Use the new Bookings app to schedule advising meetings

Dearest Advisors, 

If you already use MS Outlook to manage your calendar, there’s a new app called Bookings available in our MS Office suite. Bookings allows students to sign up for meeting times based on your availability at Outlook. Here’s an 8-minute video screencast that shows the steps I used to set up my advising schedule. If you don’t have 8 minutes, scroll down for a few notes, obstacle warnings, and instructions from Josh Moon.  You can also take a look at his own Bookings calendar

Josh’s Notes:   

  • Bookings works best if you use Outlook and/or Teams to keep track of your calendar.  Bookings will sync and “talk” to those Microsoft Campus systems.  You can use it independently, but you’ll want a plan for managing your availability.  
  • Bookings and its language is optimized for organizations and groups with multiple staff members, but an individual can also use it to let people book time on their calendar.  There are faculty and staff already using it successfully in this manner.   
  • If you select the default Availability setting, appointments will be available whenever you are free on your calendar. You can further limit this by introducing “Custom hours” in the General Availability settings.   You can also set a different availability over a particular date range, for example during Advising Week.   
  • “Services” can be 1-on-1 or Group.  However, “Group” means that multiple separate individuals can access the same time slot, as in for a webinar or training.  If you want only one person or even one group to access a single time, choose 1-on-1.   Once you have a “Group” service, you cannot change it to 1-on-1!  
  • If you want the cost information to be omitted from your page all together, select “Price not set” instead of “Free.”   
  • The default scheduling page will ask for the person’s name, email, address, and phone number. You can remove and add fields as you like.  For example, you might create an option to pick between a Teams and in-person meeting.    

Bookings Steps for Advising Week Meetings:  

  1. Log in to  
  1. Select Bookings from the Apps.  
  1. Create a Bookings calendar. 
  1. Add a “Service” for your advising schedule 
  1. Fill out the settings for your “Service”.    
  • Choose how long a default appointment should last and whether you want a buffer time.  
  • Example: Meetings of 25 minutes + a five-minute buffer after, and your available appointments will look like:   
  • 2:00 – 2:25pm 
  • 2:30 – 2:55pm 
  • 3:00 – 3:25pm, etc.   
  • Availability options  
  • For the general availability, choose “Not Bookable.” It’ll be okay!  
  • Then, “Set a different availability for a date range” and choose your window of dates.   
  • If you don’t want Bookings to allow appointments any time you are available, set more custom hours.   
  1. “Save changes”, then copy the link to the new service and share it with your advisees! 

“Sometimes I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know Until I’m Taking the Test…” Rethinking the Midterm — Siu-Lan Tan

After attending Dr. Amer Ahmed’s faculty workshops on Intercultural Skills and Inclusive Pedagogy, I have become more aware of how the teacher is traditionally positioned as the “knower”, and students are expected to give as “perfect” as possible a “performance” of knowledge dispensed by professors and textbooks.

And I began to think about how our classrooms don’t always provide a space for not knowing – especially when our Class Calendar says it’s time for a Test or Term Paper, dictating when students are expected to “show how much you know.”

This is a simple exercise I added to the Midterm Discussion Exam for my Developmental Psychology course in Fall 2020 and am currently implementing again for two sections in Winter 2021. I didn’t administer the standard Blue-Book Essay Midterm as I had for 20+ years, as I wanted to find alternatives to written exams during online courses. This simple exercise assesses not only what students know, but what they do not understand yet (“fuzzy areas”) while taking a Test. (This was incorporated into a Discussion-style test but could be adapted for Written Tests and Papers).

Here’s how we did it:

  • I didn’t reveal to the students ahead of time that I was going to do something different. I gave them a Mid-quarter Study Guide, and simply wanted them to review and prepare the course material as best as they could.
  • I divided my class of 24 into four groups of 6 students. I met with each group for 100 minutes, with a 5-minute “stretch break”. (This took almost 7 half hours over the course of three days, but I didn’t hold synchronous classes that week).
  • Toward the beginning of the discussion, I asked each student to identify their favorite topic in our class so far, give examples of why it was intriguing – and then identify what was the “fuzziest area” about that topic?  (I tried to “normalize” having fuzzy areas, by saying something like “… because no matter how well we understand a topic, there’s always going to be something that’s a little murky or fuzzy, and not as clear as the rest”).

I didn’t know how it would go. Would they claim everything was pretty clear already? Would they be reluctant to reveal what they didn’t know during a Discussion Test? And how would this translate in an online situation, via MS Teams?

