Monday, March 30, 2020

Going online with care

Going online with all learning and teaching fast versus going online at a more considered pace.

There's the two-minute noodle version versus what you get when you take things more slowly; what you get from the garden, the artisan bread maker,  the love and tenderness of home cooking.
This post is about more than the first and less than the second.

This is more than a fast transit. Having adjusted to need, this is a more contemplative blog about what informs the choice to be online and to do this joyfully because it’s got a lot going for it.

The most often cited reason for online is the anytime, anywhere access for learning and teaching.
The plus side of this is learners  don’t have to learn from just one person or one body of knowledge
The connectivity of the medium is the point rather than I can do it here or there, now or later. To use the media for what it’s best for, leverage the capacity to connect.

What makes a 'good' online course is the same as in any course, it is the ability to connect. Working with what might be a new medium provides a nudge toward consciously thinking about how this might be enhanced deliberately.


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Going online fast, quick and easy with a university course of study

This is not a blog about how to design an online course.
This blog is about doing a better than bad job quickly, in one week.

It's for those already working within learning and teaching environments in higher ed whose workplace already provides an online platform such as Blackboard, canvas, moodle, d2l...

This is not e-learning by design, this is online learning by necessity. You did not come into this space because of philosophical love for anywhere anytime learning, for open education or social justice  (all of which are great reasons btw). And nor did your students.  Pedagogies of freedom to learn can still inform this work, so let's get serious while also understanding that the most important thing in your students lives, your colleagues, as well as your own, is probably not the course you need to adapt.  If you do find yourself being sucked into a whirlpool of philosophical navel-gazing on educational pedagogies, save this for later.

For my colleagues being told to put the remainder of their course online, now is a time to get really pragmatic. This is not the time for the tiara and ballgown, this is the t-shirt and jeans style. What is offered here is a very pragmatic approach, fast quick and easy guide to going online.

The following is important to your confidence in this space and to your student's confidence in you:

  1. Your students want to learn, you have subject knowledge and you already have a relationship with them.
  2. You have expertise in the platform, or you have colleagues and support services who do. Your workplace will have in-house specialists; Learning technologists, educational technologists, e-learning and online expert academics and those involved in research into distance education.
  3. Students and yourselves will not be the only members of their families needing to be online. Assume limited access to computers, laptops and the internet. Neither they nor you signed up for a totally online course. Assume they will access courses through their phones (at least some of the time, so again keep things simple). Don't waste time on surveying students on what they will be using, just keep it simple.
  4. Students and yourselves will probably be sharing not only technology but study spaces with others, now is not a time to assume they will be putting more time into their studies or even the same amount... they may have demands for childcare or care of other dependents that was not expected when the course started.
  5. Some of your colleagues and students will get stressed if not sick. Everything suggested here is to mitigate against this. 
  6. If you work with a team of staff, use teams on office 360, or skype... then delegate. Have your meetings through office 360 teams or skype when possible.
So keep it simple: be kind in these circumstances with students, their families, your colleagues, yourself and your own family.

Having got kindness as a primary concern, let's get to pragmatics.

1. Deal to any event with required attendance. Exams, presentations and change these to an online format asap.  (More about this in the next block labelled assessments.)
2. Students should not be required to show up at a specific time for anything. This includes face to face AND online. They will have other pressures on their time; they will be involved with self-care but may also be caring for others.
3. Use what is already freely available; you will be unlikely to have time to develop new learning objects. Plenty of Creative Commons licensed content is available online. Searching for it takes time though, but less time probably than making your own.
If you are providing course content such as lectures, where possible think short. Chunk them down.  (Don't really want to burst any enthusiasm here, but two hours of you is sadly going to be less captivating than two hours of running repeats of Breaking bad, Suits, Game of Thrones...etc.)
5. It is not unusual for a pre-recording to be shorter than a face-to-face class.  However, still, chunk it down. Two one hour blocks are preferable to one two hour block... three 40 minute blocks even more so... 6 major concepts supported by readings even more so. Some of these concepts you are wanting to get across may already be available in the creative commons or public domain.
6. Don’t fuss too much about when making any videos. Now is not the time for fussing on pixelation or resolution. or redoing patches because a phone rang etc. Good enough is good enough. Editing is a waste of your time right now.
6. Be gentle on yourself; where things can be left as they are, leave them as they are.
7. Ideally, all courses would have a similar layout online so students don't have to learn to do things differently in each course or paper. This would allow them to concentrate instead on learning course content. However, consider this a task to work on in the next semester moving forward.
8. Any material that you would be cautious of showing in a public space, needs to be forwarned; if your course involves images not fit for the family, then give notice of this, say things like the next image is of...



Assessments will change. You will not want to have any student or staff member being required to be in a room with others. So the picture above is figurative; it points to how assessments involve our working alongside our students and ensuring the assessment meets the learning need and does so while caring for their and our own safety and mental health. For example, now is not the time to suddenly decide on wikis etc. for groupwork. While wikis are an excellent groupwork strategy, that would be course design and would already be underway, if you use any platforms for students to connect through, use ones that they are familiar with already. If groupwork was a part of your course, fantastic, but make sure it requires no synchronised presence physical or otherwise. If it involved a group presentation rescope it to be a report instead.

