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The immediate resource you need to teach online today, and strategies & assistance to help you plan for tomorrow.
Staying in touch with your students is vital throughout any significant change in the schedule or administration of your class(es)—especially as a result of a crisis impacting all or part of campus. When a major disruption occurs, please inform your students about any changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, or broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you from becoming overwhelmed with individual questions. It is best to have a plan in place on how you will continue to run your course if, for an indefinite period, you are not able to teach your course through traditional means.
Identifying the Best Approach for You
Generally, there are two approaches to remote/online teaching & learning – synchronous and asynchronous.
Synchronous is where the participants can hear, see, and or interact with each other at the same time and place. This would be most similar to a live, “in person” class experience. This approach would usually be accomplished via a conferencing tool (e.g. Blackboard Collaborate, Webex, Google Hangout, etc.) at a specific time. Good planning is necessary for the best results but it does not require much production time as there are no videos or audios to edit.
Asynchronous is where learning does not take place at a set time and place. This approach is predicated on instructors creating and/or distributing content (e.g. recorded video lecture, podcasts, voice overs on PowerPoints, or even just handouts, etc.) ahead of time and supplementing it with additional elements (e.g. email, discussion boards, texts, assignments, polls etc.) to achieve class interaction but in a nonparallel fashion.
by Steven D’Agustino, Fordham
Planning a Successful Transition to an Online Environment
Some good practices to consider are:
- Communicate proactively: Inform students about any changes or interruptions promptly. Students may not know what your expectations are in terms of their current responsibilities. Will they be expected to adhere to the original schedule of assignments on the syllabus? If there are group projects planned, will these stay in place? How you modify the course may depend upon the duration of the interruption, but unfortunately this may not be known early on. Initial messages should reassure the students that they will not be held accountable for unavoidable consequences of the interruption, and that flexibility and accessibility will be part of any solution.
- Reduce complexity: Focus on your course, not on the crisis. In the event of an external event that affects the broader University community, the central administration will manage crisis communications, so you do not have to worry about providing those kinds of updates.
- Be specific: Develop a communication plan and share it with your students. You may want to consider:
- How you will communicate with your students: It is advisable to craft a group email and send it to your students in the event of a disruption. This can be done easily through Blackboard. Each of your courses has a separate Blackboard page that you can access through My.Fordham. Your Blackboard course site will enable you to send emails to the entire class. You will also want to consider whether you will communicate synchronously (in real time), asynchronously (with a delay), or with a combination of both depending upon your needs.
- How often you will communicate with your students: Managing your communication load will be important as students may begin individually reaching out to you. It is important at the outset to let students know how quickly they can expect a response. In a crisis situation, students may grow anxious if they don’t hear back immediately. You may want to set an automatic reply in your Fordham Gmail account that reassures the students that you have received their message and you will get back to them in whatever span of time you deem realistic and appropriate for your capacity and their needs.
- How your students will communicate with you: While most students at the outset of an interruption will reach out via email, you may want to identify an alternative solution that will make managing messages easier. Your Blackboard course site has a Discussion Board to which all of your students have access. The Discussion Board will allow your students to post comments and questions all in one place. This will eliminate the need for you to wade through a mass of emails from large numbers of students. Since all of the students in a class have access to the discussion board, you can create a Frequently Asked Questions forum which should reduce the need for you to respond to similar questions repeatedly.
- How your students will communicate with each other: In some cases, your students may have established working groups that they will want to continue. The Discussion Board will also enable students to communicate asynchronously by posting messages to each other. You will want to establish some communication guidelines for these discussion forums so that your expectations for appropriate communication are clear.
- How to communicate synchronously: Online synchronous communications can be managed through various web conferencing solutions. When thinking about setting up a web conference, you will need to consider how technically complex the tool will be for you and your students, whether Fordham IT can support the web conferencing solution you plan to use, and whether your students have the ability to attend an online synchronous session. To participate successfully in an online synchronous session, students will need Internet access with sufficient bandwidth and the requisite technical ability. Some of your students may live in different time zones so this is something to consider as well.
Teaching Online – General Advice
In the event of an interruption, you may need to provide an updated syllabus that modifies the planned course activities, assignments, content and due dates. Once you have established clear communication procedures and pathways, you may want to send updated course materials. There are many ways to do this.
Considerations when posting new course materials:
- Make sure students know where to find the material: The simplest solution is to email students new course materials as attachments or links to online resources like videos, websites or podcasts. You can also post these items on the Blackboard Discussion forum or upload them directly to your Blackboard course site. Hosting materials in a centralized location is more manageable than emailing them. If Blackboard proves too technically complex for you or your students, you can create a folder on Google Drive and share materials that way.
