My Favorite Online Teaching Tool: Google Jamboard — Kathryn Sederberg

I know, I know…you’ve heard about a million different tech tools to be used for online teaching –and you’re overwhelmed. But I promise you, this one is worth checking out. It’s called Jamboard, and it’s a Google collaborative tool like Google Docs or Slides. Jamboard is basically a fancy digital whiteboard. Share your screen, and you can write terms, draw, share images, and share text. If you share the link, students can add post-it notes (anonymously!). You can also add images from the internet or from your computer to be annotated.  Jamboard is also a great way to structure small group work, and observe how students are doing in real time.

There are many ways to use this tool. Dwight Williams already wrote about using Jamboard for Whiteboarding with Organic Chemistry students. I have used Jamboard in my first-year seminar to get discussion started, or to guide group activities. For example, students brainstormed initial ideas based on the reading by adding “sticky notes.” We also workshopped “what makes a good thesis statement” – students posted their thesis anonymously and we talked through and then edited them together. In German class, I have posted images and had students brainstorm vocabulary, or collaborate to write stories together.  

Here is another sample from my seminar (Link to Jamboard), for how to use Jamboard to structure small-group discussion. Each slide had either a discussion question based on the reading, or a blank slide that asked students to answer the question with a sticky note.

There are many templates you can find online (eg, by Kris Szajner for “Ditch that Textbook”), or it is very easy to create your own Jamboards from scratch.

Tips/Lessons Learned

  • You can make the Jamboard view-only (similar to Google Slides) if you want to present; or you can give students editing privileges for collaboration.
  • There is no revision history or way to “revert” to original. If you are giving students the link and editing privileges, you may want to save a backup if you plan to re-use the Jamboard.
  • It is very easy to “duplicate” slides and to copy the presentation. For group work, you may want to give each group their own slide to edit, or you may want to copy the whole Jamboard and give it to different groups. I have found it also works well for students to go through the Jamboard at their own pace, with different discussion questions on each slide.
  • Take advantage of the anonymity, or allow students to write their name on a post-it. I mostly used the anonymous posting tool in my classes.

How to find Google Jamboard via Google Drive (it’s under “More” below Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms):

Further inspiration/links:

  • John Sowash, 5 Simple Jamboard Lessons (I especially love the examples of the “brain dump” and “annotation station” here)

Feminist Pedagogy Online: Lessons from Fall 2020 and Practices for Winter 2021 — Anne Marie Butler

From a pedagogical perspective, I am primarily influenced by practices of feminist pedagogy such as knowledge co-creation, empowerment, and community building. These three tenets each serve to deconstruct the professor/student hierarchy and have also become particularly important for my online teaching. In my classes, we begin with the recognition that each person, including the professor, experiences different privileges and oppressions and that these positionalities shape our perspectives on the world, and what we bring into the classroom. On the first day of class, I have the students break into groups to chat about engaging in respectful discussions surrounding difficult topics, and while online. We develop our guidelines as a class, thereby setting a tone of a less hierarchical classroom. Allowing the students to set guidelines on the first day signals to them that their voices are important and influential in the classroom. It also allows them to meet their classmates and to feel more comfortable speaking. Since enacting this practice, I have observed that students are much more confident speaking in class, and they are ready to speak immediately following the first day of class, whether in large or small groups. This first day exercise effectively removes the “awkward” period that a class sometimes needs before the students can trust one another and the professor enough to feel comfortable contributing. Particularly in the online setting, I have found that this exercise encourages them to recognize that they are all in the same “online boat,” so to speak, and that they share the experience of adapting to being online. This immediate commonality gives them a shared experience from which to build relationships and community.

Another way that I build community and empowerment, particularly across physical separation, is “check-ins.” I began these check-ins in the Fall 2020 quarter. At the beginning of each class, five minutes is set aside for students to check-in about how they are feeling. They can ask questions, talk about successes or challenges, or share something about their lives. Sometimes I leave it open to them, and sometimes I present a prompt, such as, “think of one thing you are proud of yourself for doing in the past week. It can be large or small, it could be as small as completing that household task you’ve been putting off, it could be as big as finishing that paper or having a difficult conversation with someone.” Then I ask if anyone would like to share their thoughts. I chose this example to write about specifically because the “thing you are proud of” check-in serves a purpose in addition to building community: it requires the students to actively think positively about themselves and to engage in a self-reflection that increases their self-esteem. It allows them to practice an exercise that has an immediate, positive effect on their mood. I felt that this empowerment was particularly significant in an online format in which students experience challenges beyond those of an in-person quarter, namely separation from peers and community, plus additional stresses, all of which may impact mental health.

