I’m thrilled that my colleague Kris Hans and I were featured in this new book about teaching online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kris and I did an interview with the Teaching and Learning Online Network (TALON) about our experience with, and our vision for, remote instruction in 2020, and I’m grateful the fine people at the University of Calgary decided to put this book together. Our book chapter is adapted from our interview with TALON and we’ve also included an addendum where we further reflect on our experience teaching in an online context.
You can find a print and digital version of Voice from the Digital Classroom: 25 Interviews about Teaching and Learning in the Face of a Global Pandemic on the University of Calgary press website. The UofC press has also made the PDF version of this book free to download! The website includes a link to the PDF as well as videos from the original interview series.
The following article was published in the Edmonton Journal by myself, Chaten Jessel (University of Calgary) and Michael McNally (University of Alberta) highlighting the benefits of provincial government funding for open educational resources in Alberta. OER are highlighted as a strategy for the Alberta 2030 post-secondary plan. We argue that the current conservative government could easily resurrect the OER pilot project, which was initiated by the previous conservative government in 2014, and put aside a small annual grant to fund resource development in the province.
In 2014, the Alberta government funded the provincial OER initiative — a pilot project designed to promote OER in the province. This program was eventually ended, but the Alberta OER archive is still available. Open textbook adoptions were projected to save students $5.5 million over five years.
The government could make meaningful progress on open education in Alberta over the next 18 months. Here are three steps the government could take.
– Reinstate the Alberta OER initiative by providing a modest annual grant: The money could be used to fund OER projects throughout the province. The majority of the funds should be distributed as small grants, to fund educators who want to develop OER materials for their classes. The remaining funds could be used to track student savings and prevent duplication by encouraging co-ordination and co-operation across the province.
– Recruit educators to volunteer on the Alberta OER initiative: The previous initiative comprised many volunteers from the post-secondary sector, and there are many skilled people across the province who would be willing to administer the grant and plan OER related events.
– Develop partnerships with other provinces: There are numerous OER initiatives going on in provinces like B.C., Ontario, and in Atlantic Canada. Through establishing partnerships, Alberta could benefit from the knowledge, expertise, and already made OER that other groups have.
The term ‘alternate delivery’ has become common among Canadian (and American) universities that are shifting to online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators in colleges and K-12 are scrambling and I feel for them. Online teaching isn’t an easy thing to do, and my colleagues out there are doing their best to learn the technology.
As a librarian, my world is a little bit different. Since I’m trying out new things myself, I decided to create a series on this website about what I’ve done to teach online (including creation of resources for asynchronous delivery), technology and edtech tools I use for instruction generally, my productivity strategy for working at home, etc. I don’t have his series all planned out, but I’ll post things as they come to me. And, what better way to start than with an example of how I spent a weekend transitioning a face-to-face library session to an online module.
For this example, I’m using a General Education session I teach every semester with a colleague. This is an English course, and students have to write a persuasive essay on how an aspect of society is changing or has changed the English language. Students are given a list of possible research questions to answer, but they do have the opportunity to develop their own as well. For my face-to-face session, the objectives would be to have students 1) create a mind mind for their research question and brainstorm search terms 2) find a handful of preliminary (or background) sources and 3) get started finding academic research. I give students a template for how to document their search, the goal being to develop good research organization skills early in their program.
I kept my library guide simple.I focused on designing content as if the course was asynchronous. Why not just do the whole session live over video conference? The advantage of online is the opportunity to re-watch content, and I wanted a guide students could return to. Students have enough on their plate right now.
The guide is divided into the following steps
Developing your search strategy
For steps one through three, I developed some screencasts illustrated what I wanted them to do. I’ve put links to the videos below.
These videos were done quickly, which is what instructors scrambling to switch to online delivery will be doing. I worked in education technology and instructional design prior to being a librarian, so I can tell you that the quality could be better. I remember spending many hours with instructors to develop slick PowerPoint, scripts, and animations for recorded lectures. We used to use green screens and special cameras. Not this time around…
That being said screen casting short videos is easy to do and can be effective. For most of these screencasts I used my Mac with Quicktime to record the audio and video. Quicktime is built into your Mac, and it records at high quality. There’s also a Windows alternative – the Xbox Game Bar app. There’s lots of way to do audio over PowerPoint, though in my experience the audio quality can be poor so I’d recommend against it.
For the second video, I wanted to recreate what I would have shown using a whiteboard. There are many digital whiteboard apps that allow you to draw out concepts easily. These apps work best with a device that has stylus support – such as the iPad, Samsung tablets, Microsoft’s Surface devices, etc. For this video I used an app called Explain Everything which has a huge toolset for teachers. You can record whatever you do on the screen. This allowed me to take a sample research question and create a mind map. Again, the goal is to get students brainstorming what they know about the topic. This app is pretty specialized. Microsoft Office (PowerPoint, Word, and OneNote) has really good pen support as well and it’s cross platform.
The search strategy videos covered how to find background resources using CREDO Reference, our library’s discovery system and Google Scholar. It’s pretty basic, but unlike an in-person session students can watch these again to reinforce the skills. I think the time spent by the instructor recording important skills or concepts is valuable, even for face-to-face courses. Videos should be five minutes or less ideally. I broke that rule here, but the goal was to get this done quickly.
