COVID-19 Spring – It turns out some of my choices align with recommended practices! — Jeff Bartz

After a week of doomsday scrolling in March 2020, it was time to get to work. But what work? The technology options, activity alternatives, and advice for virtual classes were overwhelming. I made some choices and they ended up aligning well with a list of recommended practices published in July 2020:

RECOMMENDED PRACTICES FOR ONLINE INSTRUCTION from Means, B.; Neisler, J. Suddenly Online: A National Survey of Undergraduates During the COVID-19 Pandemic; Digital Promise: San Mateo, CA, 2020.

  1. Assignments that ask students to express what they have learned and what they still need to learn
  2. Breaking up class activities into shorter pieces than in an in-person course
  3. Frequent quizzes or other assessments
  4. Live sessions in which students can ask questions and participate in discussions
  5. Meeting in “breakout groups” during a live class
  6. Personal messages to individual students about how they are doing in the course or to make sure they can access course materials
  7. Using real world examples to illustrate course content
  8. Work on group projects separately from the course meetings

Without knowing that I was doing it, my class was constructed using aspects of Design Thinking. Our class had five major themes – Energy, Efficiency, Fuels, Climate Change, and the Ozone Hole – I thought the major themes would keep the students (and the instructor) interested. Assignments and activities were geared toward understanding the major themes using the standard physical chemistry that we have done at Kalamazoo College for decades.

Our class had asynchronous components aligned with the MWF schedule, with online assignments due each day. Some of the asynchronous activities in Spring 2020 were the same as if we would have met in-person: recorded flipped lectures linked on Moodle, targeted textbook reading, Moodle quizzes on the flipped lectures, Moodle quizzes on the targeted reading, and electronic homework. Students did one assignment looking at aspects of energy they thought would be interesting for the professor to learn. I collected laboratory data and asked the students to analyze it in the same way we would have done in-person.

The synchronous components were weekly problem solving sessions over Zoom. The students showed up, did a warm-up activity, solved problems in breakout rooms, then came back for a closing activity.

Here is how I implemented the recommended practices for online instruction:

Practice Implementation Needs Work
1. Reflection on Learning
2. Breaking up class activities
  • MWF Flipped Lectures made with Explain Everything on an iPad
  • Lecture uploaded to YouTube; link posted on Moodle
  • Targeted textbook reading
  • Homework through Mastering Chemistry
  • Break lectures into even smaller chunks (12-20 minutes and then 4-7 minutes)
  • Mix quiz questions with smaller lectures
  • First-year students should upload their notes from each flipped lecture for credit.
  • Need comprehensive instructions for all activities
  • 3. Frequent Quizzes
  • Embedded questions in lecture
  • Post-lecture T/F on Moodle
  • Pre-class questions on targeted reading
  • All quizzes were low stakes
  • Add more embedded questions
    4. Live sessions Figure out when to hold sessions
  • Students indicated their availability using a simple scheduling site when2meet
  • Live session times were hosted through Zoom
  • Students indicated which session they would attend by a Doodle Poll each week
  • Sessions involved an ice breaker, some problem-solving in breakouts, announcements, and a low-stakes quiz using Kahoot!
  • Add more accountability to the live sessions.
  • Collect materials from students
  • Add a variety of materials in the live sessions including
    • Applications of the material
    • Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning activities (POGIL))
  • Need comprehensive instructions for all activities
  • 5. Breakout rooms during class
    • Easy to do in Zoom
    • Instructor emailed the problems to discuss before live class started
    When I popped into some breakout rooms all the microphones where muted. I need to assign roles to the groups and have somebody report out the results from the group. A helpful resource for groupwork
    6. Personal messages With lots of online work, professor can see each student’s progress. Students who were falling behind got messages either email or instant messages through Remind or Slack. More students chose Remind than Slack.
  • Remind will allow the instructor to send out a message to everyone, which could be a way to check in with the class
  • A problem even in face-to-face is how to interpret the silences
  • 7. Real-world examples Created a pre-class movie trailer to describe the applications using iMovie that was sent to all of the students. Putting out the applications that we would study made it important to work them into the class.
    8. Group projects Students chose whether they wanted to work in laboratory groups. Should we do more group work?
  • Working online is isolating
  • Students have 168 hours in a week to schedule a meetup
  • Students gave feedback that working in groups was helpful
  • Fewer papers to grade
  • Some students despise group work
  • One more thing to set up and monitor
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