Saturday, April 11, 2020

Confronting the New Norm in Higher Ed: My CoVid Journey from In-Class to On-Line Teaching - Wk 1

Last week was our first full week of online teaching for my class of future teachers at the University of the Ed Tech and Design course was designed as a blended course so it wasn't too difficult to transfer over to an online situation.  Our lectures were already recorded and loaded online (in captioned format.) Our assignments were already created and posted on Blackboard - waiting to be released on the appropriate days.  Their assessments (quizzes) were also set and ready to go.

The biggest issue was how to support the most important ingredient in the soup - my students.  These students were in the last half of their spring semester. They had already spent 8 months of their 10-month school year creating their world. Their bedrooms were decorated just the way they wanted. Their daily menus were relatively standard. Those who had jobs (most of them) had crazy schedules that enabled them to work a sensible number of hours to support their schooling and still allowed them to have enough time to attend class and complete the required studying. Their friends were around the corner or down the hall. For the most part, life was good.

Then came CoVid-19. At first, it was a distant discussion point that was happening somewhere on the other side of the world. Then it crept into their Instagram threads. Then their professors were talking about the pandemic and the possibility of their classes "going online." The day that it was announced that students would not be returning to campus for face-to-face classes after Spring Break was when it became real. In the middle of Spring Break, our students were told that they had 5 days to move out of their dorms. This was startlingly real.

My job was to support these displaced students. Most of them moved home or into familiar surroundings. Even though this is were they grew up, they were not the same individuals who left home in August. They had to move back into a world where they may no longer fit.  Besides that, their homes may not have some of the necessities for our Educational Technology course.  ALL of our assignments and the tools that create them are online. Some of my students live where they don't have Internet access.  In some cases, it is because they can't afford it but in other cases, they may have moved back to their rural farm that can't be connected.  I know that I have at least one student who has this problem.  One option is to go to a friend or relative's house to work on their assignments but that doesn't always work either.  After it was brought to my attention, it was my responsibility to work with this so that they could succeed.

Finding the Best Online Format for Our Students
We have three instructors on our Ed Tech and Design team who teach the 9 sections. We design, develop, and refine our course together.  All of the assignments are the same as well as the rubrics we use to assess them. We share schedules. The only differences we have, overall, involve how we introduce and teach the material in class.   We discussed how we were going to approach this new online format.  Interestingly, one instructor said that she was going to transfer it over into the online format that we already had developed. Another professor decided that she would continue to teach her students during their designated class times twice a week.

I decided that I would just transform my two classes to the online format that we already had developed. I would hold Zoom Student Hours (same as office hours) at the same times as when they had been taught on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays - 9:30 and 12:30. These would involve me opening Zoom and sitting at my computer waiting for students who had questions or wanted to talk about something to visit me.  The first Tuesday of Student Hours came and went. I only had one student visit and that was because she thought it was required.  I had hoped that more students would seek my consultation, but that was not the case.

The full Ed Tech and Design team discussed our situation at a Tuesday afternoon Zoom meeting. Based upon our discussion, we have adopted a variety of support strategies. Some strategies are universal across all nine sections, others are instructor-specific. I am sharing my strategies in this reflection.

Based upon the lack of response in the Tuesday Student Hours, I decided that I needed to meet with all of my students. I decided to require then to meet me online on Thursday. My goal for our Thursday meeting was to give my students a safe place to "check in" and discuss what they had been experiencing. I wanted to learn more about how I could better support them.

Student Check-in

When I asked students to "check-in", it was a mixed bag. A few said that they had gone home and things were good, but most of them had experienced a bumpy ride along the way. Although they were in their homes, they felt foreign to their surroundings. It was "weird" to have to live under someone else's roof again and follow their rules.  Many of them talked about feeling depressed due to the changes and the overall problem that was causing this. 

