into your course, when your expectations are ambiguous, your underrepresented students are disproportionately impacted. This level of ambiguity often results from assumptions about your students’ prior experiences. Assuming they know how to use an LMS or that they have reliable WiFi at home, for example, puts students who don’t have these resources at a disadvantage. 

When you don’t have enough structure built into your course, your students will be forced to make assumptions, correctly or incorrectly, about your expectations. Some students may ask questions, but others will do their work and hope for the best. This results in a clearly unequal playing field, exacerbating existing inequalities. 

Balance

Given that both flexibility and structure are needed in course design and teaching, whether online, remote, on-ground, or hybrid, how does one balance these competing elements?

Too much structure, and your students will lose agency and motivation. Too much flexibility, and your students may feel ungrounded and directionless.

Here are some tips for finding balance:

  • Give choice, but include clear parameters for evaluating student work.
  • Provide multiple lower stakes assessments and stage your course projects, so that students have multiple opportunities to get feedback, correct misconceptions, and earn course points.
  • Welcome student questions and concerns and share your feedback with the whole class. If one student is asking a question, many others are thinking about asking it and would benefit from the same communication. 
  • Don’t wait for students to request alternatives: odds are high that only your most privileged students will feel comfortable asking for accommodations such as more time or additional feedback. If one student requests an accommodation, others who need similar considerations, may not be asking for them. Why not proactively offer these options to all students?

As a final thought, both structure and flexibility are essential ingredients in the recipe for exemplary teaching. When you find the perfect blend of these elements, all your learners will benefit!

References

Parker, F., Novak, J, & Bartell, T. (2017). To engage students, give them meaningful choices in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan 99 (2), 37-41.

Sathy, V. & Hogan, K.A. (2019). Want to reach all of your students? Here’s how to make your teaching more inclusive: Advice guide. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20190719_inclusive_teaching

Do you ever get the sense that students posting in their online discussions haven’t really engaged with the reading materials for that week? One way to encourage active engagement with course readings is to have students annotate directly in the article or textbook chapter that they are assigned. While it is common to see students annotating in their paper copies of their textbooks or readings, these aren’t easily shared with their peers or instructor. Of course, students could snap a photo of their handwritten annotations and upload that as a reading assignment task, though that does require additional steps on the part of both the student and instructor, and there is no interaction with others in the course during that process. However, it is possible to have students annotate their readings completely online, directly in any article on the web or in their ebook textbook. With this process, the annotations can also be seen by others in the course, if desired, so that students can discuss the reading all together or in small groups as they are reading an article or book chapter online. The benefit to this type of annotation online includes components of active learning, increased student interaction, and accountability for students in engaging with the course materials.

Active Learning

The shift to active learning is a bit like going from watching a soccer game on TV to playing a soccer game. Likewise, reading passively and reading to learn are two different activities. One way to get students actively reading to learn is to ask them to make connections from the course materials to their own lives or society, for example, which they then make into annotations in their readings. Annotation tasks require students to take actions and articulate these connections, all without the pressure of a formal assessment. Furthermore, many students arrive at college not knowing how to annotate, so teaching basic annotation practices helps students become more active and effective learners (Wesley, 2012). 

Interaction

“Individuals are likely to learn more when they learn with others than when they learn alone” (Weimer, 2012). Discussion board activities are often where interaction with others in an online course takes place. However, rather than having students refer to a particular reading passage in their discussion board activity, they can simply highlight a passage and type their comments about it right there in the article, no discussion board assignment needed. Others in the course can also read participants’ annotations and reply. With some creative assignment design in Canvas, this can also be set up for small groups. Students may find this type of annotation discussion more authentic and efficient than using a discussion board tool to discuss a reading.

News article embedded in the assignment shows annotations made by specific students with a box to reply
Above, the online news article is embedded in the Canvas assignment. Students simply go to the assignment and can begin annotating. In the image above, a student highlights a passage to show what the annotation refers to. For a collaborative activity, students can reply to any peer’s comment. Alternatively, the instructor can set the annotations to be private, for more independent tasks.

Accountability

A popular way to ensure that students have done the reading is to give them a quiz. However, this is a solitary activity and is higher-stakes than asking students to make targeted annotations throughout a reading. It may make more sense to guide them through a reading with specific annotation tasks. Being explicit about what pieces of the reading students should focus on can help them understand what they need to retain from the reading assignment.