I also use different models of experiential learning to allow students to direct their own learning. One such activity is group work. My pedagogical goals for group work are 1. To have the students teach each other and work through problems together, thereby enacting knowledge co-creation, and 2. To enable the students to build communities. Due to running classes online, I had to be more thoughtful when constructing group work activities and assessments. I’ve found that this has actually given me the opportunity to develop more specific goals and assessments for group work. In my classes, students are assigned to groups of four to five students for three-week sessions. Students work in their small groups typically every other class meeting. During small group, they complete a variety of guided exercises that I have developed related to the materials. I frequently pop-in to their breakout sessions to observe them and to offer myself as a resource to answer any questions that have come up in their discussion. They are also able to call me in to their breakout session by chatting me. After every three-week rotation, students must submit an evaluation sheet on which they are given a rubric for evaluating their peers and themselves (sample below). A recent change I have made for the Winter 2021 quarter is that providing thoughtful comments as well as a score is tied to each student’s own final score for that period (sample below). This should assure that I receive more evaluation sheets with comments and without having to remind students to submit them. You may notice that my own observations and score are weighted less than their peer scores in terms of their overall grade. I am again signaling a move away from the hierarchy of the professor-centered classroom and towards a recognition that myself and the students are partners in their education and assessment.

One final aspect of Fall 2020 that I will carry into Winter 2021 is something I learned from my students. About halfway through the fall quarter, I became concerned that three synchronous meetings each week, effectively the same schedule as in-person class meetings, was too taxing for the students given the virtual circumstances. I didn’t know if this was helping them, or too much for them. I asked them. They overwhelmingly expressed something that surprised me: they loved synchronous meetings. They said that because their lives are so restricted right now, in terms of where they can go, who they can see, what they can experience, that their days blend together. They could sleep until the afternoon, or they could get up and feel lost because they are undirected about where to start. They explained that synchronous class meetings give them a purpose to the day, a commitment of a place and time to show up, and a schedule for which they feel responsible. They told me that they need this structure, and that they were so happy my class provided it.

The best lesson I have learned is to continuously react, rethink, and adapt. Best wishes to everyone in the Winter 2021 quarter.

Sample Group Work Peer Evaluation Sheet

Instructions: Complete this form and turn it in to the assignment upload on Moodle by the Monday after groups switch (Mondays Week 4, Week 7, Friday Week 10). Your peer feedback is anonymous.

Give a score and comments for each group member, including yourself. Score as objectively as possible. Remember that your points for group work are factored in part by completing this sheet and giving reflective comments on how your peers and group worked together.

Your name: _____________________________ Group: __________

Points
Between 15 and 17 points. Give this score if your peer went above and beyond your expectations for contribution to group work.
Between 12-14 points. Give this score if your peer did what was expected of them in contributing to the group.
Between 9-11 points. Give this score if your peer did more or less what was expected but required some management from other group members and/or did not exactly meet expectations in that or other ways.
Between 6-8 points. Give this score if your peer under-contributed to the group, did not meet expectations, or otherwise prevented the rest of the team members and the overall group from achieving their best work.
0-5 points. Give this score if your peer was entirely absent, non-communicative, or for other circumstances that warrant a poor score. 

Peer name: ____________________________________

Points: ______

Comments:

Self-evaluation:

Points:____________

Comments:

Sample Group Work Rubric for Individual Scoring

***Although I have to give points in order to grade your assignments because I must give you a letter grade at the end of the quarter, I encourage you to think of these scores not as concrete evaluations of your abilities, but as opportunities for learning and growth.

Submit peer feedback sheet with scores and written feedback for all group members and self (6 points possible)   
Average peer evaluation (17 points possible)   
Instructor evaluation based on observation, peer comments, and student self-assessment (10 points possible) 

Asynchronous Lecture “Viewing Parties” with TwoSeven — Santiago Salinas

A terrible movie called “Click” came out ~15 years ago. The whole plot revolved around Adam Sandler discovering a remote control that allowed him to pause or fast forward real life. As someone who spills coffee and instinctively makes finger movements to hit the ‘command’ and ‘z’ keys (control-Z for PCers), I’ve always wanted that remote. This tool may be the closest we’ll ever get.

The website is called twoseven (twoseven.xyz). It allows people to watch videos together, synced, while texting or video-chatting, and it’s one of the more straight-forward and free options I’ve tried. You provide the site with a link to the video (e.g., lecture), your friends with a link to join you on twoseven, and that’s it.

Why was I looking for that kind of tool? Well, I like classrooms that are just a tad loud and all over the place. I ask questions and stop for a minute or two until students think of answers. I encourage interactions among students if they don’t disrupt others. I enjoy when students make nerdy jokes about vertebrates. I was looking for a way to simulate that communal feeling while my young biologists were watching lecture videos.

1. After creating an account, go to “Start Watching”

2. Make sure you have the right source selected at the top (e.g., Vimeo) and enter your link address

3. To invite others, all you do is get a link and share it

4. You are now ready to watch a lecture and pass virtual papers to your neighbors with the chat function!

Using Flipgrid for Asynchronous Video Discussions — Leihua Weng

I used in my language classes in the Fall “Fligrid,” an app/website provided by Microsoft. It is a video app that instructors can use to assign asynchronous video discussions to students. It worked for me as a nice supplement to Moodle since Moodle can hardly accommodate any video discussions. I discuss here my experience of using it in my CHIN101 course, but I think it could be employed in other language or content classes for asynchronous discussions.

