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Resources for Just-in-Time Online Teaching

From the Director

The Center for Teaching is making available a number of resources for faculty and other instructors as they move elements of their classes online following Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente’s announcement that Vanderbilt classes will move to alternative instruction starting March 16.

Teaching in times of disruption, whether those disruptions are caused by health concerns, weather events, or travel delays, can be challenging. Shifting to online instruction requires substantive communication between teachers and students on a regular basis. Fortunately, there a variety of teaching approaches and technologies available to the Vanderbilt teaching community that can help as instructors move to alternative instruction methods.

Navigating the Shift to Remote Teaching and Learning

  • Dealing with the Unexpected: Teaching When You or Your Students Can’t Make It to Class – This teaching guide is a useful starting place for thinking through options for just-in-time online teaching. It provides pointers to strategies for sharing course content, hosting class discussions, and interacting with students.
  • Leading Lines Episode 75: Jennifer Townes and Joshua Eyler – In this episode of the CFT podcast Leading Lines, CFT assistant director Stacey Johnson interviews teaching experts Jennifer Townes and Joshua Eyler about the shift to online instruction. Stacey and her guests share practical strategies for making the online “pivot” in ways that are supportive of students and teachers.
  • Brightspace Model Course – CFT Brightspace support has set up a “model course” where the Vanderbilt teaching community can share questions, ideas, and strategies for online and alternative instruction. To participate, first register yourself for the course by clicking on the “Self-Registration” link on the navigation bar on the main Brightspace landing page. Once you’ve done so, the course will show up in your courses in the “Sandbox Courses” category. Enter the course to access the discussion boards, where instructors are encourage to ask questions and share resources.
  • Accessibility and Remote Teaching – Accessibility in an online environment is essential. All students, including those with disabilities and learning differences, should be included and valued as the campus transitions to remote teaching. This Brightspace blog post outlines some easy-to-use tools and methods instructors can use to increase accessibility in their courses. See also “Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19,” a blog post by Aimi Hamraie, assistant professor of medicine, health, and society.

Connecting with Students During Remote Teaching

  • Communicating with Your Students about the Move to Online Classes – Most Vanderbilt instructors have made the shift to remote teaching as of this writing, but the advice in this CFT blog post on supporting students during this challenging transition will be useful throughout the semester. The post includes sample emails from two thoughtful instructors for connecting with students.
  • Gathering Feedback During Remote Teaching and Learning – Informal check-ins with students about their experiences learning remotely are important. For instructors interested in somewhat more formal feedback, this blog post provides some useful questions to ask and instructions for using the Brightspace survey tool.
  • Inclusive and Equitable Teaching Online – Ensuring that all students feel belonging and have equal chances to thrive regardless of their abilities, identities, or perspectives is a challenging goal under normal teaching circumstances. This CFT blog post features approaches from three faculty for meeting that goal during remote teaching and learning.

