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Tips and Resources for Teaching In Fall 2020

There are many things to consider as we head into the Fall semester. On this page we share strategies, resources, tools, and specific considerations for some of the most common topics. If you would like to discuss one of these topics or anything else, Al Weiss – alweiss@pacificu.edu, Tatiana Piatanova – tapiatanova@pacificu.edu, or Robbie Pock – pockr@pacificu.edu or simply send a message to edtech@pacificu.edu at any time.

Designing a Student-Friendly Moodle Site

Even if your classes are meeting face-to-face, a clear, consistent Moodle course site will be critical to student confidence and success. Being able to easily and efficiently find everything needed to complete a given task in one place significantly lowers the cognitive load (and the frustration level) of students, freeing up more brain power for the learning task at hand. Here are some basic tips for designing your Moodle page:

Label Moodle Sections Clearly

You can organize your Moodle course page by any organization principle that makes sense for your course and content, just be consistent. Here are some common ways:

By week: Each section of the main course page contains resources and activities for a given week. The sections are titled Week 1, Week 2, etc. You can include a specific calendar date in the title if you want, but be aware that next time you teach the course, you will have to update the dates.

By topic: Each section of the main course page contains resources for a given unit, and the title of the section corresponds to that topic: Biomimicry, Ploynoimal Functions, Baroque Period, etc.

A combination: Some faculty find it useful to divide their main course page by Unit, then subdivide by weeks:

  • Unit 1: Dream Job (this section will contain an overview of the unit, the learning objectives targeted in the unit, etc.)
    • Week 1: this section would contain work and resources for the first week of the unit.
    • Week 2: this section would contain work and resources for the first week of the unit.
Use Labels (Consistently)

One of the kinds of resources you can add to a Moodle page is called a Label. This is basically a movable bit of content that can contain text, images, embedded YouTube videos, hyperlinks, etc. You can use Labels to subdivide and categorize the contents of each section on your Moodle course page. Something common labels are: What to Read, What to Submit, or Assigned Readings, Work to Do, or What to do Before class, What we’ll do In class, What to do after After class. Once you determine the most clear and useful way to organize each section, you can create one Label, and then duplicate it, drag it into subsequent weeks, and edit it to work for the particular week. The critical point here is to be consistent.

Post digital versions of all course resources

It is easy to upload most common file types and other digital resources (pdf, Word files, web links) onto your Moodle course page. Once you have turned Editing on, just drag and drop! In a world where paper can transmit germs along with ideas, it’s best to provide electronic/digital versions of your course materials.

Use the Announcements forum to communicate with the class

Every message you send through the Announcements forum gets copied and sent to students’ Pacific email accounts. The benefit to using Announcements over list serves is that there will be a persistent, chronological list of every message you’ve sent in one easy-to-find place. Students will get an email copy of your message, but if they need to find it again, (or if the never saw it in the first place) they know that it will always be in Moodle. It’s safe to assume that student inboxes are similarly chaotic to ours, and you don’t want an important update from you to get lost in email purgatory.

Using Announcements is pretty straightforward, but here is a quick tutorial.

Use the Moodle Grade Book

If students can check their own progress in your course, they will have more agency and ownership over their learning and will hopefully notice problems while there is still time to take action. The Moodle Grade Book makes it possible for students to check their grades and track their progress/performance any time, 24/7. Here are tutorials for how to use the Moodle Grade Book.

Some Further Resources:

Seven Guidelines for Designing Effective Course Pages for the Online Classroom: Website Design for Online Courses

The complete CETCI Moodle tutorials cover some of the most common site design tasks.


Building Community

Feeling connected to other learners is important to learning, especially when that learning is happening in online or hybrid environments. Add the uncertainty and upheaval of a global pandemic, and community and connection become even more crucial. To foster a community of learners who are mutually invested in each other’s success requires intentional planning. Here are some strategies that can help:

Get to Know Each Other

It is critical for students to feel like they are seen and valued as people in our courses, especially if they take place in online/virtual environments part or all of the time. Ice breakers are a tried and true way to jump-start the getting-to-know-you process, and they can work in fully virtual settings, too. Unfortunately, sometimes students find ice breakers to be awkward and cringy, which kind of defeats the purpose! Check out this post from Jennifer Gonzales at Cult of Pedagogy for ice breakers designed for students. Here is the list with adaptations for virtual environments.

While it’s important to help students get to know each other, it’s especially powerful (and more within your control) to cultivate your own connections to students. Consider tracking (and modeling) what Dave Stuart Jr. calls Moments of Genuine Connection.

Make Connection Matter to Learning

Social connection is necessary to a healthy, satisfying life, and a class generally goes better when students know each other, at least a little bit, especially in uncertain times and fluctuating learning spaces. But we’re losing an opportunity to leverage social connection in the service of improved learning if we don’t make those connections matter to learning. Designing courses where learning partners and teams are a core way that learning happens achieves both purposes: learning and social connection. Peer and collaborative learning experiences can boost learning, foster connections, and build important team skills. Here are some ways to make connection matter:

Put students in learning pairs and/or pods. These can be their go-to people for Pair-and-Share, peer review, pre-discussion questions, collaborative problem solving, etc. This article – Wondering how to accommodate remote learners into your face to face classroom this fall? Try the “Buddy” Protocol. – can provide critical support in hy-flex environments where students alternate between in-person and virtual class attendance.

