This information is provided by your fellow faculty members, the TLX's Instructional Designers and Faculty Facilitators, specifically for professors who are redesigning their courses during disruption to on-campus learning.
Here are some ideas for setting up your off-campus learning environment. You can use them as-is, or experiment, alter and adjust them to find out what works best for you, and share your experiences with the TLX and your peers.
Use Blackboard as a Home Base
Blackboard is the College's Learning Management System and is supported for faculty and students. Using Blackboard as your "home base" during the disruption can help provide an organized, consistent environment for students. This does not mean you have to put all of your material inside of Blackboard or use its tools exclusively; rather, the suggestion is to at least use it as a home base (to which you can link out to other tools or materials if you prefer).
Find out more about Blackboard at GBC.
Organize Content and Activities
Consistency and organization help students navigate new learning environments and reduce cognitive overload, and clear cues can help them recognize immediately what to do with materials and tools.
- See detailed information about the GBC standard course template, how download it and customize it on the Course Template page.
- When providing content (readings, links to videos and articles, etc), provide context for every piece whenever possible -- what this piece is about, why it matters, and what students need to do with it
- Where possible, after providing content give students an opportunity to encode/apply any new knowledge; e.g., after a long reading, invite students to complete a brief self-check quiz, write a brief reflection in their journal, comment in a Discussion Forum, etc.
- Ensure that the content being uploaded aligns with copyright policies; see the copyright guide
Welcome Your Students
In your on-campus environments, the start of classes makes it easy for everyone to "read the room" and hear the professors' welcoming remarks. It is equally important -- and perhaps more so -- to establishing a welcoming environment online.
Here are some ideas for welcoming students to your environment and introducing the class:
- Write a welcome message (to email, post in a Bb Item page, or send as a Bb announcement)
- Create a welcome video
- Write an introduction to the course and how it works off-campus
- Create a video on how to navigate your course environment
- Create an Introductions forum in your Blackboard Discussion Board
- If you are already using Teams, create a welcome message there
- Let students know that supports are available to them
Foster Social Presence
Social presence is well-documented in the literature as being a very important factor in enabling learning, helping ensure student persistence in a course, and sustain student satisfaction with learning experiences. Social presence includes the perceptible (visible/audible) actions of both the professor and the students.
Some strategies that foster social presence include:
- regular (but not frequent) messages from the professor about course goings-on (e.g., a note through your GBC email account every Monday summarizing the previous week, a preview of the current week's activities, a note of encouragement, etc)
- asynchronous discussion forums in your Blackboard Discussion Board (where students might be asked to discuss a topic, share their learning or resources, collaborate on a problem, etc)
- synchronous (live) online sessions using tools such as Blackboard Collaborate Ultra or MSTeams
- create micro-lectures with Camtasia or other tool in which you briefly address something that is happening in the class, in the field, etc (and be okay with hmms, hawws, pauses, blips, etc; this is not meant to be polished work)
Give Students Some Space
Social presence is important, and so too is a recognition that many of us prefer some time to reflect and process on our own. Some students don't learn optimally when required to continually interact with many other voices--and this may be compounded by having to interact via technology. In designing your learning environment, consider including some elements that give students options to work on their own and that respect their need for privacy. Some options include
- having a Learning Reflection Journal activity woven throughout your course (and perhaps they can submit a summary of their reflection highlights, referring specifically to module concepts)
- not requiring students to attend synchronous sessions for grades (and making these sessions optional instead; also important for those with limited tech access)
- not requiring students to turn on their cameras/web cams
- giving students an alternative option to group work tasks, particularly if there are many of these
Spontaneity, readiness to be agile, and a bit of mystery about specific upcoming activities can be great things. Some course elements, though, are better left as un-mysterious as possible. This helps students settle into a sense of routine, plan ahead to the extent possible, reduce doubt, and focus more on the learning and less on how they're supposed to manage tasks. Some ways to increase clarity and reduce mystery include
- providing a rubric for every graded task (learn about Rubrics)
- using a consistent structure in each week's learning plan (see the Course Template mentioned above)
- asking students to complete an occasional quick survey about the structure so far
The current disruption has created multiple layers of added complexity for professors and students. These include the requirement to teach/learn off-campus, new demands on time such as child care, changes to incomes and expenses, a new level of reliance on technology, and much more. For this reason, many professors are revisiting their assessments with the hope of feasibly aligning them to the present circumstances. If you are taking a second look at your assessments, here are some considerations:
- take a close look at how your assessments align with the course Learning Outcomes; are there any opportunities to streamline the assessments so there are fewer pressures on students at this time?
- where there are currently tests, can there be an alternative form of assessment, such as completion of a Guided Reflection that requires students to cite elements of the course and credible sources?