To my surprise, students were quick to point out “fuzzy areas” – especially after they had just had an opportunity to talk about their favorite topic, often with great enthusiasm and gusto.

  • In our small groups of six, I usually started with a student who seems comfortable talking in class, to set the tone. After the student identified a “fuzzy area,” I would empathize first, then probe: “Oh yes, I see others nodding. I remember needing more time to grasp that one. What about Bronfenbrenner’s ‘mesosystem’ is most fuzzy or confusing?”

“Well, I understand the definition is the linkages between microsystems, but it’s hard to totally see how it works.”

“Okay, let’s get some group help – and then I’ll clarify as well as I can. What about Robin’s question: Can anyone give an example that would illuminate this level of the model?”

  • Note:  I didn’t do the “group help” step the first time. Out of habit, I jumped straight from the student’s question to giving an explanation (and then invited add-ons from peers). I played “dispenser of knowledge” too soon and took some of the joy of collaborative discovery away. 

Adding this step allowed peers to scaffold each other (in their own language and with their own kinds of explanations) before I entered to summarize, clarify, and probe further. That way, students frequently credited peers for breakthroughs (“the example Megan gave really helped me get the concept”).

Another nice outcome of sharing “what I don’t yet know” in a group: some students later said it helped them realize that they weren’t the only ones that hadn’t grasped something – especially when they heard more confident students talk about “fuzzy areas.” This could be especially helpful for our first-generation college students, students of color, and students with special challenges; when not knowing is not kept a secret, it may help alleviate the loneliness of assuming you’re the only one that “didn’t get it”.

  • Structure/Time management:  I first posted all 6 students’ “fuzzy areas” to quickly plan a structure for our discussion — by grouping overlapping questions together, and deciding on a logical order to tackle them. I tried my best to include all students’ questions, folding in more tangential points into core concepts. This method made the best use of our time.

On most topics, students contributed helpful points to fill in the gaps, and there were some neat breakthroughs in each group. At the end of each round, I tried to provide a clear summary or synthesis (“So to sum up, we can understand the mesosystem as representing…”). When it came to me, I would add something new, with the hopes of continuing to teach and maybe even lead to another “aha” moment together. Often at the point of group discovery, there is a special readiness for another shift in thinking.

  • Although I implemented this simple exercise in Midterm Discussions, it could easily be adapted to Term Papers and (written) Tests. We might encourage students to fill in a box at the end of a paper or test where they can convey one or two “still fuzzy areas” or “what’s still coming together for me” (with a clear statement that this will not affect the grade). This can give us insight into what to review and reinforce in our next module.

I didn’t focus on “fuzzy areas” for the Final Discussion Exam, for which I targeted other learning goals. This was perfect for the Midterm, allowing me to fill in gaps and reinforce certain principles for the last month of the course. But many students spontaneously brought up “fuzzy areas” on their own during the Final (which we addressed together), having learned that our class was open to this!

The “take-aways”:

The “fuzzy areas” was only one portion of our group discussion, but when I asked students what they liked or learned most from our time together, most described a breakthrough from the “fuzzy areas” part. When I asked why this was helpful, many said it’s because it departs from the standard way we test – with an approach that seems intended to assess what they “know”, and “catch” what they did not study well, or did not fully grasp. As one student put it, “at that point it’s to judge it and not to teach it.” 

Many times, when we introduce a new concept in class, and stop to invite questions, no hands go up. It is only later, as students are pulling together all the information to prepare for a test – or actually taking the test – that they see where their understanding is incomplete. If we provide a safe space, somewhere in our spoken or written tests and papers, to convey those “fuzzy areas” and address them, the test is not just the measure of one’s learning but a tool for further learning.

As one student put it:

“Sometimes I don’t know what I don’t know till I’m taking the test, and then it’s too late… I really liked this discussion test, because you asked us to talk about the fuzzy parts, so we could close the gaps.”

-Siu-Lan Tan

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)

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 “” 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 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

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 (a shorter option is simply 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 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

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 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!

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.

Five Things: Moodle Grading Workflows to fit my Many Moods.