Possible Activities

  • Student-student interaction: Replace a discussion board activity with a collaborative annotation activity where students can annotate the article as they read. Then they can go back later in the week and reply to each other. 
  • Activate prior knowledge: Ask students to include one annotation related to what they already know about this topic.
  • Evaluate sources: Find a pop-science article in your discipline that includes weak support for arguments or claims, for example. Ask students to identify the sources of support in the arguments and challenge the validity of the support. Perhaps they could even be tasked with adding links to reliable sources of support for your discipline in their annotation comments. 

Nuts and Bolts

Two popular annotation tools are Hypothesis and Perusall. I would encourage you to test these out or ask your instructional designer about your needs and whether an annotation tool would be a good fit for your course learning outcomes. 

Resources:

Hypothesis

Perusall

Wesley, C. (2012). Mark It Up. Retrieved from The Chronicle of Higher Education: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Mark-It-Up/135166

Weimer, M. (2012, March 27). Five Key Principles of Active Learning. Retrieved from Faculty Focus: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/five-key-principles-of-active-learning/

Welcome to the Webcam and Video Tips guide by Oregon State University Ecampus
This brief series of tips is meant to be a beginner’s overview for DIY home recording on webcam, with some additional options suggested if you want to take your video production even further.
Since this document may not cover every issue you encounter while acclimating to DIY video recording, we recommend contacting your school tech person for additional troubleshooting.

WHERE TO START

  • Internet Connection
    • Wired connection via ethernet cable is best
    • If wired connection is not possible, having a clear line of sight to wifi router will give the best wireless connection
    • Disconnect any wifi devices that are not in use or needed.
  • Computer Check
    • Determine if your computer meets minimum system requirements for streaming software
    • Close all non-essential programs to free up more computer resources
    • Disconnect any external monitors if you are on a laptop and it is running slowly
  • Testing Your Tech
    • Does your computer have a built in webcam or do you have a 3rd party webcam?
    • Identify where your microphone is and talk towards it
    • Test the webcam and audio settings BEFORE your first recording. 
    • Practice practice practice
      • The last recording will be better than the first
  • Making sure your voice is clear and easy to understand
    • Having a microphone helps with this
    • Smart phone earbuds have a built-in microphone that can help you with voice clarity
    • Airpods would also work when recording to an iPhone

PRESENCE AND ENVIRONMENT

  • Be aware of your environment.
    • Limit any background noise as much as possible.
    • Clean up your space and be aware of what is in the background of the video.
    • Rooms with carpets and drapes are best for audio.
    • Turn off lights and close windows that are behind you when you are recording.
    • If possible, turn on a light behind the camera.
    • Keep experimenting with lighting until you have a set up that works for you.

  • Try not to bump the desk, computer, camera, or microphone while recording.
    • Typing should also be avoided.
  • Do a test lecture and watch it.
    • See what works and what doesn’t.
    • If possible, get feedback from others
  • Practice
    • The more you practice, the more natural it will feel.
    • Run through what you want to say before you start recording.
  • Relax and be natural! Hopefully you are sharing knowledge that you are passionate about and we want that to show. (Remember that we are always our own worst critic, and your teaching team will be there to help you with constructive feedback on how to help students best enjoy and learn from these videos.)
  • Have notes in front of you while you’re recording. 
    • It is easy to get distracted or off topic, especially when you are uncomfortable.
    • Having notes in front of you while you record can help you stay on track.
    • These notes can be as vague or as detailed as you want, but avoid reading off of them directly and not looking at the camera.

DIGITAL NOTATION

GOING FURTHER WITH VIDEO PRODUCTION

  • For DIY video production, there are many ways to go about this!
    • The lowest barrier to recording on your own would be to use a smart phone attached to a tripod or other mount.
    • If you have access to a camcorder or DSLR, get out there and use it!
  • For smart phone video
    • Avoid handheld and invest in a tripod or smart phone / camera mount
    • If you have a decent internet connection for uploads, consider recording 1080p at 30fps
    • Use an external microphone whenever possible

ACCESSORIES TO CONSIDER IF RECORDING WITH A PHONE

Apps:

  • Filmic Pro – $14.99
    • Allows manual control of exposure and white balance, audio monitoring, and other useful features.