Flipgrid has some nice features that I appreciate a lot:

  1. You can include media files in the prompt.
  2. Students can join the discussions using the comment function, either in text or in video or in both.
  3. You can join the discussions as students do,  and even more— you can provide private comments to individual students.
  4. You can use basic or custom rubrics for feedback and grading.
  5. You can export data for each assignment.
  6. And it is FREE for both educators and students!

The following is a brief summary of how I used Flipgrid in CHIN101 Fall 2020. As I am still new to Flipgrid, the summary is definitely not exhaustive and it is intended to serve as a reference only.

  • I asked students to register on Flipgrid with their school account and then limited the access of Flipgrid assignments to the users of “Kzoo.edu.” I feel more comfortable to have certain degree of privacy protection for my classes in an external online learning platform than otherwise.
  • Students can choose to click the embedded webpage link on Moodle or to open the Flipgrid app in their cellphone or tablet, with the passcode I provided.
I embedded the Flipgrid assignments in a Moodle page.
  • I can organize prompts in groups.  
  • I used the Flipgrid in both language classes last quarter, much more frequently in one than in the other. However, Flipgrid received more positive reviews from the class that used it less. So I conclude that Flipgrid could be a nice supplement to the discussions on Moodle; however it could be overwhelming as video discussion is generally more time-consuming than a discussion in text.

This is what I have in my educator dashboard in my iPad Flipgrid
  • To the right, there is an option to include your lecture recording. It could be useful if you want to organize asynchronous discussions around your recorded lectures.
  • I asked students to respond to each other’s video posts by certain time. And I also made sure I responded to each post. You can see each post received at least one comment.
Here is a screenshot of students’ input
  • There is an option of proving “private video feedback” in addition to open comments that are visible to everyone.
  • There are two sets of grading rubric, one basic; the other custom.
There is a grading function
  • The function of data exporting could be helpful as we could track how much, how frequent, and at which time a student participates in a discussion.
Data is available to export

I feel I so far have explored only a small part of Flipgrid for language teaching. I will use it in my literature course this Winter. I may be able to come back to update or to revise what I put above. Please contact me via Leihua.Weng@kzoo.edu if you would like to explore this application with me. Thank you.

Batten Down the Hatches: Making Moodle Home — Mika Kennedy

I’ll admit: Prior to Fall 2020, I was never an LMS person. I was trained in a program that lived and died under King Syllabus, where you’d give your students a 15-page syllabus and that would serve as the longform compendium of all of the course’s worldly knowledge. But with the move to virtual learning, the online space of our classrooms suddenly became much more important, taking on jobs that syllabi do not typically do: Discussion forums, digital assignment submission, etc. 

When we were invited to make use of our class’s Moodle page as a course “hub,” I realized that it could be something I’ve always fantasized about: A dedicated classroom. Stuff on the walls! Classroom stations! Those awesome daily schedule pocket charts

Using our Moodle page as an active hub, rather than as a link repository, helped give Moodle a “classroom” feel, carving out a digital space that my students could comfortably make real use of.

Moodle as Home Base

First of all, special thanks to the 2020 Teaching and Learning Workshop for the strong example it set in Moodle usage! Much of what I discuss below is an extension of what I saw modeled there.

I wanted our Moodle page to be a place that my students could access anything they could possibly need for our class, as expediently and hassle-freely as possible. Thinking as a student, for what reasons would I access the page, and how would I interact with it? This line of questioning is a basic version of what web developers/designers call “user stories,” which express a users’ goals in using a particular piece of software–from the perspective of the user, rather than the engineer. 

With my user stories in mind, the landing page I came up with looks like this:

Any modern web designer would never speak to me again if they saw this, but look: This is pandemic-era remote learning, not the iPhone 12. It gets the job done.

You’ll notice it has the same bones as the first page of a syllabus, listing instructor contact info and all relevant course meeting info. It turned out this was quite important, though, because a decent number of my students used this Zoom link to log into class every single day (rather than logging in directly through the Zoom app, as I do). They were essentially walking into the Moodle “classroom” every morning.

A few additional suggestions for the landing page:

  1. State how the space will be used: This is a general principle of inclusive pedagogy, but I think it’s especially important in digital space, where the different ways we inhabit and interpret our surroundings are augmented. In a world where a Moodle page could mean or do any number of things, it’s helpful to be as transparent as possible about how it will be used in this particular context.
  1. Divide links into Resources and Actions: I know, I mentioned not making Moodle a link repository and then immediately offered a screenshot of a bunch of links. But thinking about how to organize those links can help shape a student’s Moodle experience. In my case, I wanted it to be clear which links included passive reference material, and which links were the ones they’d want to use if there was some particular action they wanted to carry out.

Moodle as Weekly Planner

I also used Moodle as a “weekly planner” for the course. While the syllabus listed the reading/major due date schedule for the entire quarter, I reproduced this on Moodle week-by-week, adding in the links to that week’s Discussion Forums and submission portals, etc. 