1.  Discuss any changes with your student disability support services. Also, notify students of such services being available in case a change in assessment results in differently-abled students requiring different support.
2. Keep it simple. Where there was an in-class test or exam, keep to the test or exam but place it online.  If there was groupwork, keep the groupwork but instead of a group presentation where all would have to be physically present have the submission of a group report. If there was an individual presentation, keep this but have it submitted as an audiovisual file whether into the LMS or through youtube. if it's through youtube make sure you have asked students to set the privacy setting and also a reminder to them afterwards if they want to delete the clip.
3. Assume you cannot control the environment for any exams or tests. Change it to open book /open internet/ etc.  You do not need new software or surveillance software adding to your own or the student's sense of anxiety in current times. While there is software that can watch what a student does during an exam such as whether any other online browsing occurs, this is a violation of privacy which was not agreed to prior to the course starting. Instead, engender trust and kindness when possible, and it is always possible (Dalai Lama). Assessments can provide an opportunity for learning not only of learning. If students sit an assessment while debating answers with others by phone or online, does it matter? Always worth considering is whether it is learning or obedience you are wanting. However, if you are wanting to have greater environmental control and greater confidence in individual learning, the learning management system (LMS) will have features that make this more likely.  (See section below on  strategies to increase the integrity of online testing)
4. On the LMS it is possible to set up a test or exam as a synchronised event (this is similar to having all students in same time and place as with an exam). This approach does prevent the same person sitting the test for others. However, do consider the earlier statement about synchronised events and consider how essential this is and if there needs to be arrangements made for alternative assessment opportunities for those needing an extension etc.
5. You can set up tests and exams as time-restricted though if doing this please allow some leeway.  Not everyone's household clocks or watches can be relied on to be accurate. If its a one hour test, have it open 5 mins early and close 10 mins late. The amount of student distress and extra contact this generates with the lecturer or the IT support services is worth it folks.
6. My advice in contrast to 3 and 4 above is to set up a test or exam so it can be taken more often. This means a tech problem is already sorted. Any internet problem already sorted. Any urgent care of self or loved ones, already sorted. Just make sure you have explained this in announcements to students about how it will be set up.
7.  Where possible, automate the marking. If using standards-based/outcomes  / or outcomes based  assessment linked to learning outcomes this remains possible online. For example,  a mid-semester exam and an end of semester exam can be converted to two online exams.  Where there was a one-hour midsemester multiple choice question (MCQ) exam which assesses three learning outcomes, you could set this up as three 20 minute tests, one for each learning outcome. This has the advantage of having the LMS  calculate grade totals. Set the LMS up to total learning outcomes across assessments. Then have it calculate a course final grade. However, the final grade is only released for students where all learning outcomes were achieved.
8. Strategies to increase the integrity of online testing:
  • If using MCQs many textbooks and publishers provide tests that can be placed into the LMS. This would save a lot of time in writing MCQs and for some texts these can be uploaded straight into a test pool on the LMS. If you use outcomes-based assessment methods, tag the questions to your relevant learning outcomes. This will make uploading a test of a specific learning outcome so much easier.
  • However MCQs from texts are also readily googleable, so if you don't want students just googling the answer, do consider varying the wording. 
  • Make the pool of questions bigger than the number of questions required for the test or exam. Setting this up through the LMS in pools means a specific test for any one student is selected from this larger pool.  This means each student will sit a different mix of questions. 
  • Set up the test or exam so that the questions only open one at a time. This helps prevent the whole test or exam being copied and circulated online.
  • Set it up so there is no backtracking, this prevents students advising other students and having answers then being altered.
  • Randomise the order of answers for MCQs. If any question being loaded into the LMS assessment pool has an answer such as "all of the above" or "none of the above" you might ditch the question, or edit so that it says all of these answers. Alternately tick the box on the specific question so this question does not have randomised answers. (Now may not be the best time to debate the pros and cons all or none type questions, save this for when you have time for deeper consideration. 
  • After getting through this semester, in preparing for the next, learn how to run the test analysis software in your LMS (for example on Blackboard have a look at Then remove questions from the test pool that are too easy, or too hard (or teach this content area differently...)
9. Remind students when work is due, or an online webinar etc. Remember they will probably have less social cues about when things are due when learning at a distance. The LMS has an announcement system that allows you to write announcements for release later. Make it friendly and supportive. With all online media it is too easy for things to be misinterpreted as authoritative or impersonal and remember you never know whats going on in their lives.

Don't reach for the stars right now, be gentle on yourselves and on students.
Do keep the communications lines open, provide positively framed announcements telling students these changes are being made to support them during these times. Remind them of the discussion board or online chat space in the LMS. That way questions can be answered once rather than multiple times in multiple emails (which could mean some students being advantaged when others are not).

Further links you might find useful, when you have more time: