Preparing to Pivot

by Kieran J. Lindsey

Many universities, especially the larger ones, have scheduled a full slate of training sessions to help faculty who’ve never taught remotely get up to speed. These offerings will likely include topics such as:

  • Learning Management System (LMS) orientations
  • Remote conferencing service orientations (for live-streaming lectures)
  • Introduction to instructional design
  • Accessibility considerations for students with disabilities

While you should certainly take advantage of the resources and trainings offered by your institution, we’d like to suggest the following 7 Questions New-to-Online Faculty Don’t Know to Ask. Working through these thought problems will provide a clearer picture of what’s needed to set up the LMS course site, decide on a content delivery format, and figure out how to make the rest of the semester a positive experience for both you and your students.

1. Who’s got my back?

Plan ahead by adding a second instructor to your LMS course roster. That way, there’s at least one other faculty member or administrator with access to the course site who can act as a backstop if something prevents you from teaching (e.g., illness, injury, equipment failure).

2.  Where in the world are my students?

On campus, students and faculty are in the same time zone. That’s a given. But you’re all in the cloud now… is it reasonable to ask a student in California to login to a real-time lecture at 5a just because the course was taught at 8a on a campus in Connecticut? What about your international student in Cairo? Consider making live attendance voluntary, and design the course to accommodate a geographically distributed student audience.

3.  Do they have WiFi?

Without reliable internet a course that depends on live streaming lectures and discussions is going to be problematic. Best practice requires you to record streaming events anyway, in case of a lost connection, so be sure to make the file available for download regardless of primary delivery mode.

4.  Desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone?

Students may use a smartphone to access the LMS and their courses when they have a cell connection but no WiFi. They may also need to connect tablets and laptops to the web using their phone as a personal hotspot. Think about data usage demands when making decisions about your course content and delivery format.

5.  Where’s the library?

Be sure to review your planned readings and assignments with an eye to what library resources they require students to access, and whether those materials are available virtually.  Tons of journal articles are now accessible in digital form. University staff will often scan short publications that are not already digitized and send the PDF as an email attachment. Entire books can be mailed to students (with postage-paid return packaging). Just contact the library help-desk and ask about their services for virtual students, then adjust your syllabus accordingly.

6.  Have I tidied up?

When your campus-based students arrive to class on the first day of a new semester, do you hand out all the readings, lecture notes, announcements, discussion prompts, and graded assignments at once?  Of course not. You move through course content one week, or one meeting day, at a time. Avoid student overwhelm by taking advantage of your LMS scheduling feature to do the same, making materials available over time as well, throughout the remaining weeks of the semester, rather than letting everything be visible at the start.  You’ll help students locate what they need right now more quickly and easily, and you’ll look like an online instruction organization pro. Win-win!

7.  Can I save face?

Video chews through bandwidth and data plans, regardless of whether you’re asking students to live-stream or download. Ask yourself what they really need to see… chances are, it’s not your face. Consider taking a page from the NPR playbook — your voice, augmented with images posted to a website (or LMS), can be a powerful form of information transfer. Why not let students download your PowerPoint slide deck to view while listening to an audio-only lecture? All you need to do to keep everyone on the same page is remember to say “next slide” when you record (be sure to write it into your lecture notes).

Bonus Tip

If you’ve never been recorded while lecturing (that you know of) — on video or audio — be prepared for some ego deflation. You’ll likely discover you’re not the orator you imagine yourself to be. That’s when the temptation to spend a good deal of time editing out every verbal tic and applying various filters to augment reality will strike. It’s this desire to polish out the imperfections that feeds the widely held perception of online instruction as more time-consuming than classroom instruction… and that’s true, to some extent, because you don’t spend any time editing your face-to-face lectures.  Just remember that your students already know how you look and sound. The only one surprised by the recording is you.

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Published by Kieran J. Lindsey

writer, artist, wildlife biologist, virtual educator, disruptive outlier

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