Online learning is a comprehensive term that includes a number of instructional environments and approaches.
Asynchronous Online Courses
These types of course offerings do not take place in real–time. Students are provided with content and assignments and are given a time frame to complete course work and exams. Interaction usually takes place through discussion boards, blogs and wikis. As a result, there is no class meeting time. Asynchronous online learning environments are effective for students with time constraints or busy schedules.
Synchronous Online Courses
These types of course offerings require the instructor and all enrolled students to interact online simultaneously. Similar in some ways to a webinar, participants interact through text, video or audio chat. Synchronous learning environments enable students to participate in a course from a distance in real time.
Hybrid courses, also known as blended courses, are learning environments that allow for both in–person and online interaction. Typically, hybrid courses meet in person several times during a semester and provide for computer–based communication in between those face to face sessions.
Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es) because of a crisis impacting all or part of campus. You may want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you from becoming overwhelmed with individual questions.
Interruptions of courses can occur for a variety of reasons. During an interruption of their classes, students may experience confusion and/or anxiety. It’s best to have a plan in place to keep students informed about how the class will proceed.
Some good practices to consider are:
- Communicate proactively: Inform students about any changes or interruptions as early as possible. Students may not know what your expectations are in terms of their current responsibilities. Will they be expected to adhere to the schedule of assignments on the syllabus? If there are group projects planned, will these stay in place? What you communicate will depend upon the duration of the interruption and this may not be clear early on. Initial messages should reassure the students that they will not be held accountable for the interruption and that flexibility and accessibility will be part of any solution.
- Reduce complexity: focus on your course, not the crisis. In the event of an external event that affects the broader University community, central resources will manage crisis communications, so you do not have to provide those kind of updates.
- Be realistic: develop a communication plan and share it with your students. You may want to consider:
- How you will communicate with your students: it is advisable to craft a group email and send it to your students in the event of a disruption. This can be done through Microsoft. Each of your courses has a separate Microsoft page that you can access through My.yesbud. Your Microsoft course site will enable you to send emails to the entire class. You will also want to consider whether you will communicate synchronously (in real time), asynchronously (with a delay) or with a combination of both depending upon your needs.
- How often you will communicate with your students: managing your communication load will be important as students may begin reaching out to you individually. It is important at the outset to let students know how quickly they can expect a response. In a crisis situation, students may grow anxious if they don’t hear back immediately. You may want to set an automatic reply in your Microsoft account that reassures the students that you have received their message and you will get back to them in whatever span of time you deem realistic and appropriate for your capacity and their needs.
- How your will students communicate with you: While most students at the outset of an interruption will reach out via email, you may want to identify an alternative solution that will make managing messages easier. Your Blackboard course site has a Discussion Board which all of your students have access to. The Discussion Board will allow your students to post comments and questions all in one place. This will eliminate the need for you to wade through a mass of emails from large numbers of students. Since all of the students in a class have access to the discussion board, you can create a Frequently Asked Questions forum which should reduce the need for you to respond to similar questions repeatedly.
- How your students will communicate with each other: In some cases, your students may have established working groups that they will want to continue. The Discussion Board will also enable students to communicate asynchronously by posting messages to each other. You will want to establish some communication guidelines for these discussion forums so that your expectations for appropriate communication are clear.
- How to communicate synchronously: Online synchronous communications can be managed through various web conferencing solutions. When thinking about setting up a web conference, you will need to consider how technically complex the tool will be for you and your students, whether Yesbud IT can support the web conferencing solution you plan to use and whether your students have the ability to attend an online synchronous session. To participate successfully in an online synchronous session, students will need Internet access with sufficient bandwidth and the requisite technical ability. Some of your students may live in different time zones so this is something to consider as well.
In the event of an interruption, you may need to provide an updated syllabus that modifies the planned course activities, assignments, content and due dates. Once you have establish clear communication procedures and pathways, you may want to send updated course materials. There are many ways to do this.
Considerations when posting new course materials:
- Make sure students know where to find the material: The simplest solution is to email students new course materials as attachments or links to online resources like videos, websites or podcasts. You can also post these items on the Microsoft Discussion forum or upload them directly to your Microsoft course site. Hosting materials in a centralized location is more manageable than emailing them. If Microsoft proves too technically complex for you or your students, you can create a folder on the Google Drive and share materials that way.