- Use mobile friendly formats: In a crisis, many students may only have access to a smartphone, so it is best to convert Word documents, PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets to pdf format which can be read on a mobile device.
While emailing documents and hosting discussion forums are effective methods to provide continuity, they may not prove to be an effective instructional strategy over longer periods of interruption. Fordham ITAC has a number of recommended tools you can use to create audio and/or video lectures. Some recommendations are below.
Some courses have essential components that may be challenging to replicate in an online environment. For example, many science courses have lab sections in which students learn to conduct experimental procedures using specialized materials or sophisticated instrumentation. Theater or Visual Arts courses often have essential studio components that may not translate well online. And many courses require students to engage in community-based field work in specialized settings. In these cases, faculty should think creatively with their disciplinary colleagues whether elements of these activities can be adapted under the circumstances, alternative activities could be offered using virtual tools, or certain activities could be postponed until the campus returns to standard operation.
Many different multimedia resources are available online so you should not feel the need to create all of the course materials for your students. In the event of an unplanned interruption, you may not have the time to master content creation tools and then create, edit and post content. A good first step is to search Fordham University Library databases for readings, link to websites, and use existing videos, simulations, and podcasts to integrate media into your course.
Classes at Fordham University are structured as small learning communities, where students have regular and meaningful interactions with their instructors and each other. It is important to ensure that interruptions in the course do not disrupt existing collaborations or prevent the development of meaningful student-centered instruction. Fordham ITAC has several recommended tools and training for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.
Consider these suggestions when planning for student collaboration:
- Choose asynchronous tools if possible: Simple asynchronous tools such as email and text offer low barriers to entry so that students do not fear that their inability to master a chosen tool will negatively impact their learning. After all, bear in mind that students are not in the course to acquire technology skills but rather to focus on the course learning objectives as they relate to the discipline.
- Communicate collaboration outcomes: Let students know why they are being asked to collaborate, how their collaboration will be measured and what the learning goals are for any required collaborations. Similar to your communication plan, a plan for student collaboration that explains the duration and frequency of student-to-student communication will need to be developed and shared.
Assessing students during a course interruption can present several challenges. In the case of written assignments, there are a number of options:
- Document transfer: It is advisable to avoid having students email attachments to you as this can quickly prove overwhelming and make tracking student submission difficult. Alternatively, you can have students upload documents to the Google Drive. In this case, you can create a course folder. If you want to prevent students from seeing each other’s work you can create sub-folders for each individual student. If anonymity is not important, students can post their work on the Blackboard Discussion Forum.
- Assignment tool in Blackboard: If anonymity is important, you can create assignments in Blackboard and students can click a link to upload their work. This solution allows for in-line commenting and grading online so you will not need to download assignments and email them back. How to Add an Assignment in Blackboard (video)
- Document naming conventions: Be sure to tell the students your preferred format for the names of documents they will send you (e.g. Last Name – Title). Otherwise, you may get many documents named “Doc1.”
- Document format requirements: Let the students know your preferred document format (e.g. .doc files as opposed to .rtf files). If you don’t, students may send you documents in a format you cannot open and addressing this will add to your communication load.
- Deadline flexibility: You may need to be more flexible than usual during a course disruption as it may take some time for students to become acclimated to this new learning style. It is advisable to let students know that they should communicate with you as soon as possible if they are having difficulty with the assignment or the technology.
- Tests and quizzes: Your preferred method of student assessment may include tests and quizzes rather than writing assignments. Blackboard has a test tool built in that you can use to create assessments. This tool can also automatically grade multiple choice questions which may be an efficient way to provide students with prompt numerical feedback and relieve some of your assessment burden while you are managing communication and content creation. Online tests can be set so that each student gets a different order of questions and answers. Tests can also be timed and assigned a required password.
- Providing feedback: When giving an assignment, it is best to inform the students when they can expect feedback from you and what kind of feedback they can expect. As with your communication plan, it’s best to be realistic in terms of your turnaround time. Feedback can be given in written form, but with tools like screen capture, you can provide video feedback of student work.
General Educational Technology Recommendations
View our video with strategies and suggestions for making up classes or teaching asynchronously online. All resources discussed in the video are linked below.
Faculty EdTech Resource Page
You can find information on this topic and many more on our Faculty EdTech Resource Techshop page. Other topics include:
- Accessibility Awareness
- Creating Video and Audio
- Designing Presentation
- The Flipped Classroom
- Getting your Docs to the Web
- The Google Suite
- Polling and Surveys
- And many more!