When it came to discussing their studies, OVERWHELMED was a word that recurred many times in their descriptions. Each student was taking 3 or 4 courses.  Their teachers had been surprised by the change and they were trying to get all of the necessary information to their students about the new structure of the class and what they needed to do with their assignments. Email was flooding their Gmail boxes.  They needed a way to organize their lives.

Some students needed to work but this was not possible because their typical job spots had disappeared. The company had closed down because of the pandemic. Students who typically worked summer jobs in grocery stores or Walmart were working more hours than they wanted because the demand was so great. They needed to get their lives organized.

Support Our Students

I tried to address these needs. They needed tools to help organize their lives. We needed multiple opportunities and methods to communicate.  Up to this point, I had provided them with:
  • An Introductory Video that introduced them to the online version of our class, reviewed their responsibilities to complete this class, reviewed my responsibilities to lead them, and discussed the additional support I intended to provide.
  • Student Hours through Zoom would be on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 and 12:30.  I selected these times because they were the times we met on campus and it would provide some consistency.  We could also arrange individual hours if students couldn't attend my Student Hours.
  • Our Einstein Room was a discussion forum where students could post questions that they might have about the assignments or due dates or whatever is unclear. They used to send me an email, but then I would only reply to them and the rest of the class would miss out on our exchange. This way, responses could be shared with the whole class AND students could respond to the questions if they know the answers.
  • PLN Brag Sheet was a tool that we used in class. Our PLN (Personal Learning Network) assignment asked them to make 5 connections with other educators or educational resources throughout the semester. This is a semester-long assignment that students might put on the "back burner" until it's due. When we were in our classroom, we used a low-key recognition strategy by asking students to write their names on a whiteboard if they had completed one of the PLN connections in the past week.  This gave us an opportunity to discuss their achievement and give other students ideas for the coming week.
  • Weekly Checksheets were exactly that.  Although I provided them with a semester-long schedule identifying due dates, this checksheet is shorter-term and less threatening. It also provides me with a venue where I could update them on suggestions for getting their lives organized and the latest developments related to their schooling.
  • is a lifesaver. It enables me to contact my students through group text messaging. Great way to emphasize the importance of something or remind them of what they need to do to prepare for our meetings.
Additional proposed support strategies could include:
  • Weekly Videos to accompany the checksheets. We pride ourselves on how we integrate UDL (Universal Design for Learning) into our program.  These videos would provide a "personal touch" to the written word. 
  • Periodic Videos would be created when I believed that instruction needed some enhancement. Sometimes, after I have introduced something in class but wasn't satisfied that I got the point across to my students, I create short videos that further explain and demonstrate the process being taught. 
  • Delay Due Dates for the next three assignments. My students needed some transition time so I met with my colleagues and we decided to delay some of the due dates. There was a collective sigh when I introduced this through Zoom.  It was only about a week, but it would give them some relief. 

Taking Tally of their Preferences

I have been trying to find out what I can do to support my students based upon research literature.  I decided that the best way to find this out was to ask them.  I created a simple 2-question Google Form survey.
  • The first question was "Have you watched the Intro Video that Dr. Z released." I may have asked this to soothe my ego, but I also wanted them to know that the videos I release are important.
  • The second question asked them to rank the various strategies that I had used or was planning to use.  I asked them to "identify the top 6 strategies" out of 8.  I also added a line where they could identify "Other."  These strategies included:
    • Weekly checklists
    • Weekly videos created by Dr. Z
    • Student Hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays
    • Meeting on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays through Zoom to discuss assignments and questions.
    • Einstein Room
    • Using to text you with information and reminders.
    • Google Calendar containing all of your assignment deadlines.
    • PLN Bragsheet for posting your progress
    • Other.
The first question uncovered that almost 3/4 of them had seen the video.

The second question revealed that organization was most important to my students. The Weekly Checklist and the Google Calendar holding the assignments were #1 and #3. This was followed with active communication between my students and me. Texting them with was #2 and Zooming classroom meetings and holding Zoomed Student Hours rounded out the Top Five. 