I chose to display these in reverse chronological order, so the most relevant week would always be easiest to access; and all on one page,  in order to limit the number of clicks required to access information. (One-page websites have been all the rage for a few years now, which is an abrupt 180 from the thousands of micro-pages that distinguished web design in the early 2000s. The shift has been largely influenced by smartphone and tablet usage, where scrolling is easier than clicking, and the fact that Internet providers are able to smoothly load a lot more content than they could before.)

Here’s what that looked like:

  1. Mutual Assured Organization: If you’re not personally a big fan of Moodle or LMS usage in general, making a schedule like this every week might seem like an inane way to spend your time, especially since you’ve already done it once for your syllabus. And your mileage may certainly vary! But I got a lot out of this, because I’d typically put up the Weekly Schedule on a Friday afternoon, and I would use it as my own time to frame the week for myself, actively reorient myself to my syllabus, and make sure I was on top of my work for the class as well, re: prompts and deadlines and any number of things. I used this organizer just as much as–if not more than–my students did, so it felt like part of the process, rather than extraneous time spent Moodling.
  1. Redundancy: “Per the syllabus…” indeed! Yes, this is all in the syllabus! Redundancy is generally frowned upon when designing user interfaces, because redundancies the user can see introduce needless complexities and messiness. But I think there’s still value in putting information in multiple places. Per inclusive pedagogy, we’re not all using these digital spaces in the same way, so the most “natural” path won’t be the same for everyone. Offering information multiple times, in multiple modalities, gives students the best chance of finding the path that works for them.
  1. Metadata: You may have noticed that the readings are introduced with a bolded heading that notes their length and genre. I was using this metadata to design my syllabus, and ending up leaving it in for my students as well, as another way of trying to distinguish the syllabus/Moodle from a straight link repository. All links look equal in digital space, absent the heft of a printed handout or the visual differences between a blog post and an academic article–distinctions that can help students get a sense of what they’re in for, how the should be reading, and how long it will take. I used the additional short description to give the links a “shape,” so students would know before 2AM when they open all of them in tabs whether they should have set aside time to read a 35-page academic article, or a 2-page blog post. 
  1. Personalization: I also used the Moodle version of our weekly schedule to present examples of student work and collect resources people brought up in class. With students’ permission, I included links to asynchronous work my students had completed whenever they wished to share it, and added links to documentaries, articles, Twitter threads, etc. that people brought up in class–basically, the web version of putting student work up on the walls. Clearly labeled and not overwhelmingly frequent, I think this added a more interactive, human touch to the Weekly Schedule without cluttering out assigned readings/assignment submission links. It was a way to highlight student contributions without hiding them deep in the underground bunker that old/non-mandatory Discussion Forums can sometimes become.

**Deep Cut: If you enjoy thinking about design and are positively enthralled by the idea of getting deeper into the weeds–to be perfectly honest, far, far, far, far, far, deeper than anyone might need to go for our purposes–the futur is an LA-based design company that has a series of web videos that break down the process and considerations that go into building websites that work. While they specialize in corporate/consumer-facing work, I find the basic tenets easily translatable. Plus, the client example they use is a fancy rustic bed and breakfast in British Columbia, which is a lovely bit of vicarious travel during stay-at-home.

Five Things: What I learned from reading course evaluations for Fall 2020

I’ve just finished what turned out to be an emotional week reading all the course evaluations from the fall term and soaking up those powerful bite-sized reminders of the difficult times everybody has been through.  I saw reflected in those comments the typical mix of contradictory classroom frustrations: too much/little workload, too much/little groupwork, too much/little class discussion. On top and Interleaved with those were reports of students’ and instructors’ issues with the online course delivery media: internet connectivity and limitations of various software platforms. I read students’ reports of life frustrations and worries, for which we once believed the K bubble offered a degree of protection, growing beyond any assistance or support our tentative online classroom communities could ever provide.

Below I’ve summarized what I saw in student course evaluations around five themes:

  1. Comparison with previous terms: response rate and instructor rating
  2. A lot of students report experiences of transformational learning, without regard to the course delivery medium
  3. Course Structure and Instructor Feedback
  4. Students’ sense of vulnerability in the pandemic world
  5. Different students experience groupwork differently

1. How did course evaluations during the extraordinary online fall term compare with previous years?

Response Rate

In the paper-and-pencil era of course evaluations, response rates to the the in-class surveys were typically around 90% — dependent simply on the proportion of students in attendance on evaluation day. Winter 2020 was the first term of online course evaluations using the SmartEvals platform. Even with the disruptions of the rapidly emerging pandemic shutdowns on Thursday and Friday of tenth week and the winter final exam period in March 2020, the response rate was 85%. With the expectation that these online evaluations would be completed in the classroom during class time, there was every reason to expect response rates similar to the paper-and-pencil days.

Then spring happened. We all remember the widespread difficulties experienced by both students and instructors. Alarming numbers of students faded away over the course of that term, during what we’ve come to call “contingency online instruction.” The wave of protests and civil unrest in late May and early June drained whatever remained of class engagement at the end of that term. Those factors can be easily seen in the very low 35% response rate to online course evaluations for spring 2020.