Using Fordham’s Learning Management System, Blackboard
For either method of instruction (synchronous or asynchronous), we’d recommend providing a starting point to your students in the form of our Learning Management System, Blackboard Learn. Every section taught at Fordham has a corresponding course site in Blackboard with your students already enrolled.
If you chose to teach synchronously, you can use the Collaborate tool within Blackboard to meet and speak to your students (including sharing a screen, if you wish).
If you choose to teach asynchronously, you may upload whatever materials you see fit (video files, audio files, ppts, handouts, etc.) and communicate discussion via the discussion board or just email.
Getting Started With Blackboard
If you have never used Blackboard Learn before:
To log into Blackboard Learn, go to my.fordham.edu portal, log in, and then click on the Bb icon at the top left.
- How to finding your course: video or handout.
- How to make your course available: video or handout.
- A full list of help videos for getting started using Blackboard
- Course Creation Checklist (pdf)
- Note: We also have much more information about Blackboard under “Faculty Help,” found on the homepage of Blackboard itself.
Fordham ITAC has identified a number of useful tools and guides for putting content online.
When selecting a tool for use online, it is important to consider the following:
- Suitability: Will the tool serve your instructional purpose? For example, many of your students may regularly use social media. Would using such a tool for your online class be suitable?
- Ease of Use: In deciding whether to select a tool, be sure to evaluate the tool as a non-user. Try to determine how easy or difficult it will be for your students to achieve a level of competence with the tool such that they can use it to learn effectively and participate meaningfully.
- Accessibility: be sure to choose tools that are accessible as outlined by the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles of flexible, adaptable curriculum design to support multiple learning approaches and engagement for all students and in terms of legislative requirements for meeting the specific accessibility needs of learners with disabilities.
- Required Equipment: You may want to survey your students’ access to technology when selecting tools. For example, all students may not have access to webcams or microphones which would inhibit their ability to do web-conferencing.
Using Blackboard Collaborate
If you need to meet with your class online, we recommend you use Blackboard Collaborate to connect synchronously. Blackboard Collaborate is a high-quality, browser-based web conferencing solution within our Blackboard environment, allowing you to easily set up a conference with your students.
To start using Blackboard Collaborate:
- Find your course in Blackboard and click into it.
- On the left-hand menu of your course, click to Course Management > Course Tools > Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
- Then, on the main window on the right, click Create Session.
- You have a variety of options at this point, but in terms of what’s necessary, just name the session, select the start and end time, and then click Save.
- Click on your saved session that now appears on the window (note: you can share the dial-up number listed here if you wish).
- Click -> Join Session. You are now live!
Other Synchronous Tools
Outside of Blackboard Collaborate, which we recommend as the easiest option, other possibilities include:
- Google Hangouts Meet
If you do not want to have “live” sessions, here are some options for you to create material to distribute:
Record an Audio File
Simply recording an audio file and distributing it to your students is a very easy way to disseminate information. And with the popularity of podcasts, most students are familiar with this format. Additionally, most smartphones have native software to record audio. Here are some additional options:
Add Audio to a PowerPoint
- Microsoft offers instructions on how to add or record audio over a PowerPoint, which you can then distribute to your students as a video file.
- Microsoft offers instructions on how to add or record audio over a PowerPoint, which you can then distribute to your students as a video file.
Add a Video to Blackboard
Record a Screencast
Here are a variety of recommended tools to record a screencast:
With the increased interest in these topics, we will be offering additional workshops via webinar over the next few weeks. You can find what’s being offered and RSVP at the Fordham IT blog.
Director of Online Learning
For help with putting part of your course online, or if you would like to be enrolled in an online asynchronous training about designing online course content, contact Steven D’Agustino, the Director of Online Learning at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Faculty Technology Services
The team at Faculty Technology Services are here to assist you with your courses. We have staff on all three campuses. For any questions, or to make an appointment, reach out directly to the FTC on your campus or email us at email@example.com.
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IT Customer Care
Fordham IT offers a variety of tech support through our helpdesk at IT Customer Care. You can find ITCC’s hours (including weekend support), walk in locations, and more at fordham.edu/helpIT. You can contact ITCC directly by calling 718-817-3999 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
After Hours Blackboard Help
Additionally, we now offer Blackboard support on the evening and weekends. To access our after-hours Blackboard support, you can visit bbhelp.fordham.edu for chat or call 877-310-4667.
Need a laptop?
If you need to borrow a laptop, Fordham IT’s Teaching and Learning Environment department has started a Grab and Go program this semester, offering short-term loans of Google Chromebooks, Mac laptops, and Windows laptops. You can find TLE’s contact information here.
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