Teaching in Disruptive Times
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring semester of 2020, colleges scrambled to determine the safest way to continue educating students and to bring that process up-to-speed as quickly as possible. You may have been one of the instructors that, along with thousands across the country, learned how to develop and teach an online course in just a few weeks. Or perhaps you led faculty professional development on distance learning because of your online teaching experience. Either way, you no doubt encountered multiple pedagogical issues involving content delivery, student engagement and the continuing evolution of technology platforms and tools. This section offers resources, recommendations, and food for thought in support of your remote teaching practice.
Many instructors have had success assigning labs in which students, working at home, substitute household materials and products for lab equipment, use lab kits purchased online, or perform online lab simulations. If you are assigning this type of activity, spell out the specific technology requirements for students in your syllabus. Pre-lab instruction can be delivered via web meeting, followed by a recorded or live streamed demonstration of lab techniques. There are also many lab demonstrations on YouTube. For assessment purposes, activities conducted remotely can be recorded, photographed step-by-step, or described in writing. Free online simulations and activities are available from sources such as:
- Distance Learning Resources collected by NCCCS
- NC-NET Collection of Discipline-specific Resources
- PhET Interactive Simulations,
- ChemCollective (NSF),
- Concord Consortium’s Molecular Workbench and interactive STEM activities,
- Learn Genetics, and
- HHMI BioInteractive.
Your technology choices should be driven by what you need to do—manage course pacing, provide information, demonstrate procedures, provide student feedback, facilitate discussions—and what you want students to do—stay engaged and accomplish course objectives. You will probably want to try tools based on reviews from a site like EdSurge or CommonSense Education or from colleague recommendations. Some technology tools will successfully integrate with your LMS and others will not. If you’re unsure, ask your campus distance learning staff. Before going live with new tech tools, find out how they function on the devices your students will use. In your synchronous meeting platform, take advantage of breakout rooms to manage in-class student groups, screen sharing, the built-in whiteboard, and the ability to display a second camera for close-ups of lab demonstrations. If you do a lot of screen sharing, consider setting up a second monitor, which will allow you to share your screen without losing visual contact with students. For faculty development on myriad instructional technology tools, visit the NCCCS Virtual Learning Center where you will find live trainings and on-demand content.
For synchronous discussion with the whole class, students should be muted until asked to respond. Encourage them to use the response emojis or simple signals (a thumb up or down) to communicate “I agree,” or “I don’t understand.” When using breakout rooms for small group discussion, clearly explain how they function, describe the topics for exploration, set a discussion time limit, and describe what the groups are expected to produce or report following the discussion. Check in with the groups as they work. You may find that asynchronous discussions are more equitable to students with low bandwidth, schedule limitations, or discomfort engaging with the full class. The problem many instructors have observed in discussion boards is the “I agree” phenomenon, where students don’t engage with the topic or each other. To avoid this, set expectations that posts will, for example, ask questions, respectfully point out and explain errors or areas of disagreement, share links to relevant information, and add supporting information. Provide a rubric with discussion post criteria and levels of achievement (e.g. percentages, points, grades) and consider including writing samples illustrating each level for students.
- Enhancing Online Discussions
- Virtual Learning Design and Delivery: Effective Online Discussions
- Successful Breakout Rooms in Zoom
- The Secret Weapon of Good Online Teaching: Discussion Forums
- Navigating Difficult Moments in the Classroom
- Working on Common Cross-Cultural Communication Challenges
- Example Discussion Rubrics
When we hear the term “active learning,” we often think of hands-on activities like labs or work-based learning experiences, but “minds-on” learning can be equally active. Reading, discussing, questioning, reflecting, and conducting activities using higher-order thinking skills like analysis and evaluation require that students participate actively in learning. Strategies that work in the face-to-face classroom can often be adapted for successful use in synchronous and asynchronous virtual delivery. From the tried-and-true methods (e.g. problem-based learning, brainstorming, collaborative projects, Q & A, discussions) to innovations made possible by broader access to technology (e.g. online simulations, video presentations, flipped classrooms), active learning strategies are designed to keep students engaged.
Instructors typically use ungraded or graded but low-risk (low impact on grade) formative assessments to monitor students’ comprehension during instruction and summative assessments (major exams, research papers, capstone projects) to measure student comprehension against standards or student learning objectives. Teaching remotely challenges instructors to develop informal ways to assess student learning in progress. Fortunately, with a little creativity and planning you can adapt common classroom strategies for use in or alongside your college’s LMS. Synchronous breakout rooms, chat, survey, reaction, and screen sharing functions facilitate the level of interactivity necessary for formative assessment. Digital apps such as Nearpod, Flipgrid, Padlet and many others provide additional tools for assessing student progress. Whatever strategies you choose be mindful of students’ potential technology access difficulties.
- NC-NET News “Focus on Assessment”
- Are Students Still Learning During COVID-19? Formative Assessment Can Provide the Answer
- Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, Episode 19, Cheating Lessons
- The Academic Integrity Brain Trust’s Summer Camp for Online Teaching (recorded webinar)
- Patricia Cross Academy (videos)
- 7 Ways to Do Formative Assessments in Your Virtual Classroom
- 20 Formative Assessment Examples To Use In Your College Classroom
- 17 Formative Digital Assessment Tools to Help You Know Your Students