By Eric Ritholz

It has been an intense Summer in terms of training and adapting a vast variety of courses to function in an online environment. Along the way there have been several common denominator issues that should be emphasized. This is not all in the same scope, but they are all important in their own way.

These are my thoughts and suggestions:

  • Use the student preview
  • Find ways to get the students to log in to your course more often
  • Have backup plans for sharing content, meetings, and the unexpected.
  • Know your options
  • Experiment and practice the tools you use.

Use the student preview
The student preview feature (located at the top right of the Blackboard screen) is a very important step in the process of development of both preplanning and ongoing courses. An instructor almost always sees everything and the student view is very different. After creating an assignment, posting an announcement, or adding a test, it is important to click that button to confirm what the student sees.  Find ways to get the students to log in to your course more often Whether the course is synchronous or asynchronous homework is pretty universal. The question is, should the student get the assignment, work on predominantly offline and then turn it in? Or can they be more engaged with the material in a collaborative or interactive way?Should they have smaller, more frequent exercises to work on or bigger ones that require feedback at regular intervals? The right answer here is inevitably the one that works for you and benefits the students. No matter how this is accomplished, consistent interac- tion with the coursework has been shown to be the most significant deciding factor in a student’s com- prehension and use of what they have learned.

Find ways to get the students to log in to your course more often
Whether the course is synchronous or asynchronous homework is pretty universal.  The question is, should the student get the assignment, work on predominantly offline and then turn it in?  Or can they be more engaged with the material in a collaborative or interactive way?  Should they have smaller, more frequent exercises to work on or bigger ones that require feedback at regular intervals?  The right answer here is inevitably the one that works for you and benefits the students.  No matter how this is accomplished, consistent interaction with the coursework has been shown to be the most significant deciding factor in a student’s comprehension and use of what they have learned.

Have backup plans for sharing content, meetings, and the unexpected

The more things change, the more they stay the same. If I plan on sharing my screen to give students a value added review of material, I have the presentation unloaded for them to see it better, make their own comments or if need be to use that if I have a technical issue. If I have a meeting planned on Black- board Collaborate, I have a link ready to start a Zoom meeting (or vice versa). As for the unexpected? Well maybe I don’t have a planned response this time, but I will next time and in the long run that helps a lot.

Know your options

If I only know 1 out of 5 things I can do to solve a problem, that 1 is always going to be my choice,  I might even think it’s the best choice and maybe it is, but if I know all 5 and still choice that first option things might just go more smoothly. Blackboard has a lot of tools, LMSes in general have a lot of tools and I definitely do not need all of them. Knowing your options is always better and admittedly this can take time, but different depart- ments have different needs and maybe through trial and error a tool you haven’t tried before might be more effective or fit your personal teaching style better.

Experiment and practice the tools you use

Ostensibly, this overlaps with ‘knowing your options’ but it goes beyond knowing and enters into personal ownership and control of how a particular exercise or task proceeds in class. In a sandbox, de- velopment shell, or even in a folder of your course section that is not available to students you can try out a few different ways to deliver material. When it looks and works the way you want it to, you can simply copy that item, assignment, or exercise into one of the folders available to your students when you know it’s ready.

Final thoughts

In some ways the transition from the in-person modality to an online one is analogous to using a new textbook to teach a course you have experience in teaching. The goals are the same but some of the methods of getting there are different than what is familiar. There’s always a period of revision and refinement that get that course running to your expectations. In thinking about a course you are teaching online right now, what could that course look like and function 3 semesters from now?

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