Reorganizing Based on Data

We reviewed the results in class.  Based upon these findings, we decided that it would be best to meet on Tuesdays.  These would be full-length sessions beginning at 9:30 or 12:30.  These sessions would be used to provide students with a place to "check-in" and have an opportunity to work with me and their classmates to talk about their challenges and perhaps learn some strategies to deal with these potential barriers. I decided not to make these sessions required and didn't take attendance.

These sessions would also be times when we would discuss the lecture topic for the week and I could introduce the next project.  This would involve having them prepare for the session by reviewing the assignment's directions and the examples of previous projects to give them enough background to ask questions. 

Based upon the PLN Bragsheet's poor showing in the polls, I have removed it from the available tools. 

We also discussed the weekly videos and decided that our Tuesday sessions would take the place of online videos.

Looking Towards the Future

I don't know how this semester will proceed.  With the help of my students and my colleagues, I am trying to mold a learning environment that will support our student's learning/lives as well as prepare them to effectively use technology to support learning in their schools. I will continue to use Google Forms and other tools to survey my students so that I may tailor my course to address their learning needs. 

The most important thing that I am learning and trying to achieve is supporting my students. A teacher can't make a difference in a student's life unless they get to know the student's needs. While this online connection may make this more challenging, it is important that I provide an environment where the students feel safe and are willing to approach me for assistance.

What are you doing to address your students' needs in this distant world?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Educators: How are You Introducing Your Students to the New Online Format?

Jumping from Blended to Online Learning
A couple of weeks ago we met with our students face-to-face in the classroom and this week we are connecting with them through technology.  That's quite a jump.   

Making this jump can be tough for your students.  Earlier this semester, they were bathed in your warm and understanding classroom presence, and now they will be Zooming and emailing with you.  The hardest part of this transition is keeping your teacher-student connections alive.  

Creating a Transitional Introduction Video

While there is little research into effective ways to change your course into remote teaching halfway through the semester, there is research that introductory videos can be beneficial for your students before an online course. Your online persona and the format of the course will be different so they need to be introduced. 

This introduction could be presented in either video, audio, or text, but the most effective format would be the format you will be using - video.   Your students need to be reassured that parts of their course will remain the same while some have been modified. They also need to be informed of the additional services/tools that you have implemented to support their success.

I teach a blended course along with two extraordinary instructors (and wonderful GA) called Educational Technology and Design. It is designed to provide future teachers with an introduction to using technology to support learning in the classroom. All of the materials are available through our LMS. The lectures are all recorded and posted online each week of the semester.  This lecture is accompanied by readings (RWLD) and there is a weekly quiz so that they could prove their mastery of the material.  We have also had 2 50-minute lab sessions where we discussed the lectures and worked on the 6 projects that they completed throughout the course. 

Due to the structure of our course (9 sections), our students will not experience much difference in how materials are offered and how they will work on their projects.  The main difference will be that they will have to be more self-organized in their new world. They will have to create specific times to Read/Watch/Listen to the materials and work on their projects. While they won't experience much change in our class routine, some of my students were concerned about taking this online.

Introductory Video

In support, I created a 12-minute video where I discussed the situation, identified both my and their responsibilities, reviewed the upcoming lectures and assignments, and explained the additional forms of support that we will be providing.   I concluded with reviewing their responsibilities and suggestions for organizing themselves to achieve success. 

Please review this video and provide me with feedback about it.  (It was captioned in the format shared with my students but it didn't make it to the version below.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Resources for Educators, Parents, Administrators, and Students to Deal with Temporary School Closings.

Schools across the nation are closing due to the Corona Virus Outbreak.  This is an unprecedented event that will affect our world's population. 

I am attempting to organize some resources to assist Teachers, Parents, Administrators, and Students.  
  • Teachers need to learn how to teach online and facilitate their student's learning from a distance.
  • Parents need to decide how to deal with closed schools and childcare.
  • Administrators have the incredible responsibility to make the decision to close a school and then how to deal with the ramifications.
  • Students need to make decisions about how to remain positive and change their learning methods from in the classroom to online.  This may not be much of a change for some, but it will be a unique experience for most.

