By Morgan Rooney, Educational Development Coordinator, EDC
So, you’ve built your course with face-to-face in mind and suddenly have to move everything online. Feel free to curse loudly and bang a few desks: I know I have. Once that’s out of the way, we can get down to the task at hand.
Few things are more appropriate right now than the old adage, “perfection is the enemy of the good.” Doing what you can is what’s needed. With that in mind, I offer this “dummies’ guide” to moving your course online, one written by someone who’s in the midst of doing exactly that, and by a fellow tech dummy who specializes in finding new ways of making tech fail. You can do this!
Step 1: Develop a Plan
Pull out your syllabus. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to make some hard decisions regarding the big stuff. What content has to stay, and what can go? What assignments have to stay, and which can go? Determining your next steps depends on what you decide here.
Hereafter, your decisions are about the details, and they should be informed by simplicity and your comfort zone. Here are some core issues you need to consider:
- Will your courses be synchronous or asynchronous? I’d strongly recommend the latter. Developing a screen-recording lecture, for instance, has far fewer failure-points than facilitating a live class in the online environment.
- What will your new weekly structure look like? Simplicity is key. For me, I’m ditching my old structure (seven 1.5-hour meetings) for a stripped down one (three 3-hour online lessons with 2 hours of lecture, plus 1 hour for students to complete an accompanying worksheet – my class is a seminar, so I need to have participation and involvement).
- How will your students interact with your online content, and on what timeline? Here, flexibility is king. I’m releasing one lesson per week. My students then have one week to view the recordings, complete their worksheet, and submit that completed worksheet to me.
- Where will your students access your materials, and how will they get the materials they still owe to you? cuLearn is the obvious choice. For me, that meant setting up a new tab for my course that features everything related to the new order of things: my online lessons, submission forms for all assignments, and so on.
- How will your students communicate with you? Here I’d suggest a mix of online discussion forums on cuLearn (for questions related to course content, assignments, policies), email (for personal issues only), and BigBlueButton (for face-to-face interactions, such as office hours). If you have a large class and rely on email, you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed. Best to answer FAQs in a public form that all students can access.
How to deal with putting your final exam online is another matter. That said, TLS has provided a helpful resource on this question already, so I’d suggesting checking it out.
Step 2: Execute That Plan
Once you’ve made your plan, it’s time to get to work on implementing it. Here are some steps I’d suggest:
- Communicate that plan to your students. Use the Announcements tool on cuLearn, since that will create a permanent record on your cuLearn page that students can consult later, while also sending an email to everyone in the class.
- Familiarize yourself Kaltura Capture by logging into Mediaspace using your usual MC1 credentials. It’s a blessedly simple and intuitive technology to use. If all tech gives you the willies, you could just upload your lecture slides or notes, and then set up either a chat forum (synchronous) or a discussion forum (asynchronous) on cuLearn so students can ask questions and discuss any points of confusion with you. As before, asynchronous strikes me as the most simple of the two formats.
- Set up the things you’ve decided to add on your cuLearn page. Some likely candidates here include adding your slides and/or screen capture recordings, new assignment submission forms, and communication platforms (discussion forums, chat forums, BigBlueButton). For help with all of these issues, be sure to check out the cuLearn support page for instructors.
- Consult the resources available, and reach out for help if you need it. In addition to the cuLearn support page for instructors, TLS has released a “How to Keep on Teaching” guide. You can also contact TLS directly for support at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step 3: Keep the Trains Running
If you’ve developed your plan and have now implemented it, pat yourself on the back—you’ve already done much of what needs to be done. Personally, I needed four hours for step 1, and then another six hours for step 2, although I imagine that will be different for everyone based on prior familiarity with things such as cuLearn and Kaltura. Going forward, my weekly teaching duties will require me to prepare my lecture slides/lessons, to record my lectures, to post updates, and to respond to student queries as they rise. The final exam is something I will start to tackle once I feel like I’ve gotten a feel for the new rhythm.
From here on out, then, it’s all about keeping things moving in a forward direction. Some final suggestions on that front:
- Be kind with yourself. Your online recordings might be full of “umms” and “uhhs,” or your slides bland, or the aesthetics of your cuLearn page layout uninspiring. If you don’t see an easy and immediate fix for those things, ignore them all, in full confidence that you have made the right call. We are building an emergency bridge, not painting a masterpiece.
- Be kind to your students. This is an unprecedented situation, and the new normal is “nothing is normal.” Your relationship with your students should reflect that. Worrying about the veracity of your students’ claims, for instance, strikes me as wasted mental energy for everyone involved.
- Be kind to existing supports. Any campus service that has been deemed essential, and that includes TLS, is no doubt overwhelmed. There was no time to hire and train an army of employees for this, any more than there was time for you to learn all the ins and outs of teaching online once the scope of the impending health crisis became clear. Teams will be working overtime, and personnel whose expertise lies in one area will be re-purposed for help in other areas. We are in this together.
- Build on your strengths. Use whatever tools and approaches strikes you as within your capacity. Don’t develop a plan you aren’t comfortable with. Do what you can, rather than striving to do all the things.
Stay healthy and safe, friends, and strive to summon those “better angels of our nature”—kindness, understanding, sharing, and a sense of communal struggle against a common foe. Oh, and don’t forget to wash your hands!