Virtual library session
I held live library classes over video conference, but I didn’t use it to recreate the classroom experience exactly. With the help of my faculty colleague, we gave students pre-library session homework. Students were instructed to read the assignment, read through the library guide and watch the videos. The virtual library session provided an overview of how to use the guide and tackle the assignment, but the majority was allocated to discussion and answering questions.
Just like a guided reading, students were given direction on what to do before the virtual class. This is key. Both sections were excellent – with students using either their device microphones or chat to ask questions. My faculty colleague was also on the session, so it was very much a team effort. We all met over Google Meet (our campus solution) and it worked well with little lag.
What I learned
Though I have some experience with instructional design and developing online content for other instructors, it’s not what I do on a daily basis (apart from my library guides). Creating good multimedia content is an art. This experience was a good refresher and I (re)learned a few things.
Videos don’t have to be perfect. As you get better with the production value things will improve. Structuring the content clearly and keeping the videos relatively brief is key.
Don’t try and recreate the classroom. Online is different so I’d recommend leaning into this. The advantage is that students can rewatch, so use ‘class time’ for discussion.
Before a virtual library session, give some homework. Even if the task is ‘watch the videos’ that’s enough to get people’s minds working. The process is similar to giving students guiding questions for readings.
I hope this is somewhat useful for folks. If anyone wants more details on how I used apps the aforementioned apps, or if you want recommendations for other tools, give me a shout.
Creating class objectives is arguably the most important part of my teaching process. If done correctly, I don’t really need to develop long, in-depth lesson plans (though I often do that anyways). Concrete class objectives allow for structure while also allowing for flexibility and the ability to respond to students on the fly. It really informs everything. I’ve typically stuck to a few ‘rules’ when creating class objectives. These include, having one action per objective, writing measurable (or observable) objectives, not having a laundry list of objectives (5 max), and using jargon-free language.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a new approach. Instead of the typical bulleted list, I’ve given students one overarching objective for my class and underneath I have broken down that objective into potential tasks students can undertake to achieve the overarching objective. Why make a big deal about such a subtle difference? Because a regular piece of feedback I’ve received from students is their lack of understanding of how my list of ‘measurable’ objectives fit together. How do they related to each other? And, it’s hard to argue with them.
Traditionally I’d have broken out class objectives into smaller, more manageable, bullet points. Let’s take the following as a hypothetical example.
“By the end of this class you will have
Located the class research guide
Searched two of the recommended databases
Found one peer-reviewed academic source
Cited one academic source using APA 7th edition”
Well, I can see how these objectives all lend themselves to conducting academic research and being successful in a research paper, but students might not. If I were to take my new approach, I might right something like the following
“By the end of this class, you will have made meaningful progress on your literature review assignment. This includes
Locating the class research guide
Searching two of the recommended academic databases
Finding at least one peer-reviewed academic article
Citing an academic article using APA 7th edition”
This isn’t a perfect example, since this is hypothetical. That being said, you can see the the bulleted list of objectives hasn’t changed much – except for the tense. The bullets are still measurable/observable from my perspective, but now they’re put in context by being placed under a larger goal or ‘theme.’ At this point you might be thinking “how much of a different could this possibly make in the classroom.” Well, originally I had a similar question for myself. Surprisingly, the difference in classroom engagement is quiet significant. Below I’ve provided a real world example from a recent class.
In this class, students did something different. I didn’t get one question like “what is the assignment again?” or “how do these help me with the assignment?” It was clear why they were in the library session, to get a start on their original research project. Framing the objectives this way also takes some of the pressure off students. Not everyone is at the same experience level, which is why checklist type class objectives are somewhat flawed in my opinion. The goal is to get a start on your research, and that ‘start’ may depend on how much experience one has with an academic database. One could do everything in the bulleted list, but not doing so doesn’t mean the overarching objective wasn’t achieved.
I’m certain others instructors have experimented with objectives or framed them in a similar fashion. There are several good texts on promoting class discussion and aligning what’s done in class with clear objectives. However, this approach to objectives is one piece of a larger teaching strategy. Ultimately, I want to be more explicit in my teaching and be more clear about why I’m asking students to do the tasks I’ve assignment to them. If teaching them strategies for completing an annotated bibliography is my task, then I will preface the lesson with a discussion about how annotated bibliographies are useful tools and how they can serve as a stepping stone to conducting literature reviews. If I can place the assignment in the context of a marketable skill (this is great for students going on practicum) then all the better.
I remember not ‘getting it’ as a student. I remember not understanding the value of some of my assignments. So, from now on I’m going to tell them the value and the application. So far, I see better engagement, more time spent on task, and good questions.
Some useful resources
Barkley, E., & Major, C. (2016). Learning assessment techniques : a handbook for college faculty . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Howard, J. (2015). Discussion in the college classroom : getting your students engaged and participating in person and online . San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
Roberts, K. (2002). Ironies of effective teaching: Deep structure learning and lonstructions of the classroom. Teaching Sociology,30(1), 1-25. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3211517