For fall 2020, the student response rate to online course evaluations at K was 65%. That’s good news compared to the spring term, but far lower than we’ve come to expect. In the comparisons below, it’s important to keep that missing one-third of student voices in mind. I recently reached out to instructors whose students responded at high rates, and have compiled a blog post about practices they report using to encourage student engagement with the online course evaluation.

Instructor Ratings

In reading survey results, there is always a concern about over-representation among students who have strong feelings to express, both positive and negative. This concern is only heightened with less than universal response. Following up on questions from several instructors about that concern, I considered Instructor Rating scores from the fall. Averages don’t shed light on the question of bias toward stronger opinions. For that purpose a closer look at proportions of responses at each rating level can illustrate the issue and aid in comparisons. The chart below shows distributions of Instructor Rating responses for Fall 2020 compared with Fall 2019. The distribution of ratings is remarkably similar between these years. I think this gives reassurance about possible negative effects of online course delivery in students’ rating of their instructions.

The proportions at each level aren’t exactly the same between these two years, but the differences are well within the year-to-year variation over the past half-dozen years, illustrated in the next figure.

2. In this online environment, Students Report Familiar Experiences of Joy in Learning

As I read evaluations course by course and department by department, an unmistakable trend emerged that has left me feeling profoundly grateful to the K faculty and optimistic about the days ahead:  so, so many students reported on their experiences of transformational learning in courses this fall, in many cases without even mentioning the online delivery medium. For instructors, it’s all too easy to fall into a kind of despair, questioning the possibility of profound student learning outcomes without the traditional personal touch that has characterized the K student experience. Here are a few quotes from student comments that illustrate the learning experiences students experienced this fall:

This has been an incredible class, and I so appreciated all of the intersectionality and different topics we covered. I learned so much, and this class definitely reignited my passion for the subject!

…was phenomenal about reading where students were at, what kind of feedback they needed, and where they were struggling.” 

 I have been waiting to take [this course] since I started college, and the class did not disappoint. I found myself genuinely wanting to read and go to class due to the content, as well as the structure of class.

I totally understand why everyone wants to take this class before they leave K. 

… is the kind of instructor that I came to Kalamazoo College to learn from.

Je me sens plus confiant en mon francais grace a ce cours

I feel this is an excellent first year class as it has challenging academic readings daily and introduces students to academic thinking and writing. I feel I am better suited for college-level work because of this class.“  

this class encouraged and was centered around thinking of things from different perspectives and with your imagination, and [the instructor] always prompted us to think outside of the box and analyze things from a different point of view

3. Students report high levels of satisfaction with courses that provide clear structure and timely feedback

Without the in-person classroom opportunities for instructors to gauge where students are in their progress through the course and clear up misunderstandings, students reported confusion and mistaken negative assumptions about class structure that lead to irreversible dissatisfaction with courses. Only rarely did I read student accounts of courses that were able to overcome confusion about assignments, due-dates and missing grades. In those cases, the balancing factor was a strong relationship with the instructor and classmates through extraordinarily effective synchronous class meetings.

In the online environment, where the difficulties in establishing nuanced personal communication are widely acknowledged, clear structures and well-established patterns of frequent timely feedback were positively brought forward by students in reporting course satisfaction. And importantly the lack of those factors was the most frequently cited reason for course dissatisfaction.

4. Students’ overall satisfaction in courses this fall often boiled down to the perceived level of support and understanding of pandemic-related factors

I don’t have a quantitative measure of this phenomenon, but my reading of their survey comments convinces me that students this fall felt very vulnerable in the face of the pressures and anxieties of the pandemic world, and in many cases this formed the background for their nascent interaction with their instructors. In reporting their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with courses, students in many cases — far more frequently than I can ever remember from my work with student course evaluations in the past — tied their experience of the course with their perception that the instructor did (or sadly did not) truly care about them or what they were going through outside of schoolwork. Those students that gave more details in this regard pointed to flexibility with due dates, instructor responsiveness to student feedback about course structure and workload, and instructors reaching out with expressions of support, care and kind concern.

5. Students Loved/Hated Groupwork this term

A frequently reported feature of high student satisfaction courses this term was the effective use of breakout discussions and group work. Remarkably, the opposite is also true: many students reported low satisfaction with courses due to their experience in smaller group structures. In several cases, students in the same course experienced this groupwork as the make (or break) feature.

Several students acknowledged their negative experiences stemmed from the make-up of the groups: the familiar reports “I did all the work, nobody else did anything” were amplified by perceptions of disengagement in the video meeting setting (“cameras off”, “stays muted”, etc). Likewise, a number of students reported positive work together and friend-making from groups.

I didn’t gain any new solutions to this problem from what I read in the course evaluations, but it does strike me that because the breakout discussion is such an important part of the online class meeting, it will be important for us as instructors to give this issue some careful thought, with special attention to how group memberships are assigned and monitored for signs of distress. I’d love to hear your ideas about this in a #KTeachDev2020 post!

Boosting Response Rates for Online Course Evaluations in Your Online Course

For fall 2020, the student response rate to online course evaluations at K was 65%.