Google Docs and Moodle Discussion forums are great ways to structure and support collaborative team-based learning.

Outside In – Incorporate Student Identities and Experiences

Look for ways to invite students to bring outside experiences and interests into the classroom and their coursework. When you’re thinking about the courses you will teach this fall, can you imagine ways that students can have some choice over topics for papers or projects? Would it make sense to bring their pandemic/quarantine experiences into class discussions? Can you design other ways to invite and integrate student interests, identities and experiences into coursework?

Strategies like this also relate to culturally responsive teaching and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). See this article – Culturally Responsive Teaching and UDL – for more information on this connection.


Teaching in the Hy-Flex and Socially-Distanced Classroom

Trying to imagine how to run a class session when some students are physically present but socially distant and others are logged in virtually is one of the most challenging aspects of planning for teaching this fall. There are questions about technique and technology. Although it is a complex situation, there are ways to strike a balance between expending a lot of energy to design and deliver intricate in-class maneuvers and building lesson plans and activities that are flexible and that take advantage of the unique advantages each modality offers. Here are some ideas:

Consider Moving Group Work Outside the Class Session

In a face-to-face class, it’s easy to ask students to turn to a neighbor and discuss a question, tackle a problem, or debate a point. In a socially distant, synchronous hybrid environment, multiple barriers come up: students will have to shout across 6 feet of distance to communicate, students joining virtually might not be able to hear students who are physically in the room, they can’t all look at a piece of paper on one student’s desk . . . While it’s possible to sort out these challenges, it might also be better to move small group activities outside of the class meeting time. Students can meet virtually in small groups, share notes and ideas on Google Docs, and then report back in the whole-class session the results of their group work.

Encourage a back-chat

You can facilitate a thought/comment/question stream during the class meeting using a shared Google Doc, the chat feature in Zoom, or some other back-channel communication tool. An important rule is to keep things as simple as possible for this fall–don’t add an extra tool if you can achieve the goal with something you have: if a shared Google Doc or Zoom chat will work, don’t introduce Slack or Discord.

Encourage a back-chat

If students can encounter your initial introduction to new content as a video outside of class, you can free up time during the class session to spotlight debriefs, modeling/demonstrations, and Q&A sessions.

See Week 3: Lively Lectures and Vivacious Videos from the Blended and Online Faculty Learning Community Moodle site and the companion site from the Creating Effective Educational Videos and Screencasts workshop for resources about creating educational videos.

Share the Mic

Synchronous hybrid (aka hy-flex) classrooms are ideal for student presentations, either individually or in groups. Are there ways you can incorporate student presentations into your fall courses?

Here are some ideas about student presentations from Duke University.

Adjust for Active Learning

Active learning is still possible in synchronous hybrid environments, though it won’t look exactly the way it does in traditional face-to-face classes. This guide – Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms – from Derek Bruff, Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching, offers lots of ideas. Here is another post – Active Learning for Your Online Classroom: Five Strategies Using Zoom – with ideas about active learning in the online classroom from Columbia University. It might take some trial and error, but active learning is important enough to make the adjustments required to make it work.

Some Further Resources:

This blog post – Building Calculus: A framework for learning activities
– shared in the FLC by Phil Ruder from Economics, presents a thorough discussion of three “hy-flex” teaching frameworks.

Inside Higher Ed: A Dry Run at a Socially Distanced Classroom

There are readings, resources, and other materials in the Moodle site for this summer’s Blended and Online Faculty Learning Community: Week 6: Synchronous Sessions, Blended Synchronous (Hy Flex) Classes, and the Socially Distant Classroom


Assessment

During the pivot to online learning this spring, the issue of assessment–specifically exams–presented significant challenges. To faculty who have always designed and administered paper exams in a proctored, in-person setting, the question of how to translate that assessment into a digital format, while also maintaining the integrity of the instrument and student performance proved difficult. The faculty who had the most success came to terms with the fact that it is nearly impossible to prevent students from consulting outside resources (including peers) during the online exam. Here are some ways to imagine assessments that discourage dishonesty and result in artifacts and performances that demonstrate actual student achievement.

Tighten the Timing

Students are less likely to look up answers or consult with peers if they know their time is limited. Set the time limit low enough that a student who knows the answers should be able to finish all of the questions with very little time to spare (adjusting for different reading speeds, etc.). This doesn’t guarantee a student won’t Google an answer or two, but if they do that very many times, they will probably not finish all of the questions. Make the cost of “cheating” high enough that a student risks a significantly lower grade if they engage in dishonest behavior.

Embrace the Open Book Test

If you know students have access to resources, design questions that require higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: application, analysis, and reflection.

Ask Different Questions

Write questions that require unique solutions and reflections so that no two students can have the same answer.

Make Preparation Part of the Process

Many of our students have gaps in academic skills like knowing how to condense notes, study, or accurately gage their own understanding, so all too often they arrive at the exam underprepared. This is a place where we can intervene with scaffolding techniques. If students are prepared for the exam, hopefully they won’t need to cheat to succeed.

Some Further Resources:

This section of the Blended and Online Faculty Learning Community: Writing Tests, Quizzes, and Other Assessments for the Online Environment

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