Friday, June 19, 2020
If you're like me, you're wondering how you can improve your teaching after last Spring's foray into online learning. I wasn't nearly as traumatized as many of my colleagues because I had already taught Transactional Drafting online asynchronously for several semesters. This summer, I'm teaching two courses -- Transactional Drafting asynchronously and a hybrid course on Regulatory Compliance, Corporate Governance, and Sustainability. I'm making a list of tips based on my experience and will post about that in the future. In the meantime, I've started to think about how I can improve next semester when I will be teaching all of my courses online. Since I know that so many students had a mediocre to poor experience with emergency online teaching, I've spent a lot of time on webinars learning how to do better. This will be the first in a series of posts on what I'm learning on course design, learning styles, and best practices. But let's start with the basic questions to ask yourself as you're preparing for next semester.
First, think about whether you want to teach synchronously or not. If you're looking for maximum flexibility for both you and the students, then asynchronous teaching makes sense. If you're teaching solely asynchronously, then you need to consider how to make your videos and content as engaging as possible. You also have to do something to build community within the class and a rapport between you and the student. If you're thinking of doing a hybrid, perhaps using a flipped classroom, recognize that it will take longer to prepare than you would think. For my summer compliance course, I record videos on substantive legal issues, monitor discussion on the class discussion board, prepare questions for students to answer prior to class using Echo 360, and then review those answers all prior to teaching the 2-credit course live on Zoom. This requires substantially more time than normal class prep, but it's well worth it because we can use class time to do simulations or interact with guest speakers from all over the world. More about these issues will come in a future post.
Second, learn everything you can about the platforms you will use next semester so that you can master all of the features that will make your class more engaging. Even if your institution does not require you to use one platform, try to come to some consensus anyway. Students do not want to learn three different systems so do what you can to make sure that the platforms are uniform and intuitive for them. Then think of whether all of the tools you're already using can integrate with that platform. Our university is using Blackboard, Echo 360, and Zoom. The students will have one place for logon and access everything from there. Next, think about whether you want to have students use discussion boards to interact or maybe develop Slack or Microsoft Teams instead. Since many students are uncomfortable speaking in class on video, we will have to work harder to foster classroom discussion. Teams and Slack channels can help, and many students will already use them for internships or business purposes. The more intentional you are, the better an experience your students will have, even if it takes some time to determine what works for you. If you have a research assistant or student you can contact, find out which tools did and didn't work from their Spring experience. See if your university will survey students for feedback on online learning,
Third, think about whether you have the right equipment. Do you need a separate headset, webcam, or microphone? I actually don't use any of those even though I have a separate microphone. How stable is your internet? Think about whether you might need an upgraded modem or even your own mesh network. One thing I absolutely recommend is a ring light. There are hundreds of YouTube videos on how to light yourself properly using your household lamps. But, I've found that having a separate ring light makes my videos brighter and more professional looking.
Finally, while you're designing your course, make sure you're thinking of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At UM, we've been told to do the following for presentations:
- provide wording for links and avoid using “click here” for the links;
- use sans serif fonts for easy readability;
- use dark font colors on light backgrounds;
- avoid extremely bright colors as a background color;
- use one font throughout the site;
- avoid overuse of all CAPS, bold or italics;
- avoid underlining words, as the screen reader can mistake it for a navigation link;
- make sure that images are clear and optimized for efficient loading;
- limit the use of animated and blinking images text, or cursors because they can cause seizures for some people;
- make sure that audio file lengths are adequate to meet the goals of the activity without being too large to restrict users’ ability to download the file on computers with lower bandwidths;
- provide a written transcript with all audio files; and
- provide closed-captioning or has accompanying text-based scripts for all videos.
After you've thought through some of these baseline issues, you can then turn to making your content as interesting and accessible for your students as possible. Future posts will cover tips for effective presentations, tools to increase engagement, and other best practices. In the meantime, if you have any tips to share or areas you want covered, please comment below.