In the paper-and-pencil era of course evaluations, response rates to the the in-class surveys were typically around 90% — dependent simply on the proportion of students in attendance on evaluation day. Winter 2020 was the first term of online course evaluations using the SmartEvals platform. Even with the disruptions caused by the emerging pandemic shutdowns on Thursday and Friday of tenth week and the winter final exam period in March 2020, the response rate was 85% in winter 2020. With the expectation that these online evaluations would be completed in the classroom during class time, there was every reason to expect response rates similar to the paper-and-pencil days.

Then spring happened. We all remember the widespread difficulties experienced by both students and instructors. Alarming numbers of students faded away over the course of that term, during what we’ve come to call “contingency online instruction.” The wave of protests and civil unrest in late May and early June drained whatever remained of class engagement at the end of that term. Those factors can be easily seen in the very low 35% response rate to online course evaluations for spring 2020.

The fall 2020 response rate of 65% was good news compared to the spring term, but far lower than we’ve come to expect. The switch to online course delivery disrupts the tried-and-true technique of in-class administration of the evaluations. I recently reached out to instructors whose students responded at high rates this fall, and have compiled here some of the advice they offered.

Put the online evaluation where students’ eyes are

kalamazoo.smartevals.com

Let’s take a minute to demystify the process for accessing course evaluations. The 9th week reminder emails are a helpful resource, but you don’t need to rely on them for the web address of the evaluations site. It is important to remember that there aren’t web addresses for individual class evaluations (which would be hard to remember). Rather, the address kalamazoo.smartevals.com (a shorter option is simply smartevals.com) takes the user to a login page. The login sequence happens here on Kalamazoo College’s campus, and then a secure authorization is sent to SmartEvals. Once authenticated, the user sees their own information: for students, that includes links to all available course evaluations.

With that in mind, a number of instructors whose students responded at high rates reported putting the link in all class materials during tenth week: on the Moodle page, in Teams messages, and in emails. For the latter, it’s easy to paste the address kalamazoo.smartevals.com along with a reminder to complete the course evaluations in any email you plan to send to your class. In addition, SmartEvals provides a handy mechanism to send student reminders through the instructors’ SmartEvals page. The advantage of the latter is that only students who haven’t yet completed the course evaluation will receive the reminder.

One final thing: for the first time this term we enabled a feature in Moodle that posts links to available SmartEvals course evaluations at each user’s Dashboard screen:

Frequent Reminders

Like many parts of our course structure, we’ve found that students want and need frequent reminders about what to do when. That goes for course evaluations in the online era as well. Many instructors in high-response-rate courses reported making daily reminders in tenth week about online evaluations at kalamazoo.smartevals.com

Establish a culture of feedback in your course

I heard from instructors about a most important factor — creating a climate where feedback, both quantitative and qualitative, is given frequently (in both directions) and valued.  

I’ve talked to several instructors who have found this term that online student submissions have led to a streamlined workflow by which written feedback on student work is faster to write and more detailed than in the old paper-and-pen days. Actionable narrative feedback takes practice, and we can lead students by our example in this way.

TLC has urged all instructors to use informal mid-term student course surveys to get student feedback about the course in progress. Sharing the results of the survey and explicitly acting on that feedback to change the course mid-stream creates a powerful atmosphere for productive feedback.

Remind your students (and yourself!) why it matters that we hear from them.

Finally, many of the instructors who volunteered their advice about motivating their students to respond concluded with a simple and powerful idea. They made the request personal: “Please respond to the survey for me, because it is important to me that I hear from you about how this course supported your learning and how I can do better in the future.”

Building in Asynchronous Participation with Discussion Leadership — Mika Kennedy

Intro to Discussion Leadership

While the phrase “discussion leadership” typically brings to mind the work one does to facilitate a conversation in real-time, the shift to virtual learning due to COVID-19 invited two elephants into my Zoom room:

  1. The grim likelihood that our students would be facing a lot more disruption to their ability to attend class regularly, and
  2. the fact that, absent the bodily cues of in-person conversation, nurturing–and then following–a conversation on Zoom is hard.

(Of course, from an accessibility perspective, these elephants have always been in the room, even when that room was brick and mortar.)

The Discussion Leadership assignment I developed for my discussion-based course (a 100-level English class with 26 students) sought to address these challenges by carefully structuring our in-class time with asynchronous work, and by leaving behind a structure that could be accessed asynchronously for anyone who had not been able to attend class.

Here’s how it worked.

Each student was responsible for taking on a Discussion Leadership role for 4 classes throughout the quarter. There were 3 roles to choose from:

  1. Pre-Discussion: Develop 2-3 questions about the text that will guide our class discussion.
  2. Post-Discussion: Identify 1-2 key takeaways from our class discussion. Pose a new question that’s arisen for you, or that you feel we didn’t have time to address in full.
  3. Class Notes: Take detailed, structured notes on our class discussion.

My students posted their Discussion Leadership contributions to that week’s Forum on Moodle, so everyone would be able to locate and reference them. 

Here’s an example of the worksheet I used to introduce the assignment and the aims of each role.