Thing 1: The Quick Grading option

The name says it all! When I click on a Moodle assignment, I’m presented with two buttons below. For Quick Grading, I’ll choose View all submissions

two buttons:  View all submissions and Grade

The result is a screen (screenshot below) that shows all the enrolled students, a link to each submission that opens in a separate window, the status of their submission for this exercise, a place to enter a score, and several places to enter my feedback. For brief assignments this is my go-to option. Especially helpful is that students in this screen can be sorted in a number of user-defined ways: by date of submission, grading status, etc so that I don’t need to scroll through all the students to find the few that I haven’t yet graded.

the quick grading screen shows one row for each student with various columns

To be safe, remember to select Save all quick grading changes at the bottom of the screen when you’ve finished.

don't forget to select Save all quick grading changes at the bottom of the page

If you don’t see the columns with fillable Grade boxes, scroll down to the bottom and turn that on with the Quick Grading checkbox:

quick grading option specified with a check at the bottom of the screen.

The “+” and “-” symbols at the top of each column can be selected to either show more or fewer of the columns. That helps so that all the columns I want to see can fit the width of my computer screen.

If you don’t see “Feedback comments” column, edit the settings for the assignment. More about this next in Thing 2.

Thing 2: Set up activities to include the whole range of feedback types

I include all the possible feedback types in every activity. For a given activty, select edit and settings, then expand the Feedback types menu to check all the available options. We’ll see all those options in action in Thing 4 below.

Feedback types checkboxes:  Feedback comments, Annotate PDF, Feedback files, Offline grading worksheet

Thing 3: Use Moodle’s Duplicate function to carry your settings over to a new activity

Instead of counting on my memory to select the feedback types for each new assignment, I set up one initial activity carefully, and then use the Moodle Duplicate feature to use that previous activity as a template for all subsequent activities of that type. The properties I’ve carefully selected come along with the duplicate automatically.

 I used Moodle’s Duplicate feature: from my main page, select Gear icon, then turn on editing by selectin Editing is OFF. Now in the Edit drop-down menu on the right side of the window for a chosen activity I can select Duplicate

select duplicate from the dropdown menu

The result will be a new activity with all the settings as in the original. Drag the cross icon to move the new item where you want it in your Moodle page, and Edit settings to transform this into your new activity.

the result of duplicate is a separate item

Thing 4: The Grade Button

If I really want to grade papers, I should push Grade, right?

two buttons:  View all submissions and Grade

The result is a screen that shows everything possible for a single student’s submission: Notice that the feedback options we set in Thing 2 cause this screen to have

  • Annotate-able file
  • A text editor for typing instructor feedback
  • A place to upload a feedback document file
The Grade screen shows a big window with the students annotatable submission document, a box for entering a grad, a text editor box for typing feedback, a place to upload feedback files.  In the upper right is the change user dropdown menu

When I’ve finished working with this student’s submission, I can select Save and show next to move on to another student. To me, it is sometimes inconvenient that Moodle always brings me these papers in the same order: alphabetical by surname. It is possible to circumvent that a little by using the Change user dropdown menu in the upper right corner of the window. A helpful feature in that menu is that ungraded submissions are indicated with an asterisk *. This is especially useful when I’m going back through an assignment to see late submissions and revised resubmissions.

Thing 5: Downloads and Uploads

A few days ago I had a whole class roster full of long PDF final exam documents to grade. For each, I planned to reply with a PDF document of feedback. To streamline that workflow, I downloaded all the submissions choosing View All Submissions selecting Download all submissions from the Grading Options dropdown menu:

in the grading action dropdown menu, choose download all submissions
a zipped folder full of folders, one for each student.

The result was that a compressed (zip) folder appeared in my Download directory. Clicking on that revealed a whole folder full of folders, each one with the name of a student who had submitted work. For a given student, the directory contained all the submitted files. Being careful not to change the names of any of those files or of directories in which they were contained, I happily annotated the submitted files. I included in each student’s directory my own document file of feedback. The name of this feedback file isn’t important. The thing that matters is that my feedback file for each student got put in that student’s directory. When I was finished, I selected Upload multiple feedback files in a zip, and uploaded the modified zip directory. All the feedback files got to the right place, as did the annotations on the students’ submissions.

I then used the Quick Grade feature to enter the students exam scores in Moodle and I was done. Or…

Downloading and Uploading Grade worksheet

It is possible to enter grades for an assignment on your own device, then upload them all at once to Moodle. In the View All Submissions page, select Download grade worksheet from the Grading Options dropdown menu:

Select Download grading worksheet from the dropdown menu

The result will be a downloaded document that you can open on your device with MS Excel. Enter scores in the Grade column

in MS Excel, enter scores in the Grade column

Save the modified document (without changing the filename or filetype) and then select Upload grading worksheet at the Moodle Grading Action dropdown menu. The grades you entered will now appear in all the usual places in Moodle.