- Use mobile friendly formats: In a crisis, many students may only have access to a phone available, so it is best to convert Word documents, PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets to pdf format which can be read on a mobile device.
While emailing documents and hosting discussion forums are effective methods to provide continuity, they may not prove to be an effective instructional strategy over longer periods of interruption. We have a number of recommended tools you can use to create audio and/or video lectures.
Many different multimedia resources are available online so you should not feel the need to create all of the course materials for your students. In the event of an unplanned interruption, you may not have the time to master content creation tools and then create, edit and post content. A good first step is to search the University Library databases for readings, link to websites and use existing videos and podcasts to integrate media into your course.
Classes at Yesbud University are structured as small learning communities, where students have regular and meaningful interactions with their instructors and each other. It is important to ensure that interruptions in the course do not disrupt existing collaborations or prevent the development of meaningful student-centered instruction. We have several recommended tools and training for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.
Consider these suggestions when planning for student collaboration:
- Choose asynchronous tools if possible: Asynchronous tools are not limited to email and text. Voicethread, as an example, allows students to post audio or video comments in an online, mobile-friendly and accessible environment. You and your students already have accounts and this tool is integrated with Microsoft. It’s important to bear in mind that students are not in the course to acquire technology skills but rather to focus on the course learning objectives as they relate to the discipline, which are often demanding and complex. Therefore, it is important to choose tools with low barriers to use so that students do not come to feel that their inability to master a chosen tool will negatively impact their learning.
- Communicate collaboration outcomes: Let students know why they are being asked to collaborate, how their collaboration will be measured and what the learning goals are for any required collaborations. Similar to your communication plan, a plan for student collaboration will need to be developed and shared that explains the duration and frequency of student-to-student communication.
Assessing students during a course interruption can present several challenges. In the case of written assignments there are a number of options:
- Document transfer: It is advisable to avoid having students email attachments to you as this can quickly prove overwhelming and make tracking student submission difficult. Alternatively, you can have students upload documents to the Google Drive. In this case, you can create a course folder. If you want to prevent students from seeing each other’s work you can create sub-folders for each individual students. If anonymity is not important, students can post their work on the Discussion Forum.
- Assignment tool in Microsoft: if anonymity is important, you can create assignments in Microsoft and students can click a link to upload their work. This solution allows for in-line commenting and grading online so you will not need to download assignments and email them back.
- Document naming conventions: Be sure to tell the students your preferred format for the names of documents they will send you. Otherwise, you may get many documents named “Doc1.”
- Document format requirements: Let the students know your preferred document format. If you don’t, students may send you documents in a format you cannot open and addressing this will add to your communication load.
- Deadline flexibility: You may need to be more flexible than usual during a course disruption as it may take some time for students to become acclimated to this new learning style. It is advisable to let students know when to communicate that they are having difficulty with the assignment or the technology as early as possible.
- Tests and quizzes: Your preferred method of student assessment may be tests and quizzes rather than writing assignments. Microsoft has a test tool built in that you can use to create assessments. This tool can also automatically grade multiple choice questions which may be an effective way to provide students with numerical feedback and relieve some of your assessment burden while you are managing communication and content creation. Online tests can be set so that each student gets a different order of questions and answers. Tests can also be timed and assigned a required password.
- Providing feedback – When giving an assignment, its best to inform the students when they can expect feedback from you and what kind of feedback they can expect. As with your communication plan, it’s best to be realistic in terms of your turnaround time. Feedback can be given in written form, but with tools like screen capture, you can provide video feedback of student work.
Yesbud University has identified a number of useful tools and guides for putting content online. When selecting a tool for use online, it is important to consider the following:
Suitability: you may want to consider if the tools serves your instructional purpose. For example, many of your students may use social. Would using such a tool for your online class be suitable?
Ease of Use: In deciding whether to select a tool, be sure to evaluate the tool as a non-user. Try to determine how easy or difficult it will be for your students to achieve a level of competence with the tool such that they can use it to learn effectively and participate meaningfully.
Accessibility: be sure to choose tools that are accessible as outlined by the University principles of flexible, adaptable curriculum design to support multiple learning approaches and engagement for all students and in terms of legislative requirements for meeting the specific accessibility needs of learners with disabilities.
Required Equipment: You may want to survey your students’ access to technology when selecting tools. For example, all students may not have access to webcams or microphones which would inhibit their ability to do web-conferencing.