Audio:

  • Lavalier microphone – $18.99 
    • Highly recommended. Audio recorded from your phone’s microphone can be difficult to hear if you aren’t standing near the phone or if the location is noisy. 
  • Double lavalier microphone – $25.99
    • For when you have two people on camera. Both mic cable feed into the same phone, removing need to sync two audio sources. 
  • Audio cable extension – 10 ft. $9.95 or 20 ft. $15.95
    • For when you need to stand farther away from the camera.

Stabilization:

  • Selfie stick w/built-in tripod and Bluetooth remote – $23.99 (heavy duty, 51″ extended), $14.99 (27.6″ extended)
    • Terrific for self-recording in the field.
  • Combination hand grip/small tripod/tripod adapter – $8.89
    • Can be used as a hand grip for filming on-the-go or as a desktop tripod. Phone mount can be removed from the hand grip/tripod legs section, allowing you to mount your phone on most standard tripods.
  • Gimbal stabilizer – $94.99
    • Pricey, but will greatly increase the quality of your footage if you’re filming something that requires camera movement, such as a walk-and-talk interview or a field trip video.
  • Creative ways to mount a smart phone with household items:

 

ADD-ONS / TIPS AND TRICKS

  • If you would like to have access to a teleprompter as you record video, consider one of the following:
  • Here are some sound improvements to consider to reduce echo in your recordings.
    • Add blankets or blinds on walls to reduce echo.
    • Record in the smallest room possible.
    • Avoid rooms with hardwood floors.

Lighting for video

  • Turn a window or glass door into a soft “Key Light” by hanging a cheap, frosted shower curtain over the window. 

 

Authors: Jason Jones, Drew Olson, and Sammi Lukas, with special thanks to Victor Yee for technical support with the images.

How do you like to provide and receive information? What circumstances allow you to express yourself best? Our students’ learning experiences center on the exchange of information, and since they don’t typically get to design their own courses, we implicitly ask students to adapt to our communicative norms. I’m not a student, and for 40 hours each week, I work with colleagues who speak a shared language of diagrams, file naming conventions, and annotated comments.

dense email with color-coded table
Would you like to receive this email? This is how I felt most comfortable communicating with an instructor when deciding between two ways to facilitate a 4-step peer review process.

But in my everyday interactions with people outside of work, when I enter other professional domains, I am keenly aware of my communicative disadvantage, not unlike what our students sometimes face. Paying attention to these interactions gives me humility and makes me curious about how I can give students the agency to express themselves in the ways that suit them best. Let me share an anecdote from outside the office.

Recently I had to visit the doctor for a routine health issue, and he showed me a diagram of test results while using some terms I wasn’t familiar with. When I left, I thought in frustration, I would have benefited from having been provided a glossary of key terms in advance, and a reading list afterward to learn more about the implications of the diagnosis. Surely this doctor could have tailored the visit better by assessing my introductory level of knowledge on the subject and then by expanding on what I already knew, while filling in on the gaps he’d discovered. That’s the confident critique from the instructional designer in me. But of course, I was at someone else’s office this time, operating outside of my professional identity, and my expertise wasn’t being solicited. And I was pretty uncomfortable. What did this medical professional think of me? I could barely follow along with the conversation! And, more importantly, what had I gained from the (quite expensive) interaction, for which I had just taken time off from work?

Our students are in a similar bind. Time spent in our courses is time they can’t spend with their families or in the workplace – and they’re paying for it! So how can we make students’ experiences more satisfying?

I return to the UDL Principle “Provide multiple means of Action & Expression” regularly, and I think it’s worth simply reading the original text:

Learners differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. For example, individuals with significant movement impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities (executive function disorders), those who have language barriers, and so forth approach learning tasks very differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in written text but not speech, and vice versa. It should also be recognized that action and expression require a great deal of strategy, practice, and organization, and this is another area in which learners can differ. In reality, there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for action and expression is essential.

This UDL principle reminds me to be open to ways of demonstrating and communicating knowledge that are outside my own comfort zone. So, when you create your course’s assessment plan, consider building variety and options into assignments. How will certain activities advantage some students and not others? Consider how can you draw on your students’ funds of knowledge. Like me, who brought along a specific communication toolkit, our students’ backgrounds have prepared them to communicate in unique ways. If your course relies entirely on one type of assessment (all exams, all essays), ask yourself whether the learning outcomes require it. What evidence of learning will be acceptable to prove students’ newly developed skills? What experiences will provide that evidence? For example, you might provide students with opportunities to:

These options can expand the range of actions and expression available to your students so that more of them can communicate to you, and to themselves, that they are successful learners.