(Student signed up for roles at signup.com. The roles were intentionally doubled-up and there were significantly more slots than required, to allow for maximum flexibility and to increase the likelihood that, at minimum, Class Notes would be covered even if someone forgot, or ended up unexpectedly absent.)

How did we use these contributions?

I typically chose a couple of the pre-discussion questions to structure our class discussions (usually in small groups, where each group would choose a question to focus on). My students were able to exercise ownership of our discussions by highlighting elements they wished to discuss; and if needed, I could still add questions of my own to balance theirs.

The post-discussion syntheses were useful in offering a form of “endcap” to our discussions, which felt particularly important in virtual space, where discussions typically took a little longer and we were often running right up against the end of the period. Sometimes, I’d use the post-discussions to prompt a quickwrite at the start of the next class period, to return us to the thoughts we’d left off on the previous day. And honestly, I think being able to say “[Dilly Bar] posed a really great question I’d like to open with today” helped these quickwrites feel like genuine invitations to muse, rather than instructor-written prompts that secretly had right answers. In small ways, they reinforced our ideal classroom dynamic, where ideally students would talk to each other, rather than respond to me.

These posts also helped paint a picture of what class was like on any given day a student might have missed, and to offer them an opportunity to still engage asynchronously. That being said, Discussion Leadership was not intended as a fully asynchronous course option: The expectation of the class was that you would attend the synchronous meetings as often as possible. When it was not possible, however, it was intended to help make up the difference. 

Students who were absent on any given day had the option of making up their class presence by reading the Class Notes and other Discussion Leadership, responding to questions that arose and offering their own interpretations/comments. While not the same as being able to participate in the synchronous session, it offered a safety net, and an invitation to continue engaging with the course materials/conversation for that day, even if Plan A didn’t pan out.

Maybe this all sounds workmanlike! It’s definitely not flashy. But sometimes simple, strong foundations are the best new gizmo when we and our students are sitting in our houses on fire, muttering “this is fine” to ourselves. 

What did my students get out of it?

My students seemed to appreciate the Discussion Leadership because it wasn’t particularly difficult or time-consuming. As one student pointed out in an anonymous midterm reflection, in an ideal word it’d be stuff they should probably be doing all the time. (Ah, but ours is not an ideal world, is it?) One student noted that choosing to think up pre-discussion questions helped remind them that preparing for class wasn’t just about doing the reading, but engaging with the reading and thinking about what they wanted to say before logging into class. Note-takers would occasionally ask their classmates to repeat a comment to clarify their meaning, actively working to ensure their own comprehension/the accuracy of their record. 

What I most valued about Discussion Leadership, outside of its utilitarian purpose, was the fact that the work was shared, low-stakes, and collaborative: Students didn’t need to stretch themselves to distraction, attempting to take notes while also contributing and listening to others as they made eye contact with their classmates’ Black Zoom Boxes, etc. because they knew they could rely on each other’s work, sit with each other’s insights, or compare their own takeaways from a class with the written record of another. Discussion Leadership helped make our virtual interactions more tangible. It served a written record of our collective knowledge-building, and allowed us to see how far we’d come, even as days blurred and time seemed to corkscrew. 

Not a bad day’s work for a Moodle forum!

I’m digging many parts of remote learning — Britanny Liu

Building community

  • I had 26 students in class, and I split up ice-breaker intros over week 1.  A surprise blessing of Teams was that I could use the stream to post stories, pics of my cats, pics of my kids’ Halloween costumes, articles and funny memes relevant to class.  It felt  like a relaxed way to keep in touch with everyone in between class.

I don’t regret doing away with late penalties and being flexible. 

This also went along with building community, creating a place where we could support each other’s ultimate goal of learning during a worsening global pandemic and contentious election season.

  • I had due dates but no late penalties.  Part of my reasoning was if students got sick or had emergencies, but another part was based on some readings Regina and Dwight got me on to about grading.  One take-away for me was: What are your assignments assessing?  Are they reflecting your learning goals? Or might they be partially assessing a behavior, like turning in something by a certain date?  This can discourage students already feeling like outsiders in the discipline.  I realized that late penalties were rewarding students for behaviors that ultimately were unrelated to my goals. 
  • With in-person teaching, I used penalties to deter late work because I hated having to track where everything was.  But with virtual, I always know where to find student work, and it eliminated that burden of keeping track of students’ work. 
  • I’d estimate about 95% of the assignments were in by the due dates, and late work wasn’t more than a week or so behind, and I think the flexibility eased student stress.
  • It was freeing to be able to say, no matter the personal emergency, “Oh no, that sounds scary and stressful!  Don’t worry about the assignment, turn it in when things settle down.  Take care of yourself, do you have everything you need?”
  • For post-election class, I set up an alternative low-key activity ahead of time students could do if they weren’t up for the synchronous meeting.

Shorter assignments for faster feedback. 

