As we move totally online, there’s an expectation from a lot of faculty that we need to keep things as close to a face to face experience as possible. I understand this expectation fully, as I, too, am faculty, and I use synchronous sessions (YouSeeU, but see also: Zoom, Skype, Discord, WebEx, etc) to engage my students.
The problem with that is, of course, bandwidth. I’m not just talking about internet speed, but also human bandwidth: the amount we can take. Not everyone has the ability to stream 9 camera streams at home. In the same way, not everyone can participate in a 2pm course because suddenly their kids are home from school and they have no other caretaker. Not everyone even has a webcam to share, and not everyone can focus on hour-long synchronous sessions when it seems like the world is falling apart around them.
I’m not saying don’t use synchronous tools. They work well for what they are, and paired with compassion, they can be great. But there are asynchronous tools that work well too, and can be a boon to your struggling students in this time of need.
So, here’s my list. Things you can do to engage students in D2L (or your local LMS) that don’t require video-based synchronous meetings, for the Apocalypse:
1. Create text-based content. I know it’s old school, but text-based options like PDFs or PowerPoints that students can download once and read over and over again are great for times when brain fog is bad due to mental and physical health issues, and puts a much smaller strain on students’ internet access. Text-based content can be short presentations, historical material, articles, links to websites with text, or even step-by-step walkthroughs of problems.
2. Use text chat. A really great feature of D2L is the Chat feature, which you can find under Course Admin. Establish a chat room, get a link to your students (if you need help with this let us know; I’ll create some documentation) and start chatting! It’s just like the chat rooms of the early aughts: simple, straightforward, and a good way to host office hours.
3. Engage in discussion boards. I know you hate them. They don’t mirror actual class discussion, and students have been participating in them for so long that they’re more like mini writing assignments than actual discussions. All the things that make discussion boards no fun for regular online class situations are the same things that make them ideal for this situation. Students have more time to think about their contributions. You can guide them with questions and answers along the way at a pace that you can keep up with. They take very little bandwidth up, but still get the communication across. Revisit the idea of using a plain old discussion board in your class for the rest of the semester.
4. Use a dual-pronged communication strategy. If you normally email students announcements and things, continue to do that, but also copy those announcements into the Announcement area of D2L. If you use Announcements but not emails, copy those announcements into an email and blast it out. Students might get the information twice, but many students will only get it once, and the more active communication streams they have from you, the better. I communicate with my students multiple times per unit to reiterate due dates (like an appointment reminder from your doctor!), capitalize on ideas, and remind them that I’m here for questions.
5. Pick one new assessment type and stick with it for a while. If you don’t already use D2L for things like quizzes, discussions, and turning in assignments, it can be overwhelming to try to learn all those things at once. Think about your course design this way: you need some content, and you need some way of telling that students have taken in that content. If, for your class, that looks like students turning in short writing assignments at the end of every week, then learn the assignments tool. If that looks like students taking multiple choice quizzes to establish they’ve learned the material, go for quizzes (though don’t get too crazy; choose up to 3 different question types and stick with those for the time being). Decide what you want your students to show you, and create assessments from there. We have a wealth of resources available on each of the assessment tool types and I’m happy to walk anyone through how to set those up in D2L.
There are other things you can do, as well, outside of D2L, that will save your students (and you) some pain: create short (5-10 minute) videos about concepts that you’re introducing and host them on YouTube; use VoiceThread to have students collaborate using a variety of comment methods on different presentation types; and, if you do decide to host synchronous meetings, keep them shorter than you would a regular class, in order to better facilitate students’ changing needs.
Some of this information might be surprising, coming from Tech Princess Anne Phifer in the Office of Academic Technology. I understand that. I hope you’ll keep it in mind anyway. As always, I’m available to you as a resource. Feel free to come to me, bounce ideas off of me, ask me questions. If I don’t know the answers I’ll do my best to find them.