It is difficult find resources to address these needs.  Unlike most Blog Postings, I will continue to expand this list as I find new resources.

PLEASE SHARE your resources and ideas about how we can support our population. 
Do NOT make political statements because I will remove them.
This MUST be a positive environment to help our population.


Support for Teachers

Vicki Davis is sharing a set of valuable resources for online learning. Companies like Zoom, Kahoot, Book Creator, and Discovery Education are offering free access to their materials for schools that are closing.  I would like to note that Vicki has taken the gauntlet to help others in this situation.  She is the one who inspired me to write this posting and begin to find ways to support you.  Thank you, Vicki!

An Emergency Guide (of sorts) to Getting This Week's Class Online in About an Hour (or so)
Concise description of plans for developing Course Content, Activity Creation, and Course Communications. Matt Crosslin's instructions are practical and useful. Provides a variety of useful links too.  Must Read. 

Preparing for Just-in-Time Remote Teaching/Learning
Dr. Jon Becker provides fundamental ideas and suggestions for developing a productive mindset when working with your students after you have transitioned to online classes.  He provides useful insight.

This is a Facebook group to provide support for schools that are moving to Online Learning.  It requires you to ask for access and explain why you want to join, but the resources are useful.

The COVID-19 Online Pivot (Higher Education)
Martin Weller shares some resources of institutions that provide models and suggestions for making the move to online learning.

Teaching in the Context of COVID-19 (Higher Education)

Jacqueline Wernimont (Dartmouth, USA), Cathy N. Davidson (CUNY Grad College, USA)
provide a rich collection of resources for making the move and succeeding with online learning.  Includes resources to 1) help you understand COVID-19, 2) assist in Teaching Online, 3) support you in developing/using various tools for online learning, and 4) decide which assignments to consider.

Questions to Ask Students about Resources, Expectations, and Needs for Succeeding in Online Learning (Higher Education)
A dozen questions you might use in a questionnaire to learn about your students' situations and needs. Even if you don't use these questions, they make you think about aspects that you may not have considered.

Tips and Tricks for Using Zoom Successfully in Your Online Learning Class (Twitter Thread)
Dr. Ryan Straight provides 29 suggestions (in no particular order) for using Zoom in your online courses. This Twitter thread even links to other threads that will deepen your understanding.

Step-by-Step Guide to Using Zoom
Lucy Gray created this guide for her school today and is sharing it with the rest of the world. Zoom is by far the best video conferencing tool for schools.  Review this and engage with Zoom.  Thanks, Lucy.

Support for Administrators

Some of our students don’t have internet access at home. Schools that are closing are advocating online learning for students’ schooling. This U.S. News article identifies some strategies that could help. 

Support for Parents

These closures will have a dramatic effect on working parents.  Where will they be able to take their children when the schools close.  This article talks about how you can discuss this with your bosses and how you might advocate for other working arrangements.

How do you approach Home Schooling when your school closes?  This Parenting magazine article discusses a strategy that parents can take if for creating a fruitful homeschool situation.

Support for Students

Written from a university student's perspective, this collection of tips can be useful to high school students as well. I especially appreciated the tips that suggested connecting with other students and getting to know your professor.

8 Strategies for Getting the Most Out of an Online Class (Higher Education, High School)
These strategies are written for the college student, but they are just as applicable for high school students. It stresses self-discipline and addressing this class the same way you would approach a face-to-face class.

How to Make the Most of Online Courses (Higher Education) (Video)
Practical suggestions for succeeding online. Many of these plans would be productive in any face-to-face as well. Divides the strategy into Clarify Your Goals, Use Dedicated Time and Space, Use a Study Buddy, and Reflect on the Process. Uses Sketchnoting for video impact. This is a MUST WATCH.

About Coronavirus 19

Insightful discussion of points to keep in mind when working with people with disabilities.