  • I took Alyce Brady’s excellent suggestion for structured reflections instead of homework.  Before covid, I actually didn’t have homework in my 200-level psychology class because we did work in class.  I added the reflections this term so that I could get a temperature reading on students early on and regularly.  I think I’ll keep them for always.  I’ve gotten to know students much better through these reflections than I ever did during in-person discussion and activities, especially the quiet ones.  I’m also getting more thoughtful, deeper responses than I ever did in class (duh! They have more time to think through responses).  The prompts were based topics I had used in my in-person class.  Example:  Structured Reflection prompts.docx
  • Grading was not as terrible as I feared because I made a cheat sheet for all my feedback that I could re-use for multiple students.  Plus, I dropped the 2 lowest scores – this was great in hindsight because I had students with covid, mental health issues, dying grandparents and it was such a relief to say “don’t worry about last week’s reflection, let’s start fresh this week”.  Also the last 2 weeks of the quarter had fewer assignments to grade. 

I liked having 1-hour synchronous meetings at a time. 

  • We met Tuesdays and Thursdays for 1 hour.  I think that was everyone’s threshold, and it kept students fresh.  Students watched ~35 min video lectures in the days leading up to class so that we could spend the hour on discussion, activities, group work, demonstrations, etc.
  • Because I had to record re-vamped lectures for video, I’ve never felt more free to cut old material that I was hanging on to for too long.  Cutting old stuff allowed for more time with newer material, rather than rushing through to cram it all in.

Class Teams from Quarter to Quarter — Josh Moon

In addition to Moodle and other resources, many instructors have adopted Teams to organize their online classes.  Teams is designed to put de-centralized control in the hands of owners and users. While offering support and training, this has been the spirit that Information Services has maintained for using Teams. Now that we’ve completed two quarters using this platform, we wanted to share some thoughts about carrying over work on Teams from quarter to quarter.  

My List of Teams 

As we move from quarter to quarter, faculty should consider how best to manage their growing list of Class Teams. This would include whether to maintain, hide, or delete a particular Team.  Faculty are also encouraged to practice naming conventions that clarify the term of each site to avoid ambiguity.  The convention in Moodle is Department/Course Number/Term (i.e. PSYC 101-02 FA20).   

To Hide, Delete, or Do Nothing 

It is helpful to know what these options mean in terms of Terms.  If you do nothing with your Team, it will remain visible and available to members in the main “Your Teams” section of the Teams menu.  Individual users can choose to hide any of their teams regardless of their Permissions.  This moves the Team to the “Hidden Teams” section of the bottom of the Teams menu but does not restrict access or hide content.  

Deleting a Team 

Deleting a Team eliminates the Team within the app, the associated Office 365 Group, and the SharePoint site that serves as the backbone to host files and other features.  In other words, deleting a Team gets rid of everything.  

Leaving a Team 

One difference between a Class Team and other formats (PLC, Staff, etc.) is that it is more difficult for Members (students) to leave a Class Team. Currently, members can only leave Class Teams via the app on an Android device. The option will not appear for a Team on the web interface or the desktop application.  This is a current Microsoft coding quirk.  

Duplicating a Team 

If you are re-using a Team’s format (Channels, Tabs) and content (Files) as the template for your next course, you can duplicate that material into a new Team.  Remember, any user at the College can create a Team by clicking “Join or create a Team” in the Teams menu.  Once you have selected which type of Team you wish to create, “Create a team using an existing team as a template” will appear as an option at the bottom of the “Create your team” window.  You will have choices whether to duplicate the Tabs, Settings, associated Apps, and Membership.  “Members” will be unchecked by default to welcome a new course roster.  You’ll need to rename your new Team as well.  

 

Note: This procedure will not import the Files from you previous Team! While it’s intuitive to drag your course files and readings into the “Files” section of your Team, Microsoft’s intention is for your readings and other course files to be deposited in the “Content Library” section of your Class Notebook. While this requires spending time getting comfortable with Microsoft OneNote, it might be a beneficial step if you are planning on using Teams in your class extensively. Visit the the page on Using the OneNote Class Notebook to get started. Class Notebooks can be imported from one Team to a new one, taking with them the Content Library and other material.

If you already have your documents for the course in a Files tab, you can copy those files to a new Team. Access the Files Tab in a Channel, select the Files you wish to copy, and click “Copy.” This will open a navigation window where you can find the Team where you want to copy the files. Currently, whole folders cannot be copied at once. You can, however, create folders in the destination Team first to receive copied files.


Some thoughts on Managing Your Teams 

Hiding inactive or older Teams can be a useful technique for maintaining archival access to course content and conversations while keeping the “Your Teams” menu efficient and organized.  If you’ve ever wished you could easily return to contact or communicate with members of a previous class, this could be one solution.   

If you want to prevent students from returning to the course Team without deleting it, you could remove all the members from the Team.   

As a reminder, we have created a Teams-specific feedback form (login required) to field your questions and respond to challenges.  As the College’s use of Teams evolves, we’re interested to hear from you so that we can better support and organize this platform at Kalamazoo.  Don’t hessite to talk to us about Teams! 

The gist of the paragraph is: management of Teams is decentralized; faculty that have created Teams for a term-specific class should consider whether they want to maintain or delete it, should consider naming (or renaming) the Team to be term specific so future iterations of the same class don’t become ambiguous, etc. 

This information is also contained in an Information Services Announcement.