In January of this year, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of COVID-19 virus a global health emergency. While global pandemics are certainly not new, our responses have increasingly harnessed technology to minimise negative health, economic, and social impacts.
In an uncertain and rapidly evolving environment – such as the one in which we currently find ourselves – quick preparations must be made by both university administration and faculty to ensure instructional continuity.
A growing number of colleges and universities have announced temporary shifts to online learning as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19. This shift takes planning and quick mobilisation of resources to effectively implement.
It’s important to note that moving an in-person course online is very different from designing a fully online course.
Fully online courses are usually chunked in weekly increments, while in-person courses meet 2-3 times per week, and when shifted online, students expect that rhythm to continue.
Additionally, many people take fully online courses for the flexibility, making synchronous discussions difficult. When an in-person course moves online, you can still expect students to be available to log in at specific times.
So, what could this look like in practice?
- Communication is key. Having a point person (or team) to process and effectively route questions from both students and faculty is necessary to ensure that correct and timely information is available.
- Training resources should be made accessible, especially for instructors who do not usually rely on a learning management system (LMS) or other computer-based teaching tools. There will be a learning curve – the goal here is to reduce it as quickly as possible.
- Faculty can explore collaborative tools, both on their school’s LMS and outside of it (e.g. Skype, Zoom, Google chat). For larger classes, you can put students into discussion groups; or use forums/chat rooms for smaller classes. As mentioned above, the nice thing is that you can expect students to all come online at the same time (as in, when the class met) for a chatroom or webinar discussion. However, it’s also important to record these in case your students become sick and miss the session.
- Hold virtual office hours using tools like Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. Distance can feel alienating, and students find it reassuring to know they can still have direct real-time conversations with their instructors.
- Pre-record lectures. Live video lectures work well, but they can also get technically complicated very quickly. An alternative quick approach is to add narrations to PowerPoint slides using the in-built ‘Record slide show’ feature. Narrated PPts are not the ideal choice for fully online courses, but for in-person courses that have transitioned online for an emergency, they work very well. We recommend audio rather than video – as the video option can be distracting for students and embeds a screenshot in the corner of each slide. On tablets or touchscreen computers, you can also create a blank white slide and write on it as you would a whiteboard in class, while recording the audio lecture.
- Mix things up – There are a lot of free videos, documentaries, and podcasts available online. Incorporate these where possible in order to maintain variety and keep students engaged. Additionally, not all assignments need to be typed – students can upload audio and video recordings, or photos of written work. Explore the options and think creatively.
Global outbreaks like H1N1 in 2009, SARS in 2003, and COVID-19 demonstrate that although infectious diseases respect no boundaries, preparedness is crucial in containing not only the virus, but also its negative impacts. Over the past week, we have seen higher education institutions shift away from traditional modes of study in order to protect the public’s health.
There are no doubt faculty who have been through something similar before both in and outside of your own institution. Reach out and learn from their experiences. Daniel Stanford, the Director of faculty development and technology innovation at the Center for Teaching and Learning at DePaul University has compiled a list of remote teaching resources, curated from institutions across the United States.
For universities, the simple truth is that the individual faculty members will be responsible for bringing their class and lecture materials online. While this may seem daunting, starting with the quick, simple solutions outlined above will minimise disruption and go a long way towards ensuring instructional continuity.