How to provide high-quality and flexible instruction in the age of COVID-19
When campuses shut down in the spring, the rapid move to emergency remote instruction left both students and faculty disappointed with the experience (63% of students say online was worse than face-to-face instruction). While these hastily assembled course experiences were unavoidable at the time, leaders quickly realized they needed to expand their instructional support efforts to improve the online learning experience for the next term. Faculty, however, are struggling with the increased demands on their time over the summer to prepare their courses in a variety of modalities.
The continued spread of COVID-19 has forced many institutions to rethink their fall plans, and as a result of this an increasingly larger portion of the course catalog will likely be taught remotely. This represents a large shift in fall strategy that institutional leaders now need to prepare for in a limited amount of time. When approaching this problem, it is important to keep two things in mind:
Focus on asynchronous course elements to maximize student experience instead of expending all effort meeting a strict Hyflex definition
In an effort to provide students with as much flexibility as possible institutions were increasingly interested in HyFlex learning. In fact, during our recent fall instruction webinar, 25% of academic leaders said they were planning on offering more than 50% of their courses as HyFlex, which was meant to provide students both synchronous and asychronous options for attending class. However, this didn’t always take into consideration faculty and institutional capacity and capabilities.
Flexibility hinges on foundational course design principles
Modality considerations secondary to key course development best practices
Course Shell in the LMS to facilitate student access:
- One-stop-shop for updates on assignments, activities, due-dates, syllabus, and course structure
- Continuous access for all students to course content and materials, regardless of in-person attendance
- A platform for trackable one-to-many many-to-many communication
- A quick, simplified pivot to emergency remote instruction
Less than ½ of courses existed on Canvas at a Western private R2 institution prior to COVID-19 pandemic; some faculty never used Canvas
Empathetic Academic Practices to ensure continuity for students:
- Recorded, transcribed lectures and asynchronous learning and engagement activities
- Fewer or less weighted synchronous or time-block-dependent assessments
- Willingness to more liberally consider and grant extensions
- Flexible and lenient attendance and excused absence policies
More than ½ of institutions used remote student surveillance for Spring exams, despite anxiety, privacy, and technical concerns
These learning materials should be ADA-compliant to make sure all students can participate in the course
In other conversations with fall planning teams, it became apparent that institutions were very focused on meeting the standards of HyFlex, and were not as focused on what was most critical: providing quality instructional options to students that might be under a variety of different circumstances. Installing cameras in all classrooms might be the best way to provide synchronous learning, but will remote students get a good experience watching a socially distanced classroom where students and faculty are wearing masks and separated by a barrier? What happens if there are significant disruptions in the technology? What about students that do not have the bandwidth to stream video? Instead of trying to keep up with course design trends, faculty can focus on standard best practices of course design to make sure they are providing as much equitable access to their students as possible. This starts with meeting their needs asynchronously, and once that priority is met, adding synchronous learning options where time and resources permit.
Target incremental quality improvements to your most critical courses, while ensuring all meet a baseline
A poor experience with courses will only exacerbate student demands to lower tuition price, but designing quality remote learning experiences can take a lot of time and effort, which are both in short supply as we approach fall. It’s important to realize not every course is going to meet the same standards, and the most effort should be put towards courses that, if done poorly, have the highest consequences. These can be gateway courses with high D, F, or withdraw rates, general education courses, or prerequisites for majors or minors. EAB’s quality spectrum suggests putting courses into three categories, and then aiming to include increasing tiers of course components to raise student engagement.
Quality scale allows faculty to prioritize efforts
Spectrum of interactive and experiential learning activities boosts student engagement
- Use live polling through Poll Everywhere, Top Hat, and institutional video conferencing technology.
- Integrate asynchronous discussion and interaction through LMS discussion boards, student-generated blogs, and peer review.
- Learning materials are primarily static readings and presentations.
Ideal for low priority courses
- Encourage in-class discussion using backchannel communication platforms like Slack, Discord, GroupMe, and Microsoft Teams.
- Learning materials include pre-recorded video or audio.
- Course content is adapted to the current context to keep students engaged. For example, an introductory statistics courses can analyze COVID-19 infection data by race, ethnicity and gender.
Ideal for medium priority courses
- Encourage tech-assisted, in-class group activities through collaborative notetaking using Google Docs, Sheets, Slides or a virtual whiteboard like Padlet.
- Learning materials include short multimedia presentations and micro-lectures.
- Facilitate experiential learning by involving students in pedagogy by using practices like student-generated question banks and ungrading*.
Ideal for high priority courses
*Students semi-regularly reflect independently, with peers, and faculty on their learning and course performance
For instance, in an elective course it might be sufficient to just have live polling or discussion, but for a high enrollment prerequisite course, the instructor could include live polling, pre-recorded learning modules, and tech-assisted group activities. Through this prioritization process, all courses can have some component that increases engagement and active learning, but the level of faculty effort necessary is decreased for lower priority courses. It is also likely that as long as students are having high levels of engagement within some of their courses, they will have a much higher opinion of their fall experience than they did with spring emergency remote instruction. The key is to get past recorded or livestreamed lectures as the only focus of the remote option, and to help faculty use their limited time as strategically as possible.