Sunday, June 28, 2020
About six weeks ago, I posted a question on Twitter: “Students, assuming we’re all doing online learning again in the fall, what do you want your profs to keep doing/stop doing/start doing?”
The tweet got a lot of comments from students, faculty, and parents spanning many disciplines and education levels. Naturally, plenty of responses were unhelpful (“Stop charging full tuition”), others were contradictory (“Synchronous classes!” “Asynchronous classes!”), and some had suggestions that I assume by now are obvious (“Provide closed-captions or transcripts for prerecorded videos.”) Some interesting themes and tidbits did emerge, though, and I thought I’d share:
Course materials. Students were enthusiastic for faculty to upload as many materials as possible as soon as possible—suggestions included scheduling material uploads (e.g., next week’s materials will be posted on Wednesday mornings) and uploading your lecture notes before class so students can follow along. Please don’t use slides that are only photos—when reviewing later, it’s difficult for students to know what the intended content was. Also keep in mind that students have limited access to printers at home; format accordingly.
Communication, in class and out of it. Clarity of assignments and expectations is paramount. Use the course homepage to post announcements, rather than expecting students to sift through their emails for course updates. Polls and discussion boards are largely ineffective for student engagement or facilitating conversation. Instead, encourage students to pose questions using the chat feature (which TAs can monitor for you, if you have a TA.)
Assessments: There were several calls for more frequent, smaller assignments rather than big assignments during the semester. Graduate-level students in particular requested final papers over final exams, to demonstrate depth of learning and thought rather than memorization. Students appreciated flexible deadlines where possible, as it relieved students of having to request (sometimes multiple) extensions. One commenter pointed out that middle-of-the-night deadlines do not necessarily benefit students residing in other time zones. When a timed final exam is necessary, make sure students can see the entire exam at first—it’s impossible for students to triage or manage their time effectively if the software shows only one question at a time and doesn’t allow a student to go back. For exams that inevitably go for many pages or include multiple questions, a cover sheet can help by explaining how many questions there are and how much each question is weighted.
Tech hacks for video transcripts: Faculty posted various suggestions to get transcripts of pre-recorded videos. Write out a script for yourself, which reduces your ums and ahs and also serves as a transcript after the recording is finished. Software-generated transcripts are generally pretty good, though you’ll have to edit them. Various platforms were suggested: YouTube, Kaltura, and Screencast-o-matic, along with the dictation functions on Microsoft Word, Google, and Google Slides. (If you’re not comfortable with your content being on YouTube, your videos can de-listed so they’re accessible by link but not by searching; you can also upload a video, download the transcript, and take down the video.)
Ask the students for feedback: They’re digital natives, plus they’re the ones taking your course. Professors have gotten good feedback from students, particularly when they explain why they’re asking (“My colleagues and I all noticed that by the end of the semester, few students had cameras on. This was very difficult for me as an instructor, because I realized how much I depend on non-verbal communication. Not seeing faces was really hard for me. On the other hand, there's clearly something going on. Research has shown that having cameras on can be stressful, and it's obviously not just one or two students without cameras. So what insights do you have? Should I not even bother trying to get people to connect with cameras? Should I leave it as an option? Why weren't most students turning their cameras on?”)
(Cassie Christopher - Guest Blogger)