Moving Course Content and Learning Activities Online

  • Putting Some of Your Course Content Online in a Hurry? We Have Resources for You! – This is the first of several posts on the CFT Brightspace support blog providing detailed suggestions for moving one’s teaching online. This post includes suggestions for those teaching seminar and discussion-based course and those teaching lecture and larger courses.
  • Remote Teaching at Vanderbilt: Tools for Online Teaching – This 75-minute video captures the in-person training sessions that the CFT and VUIT offered before the campus transitioned fully to remote teaching. In the video, CFT assistant director Stacey Johnson discusses options for remote teaching, as well as tools like Kaltura Capture, Virtual Classroom, and Zoom.
  • Asynchronous Teaching Tools on Brightspace – Although many instructors are using tools like Zoom and Virtual Classroom for live video conferencing, a lot of great online teaching typically includes asynchronous learning opportunities for students. This Brightspace blog post provides options for pre-recorded lectures, discussion boards, and other activities that don’t require students to be online at the same time.
  • Low-Bandwidth Teaching Tools on Brightspace – Similarly, video has its utility in online instruction, but it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. In fact, video, especially synchronous video, can be challenging for students with limited computer or internet access. This Brightspace blog post details some low-bandwidth teaching strategies useful for remote instruction.
  • Video Processing Slowly? Here’s Some Help. – For instructors using video in their teaching, many of the services that process video are struggling to keep up with demand as all of higher education moves online. This Brightspace blog posts features some workarounds for slowly processing videos, as well as tips for recording screencasts on one’s iPad.
  • Effective Educational Videos – For instructors creating screencasts and other educational videos for their courses, this teaching guide provides research-based advice on managing cognitive load and supporting student engagement. The guide features a short summary of recommendations at the end.
  • Finding and Using Open Educational Resources for Online Teaching – When teaching online or in person, instructors don’t have to create all the learning materials they want their students to engage with. See this new guide from Andy Wesolek, director of the Vanderbilt Libraries’ Digital Scholarship and Communication (DiSC) unit, for advice on finding and using open educational resources.
  • Teaching Labs Remotely – Since many lab courses are designed to be about learning from hands-on, messy, real-world exploration, moving these courses online can be a challenge. This blog post provides some ideas and lots of resources for meeting that challenge.

Moving Assessment of Student Learning Online

  • Developing Online Assessments of Student Learning – With the shift to alternative instruction, it’s a good time to rethink the roles of tests and exams in one’s teaching. In some cases, other forms of assessment will be more practical, help reduce students’ motivation to cheat, and do just as good a job revealing what students have learned. This Brightspace blog post walks through strategies for moving online writing assignments, quizzes, student presentations, peer assessment, and more.
  • Giving Exams Online: Strategies and Tools – For those who need to give an exam online, this new guide provides several options for structuring exams and leveraging tools (including Brightspace and Top Hat) for tests that reduce the probability of cheating. There aren’t ways to prevent all cheating, but we can reduce it.

Other Resources

  • Brightspace, Top Hat, Zoom, and GoReact – Vanderbilt instructors have access to a variety of technologies helpful for online and alternative instruction. The Brightspace course management system has a number of tools for presentation, interaction, assignments, and assessments. Top Hat provides polling and interactive tools for both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Zoom is a widely used video conferencing tool. GoReact helps instructors set up assignments where students submit videos for feedback from teachers and peers.

Faculty with questions about technologies and techniques for alternative instruction are encouraged to check out the Center for Teaching’s on-demand Brightspace resources, which include text and video tool guides, or reach out for support by phone or email. The CFT Brightspace team has been working around the clock to support faculty and other instructors in this very busy time, and they are standing by to answer questions and provide guidance. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them to get help.

Answers to more questions about teaching during this unprecedented semester can be found in the “Teaching Continuity FAQ for Vanderbilt Faculty,” organized by the Office of Faculty Affairs, one of several resources in their “Faculty Online and Alternative Education Resources” page. Finally, see the Vanderbilt Libraries page, “Vanderbilt Libraries Support Remote Teaching, Learning, and Research” for more tools and resources for navigating the shift to online instruction.

Designing an entire online course takes thoughtful planning and a fair amount of preparation. But moving elements of a face-to-face course online to maintain teaching continuity through disruptions can be done fairly efficiently, especially when faculty are willing to learn the basics of a new tool or two. Flexibility is important, both for faculty and students. Keep in mind that students who can’t attend class might have limited Internet access or need to keep up with class using nothing more than a phone. As Stacey advises in one of her blog posts, faculty should keep their expectations realistic, capitalize on technologies they are already using, and get help from colleagues.

One last recommendation: When national and international news is affecting our local campus, I like to reread the CFT’s “Teaching in Times of Crisis” teaching guide. It’s a helpful reminder that many of us have taught through challenging times in the past, and it suggests some simple steps instructors can take to make things a little easier on themselves and their students.

For more information on the university’s response to the coronavirus, please see this page, which is updated regularly.