In response to the continued spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Northeastern Illinois University has suspended face-to-face instruction for the remainder of the spring semester. Spring break is extended for one week to allow instructors time to fully transition to remote instruction. All NEIU courses will be taught remotely beginning Monday, March 30.
This page provides NEIU faculty with some tips and strategies for communicating with students and moving to remote instruction. Faculty members are encouraged to review the information here and available in the CTL COVID-19 Faculty Support course shells in Desire2Learn (D2L) to find the best solutions for their courses and students. The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is providing support through the COVID-19 course shells and online sessions.
The shift to teaching your classes remotely takes some time. Consider the following as you plan for moving to remote instruction beginning March 30.
1. Identify plans early
Consider addressing emergencies and expectations up front in your syllabus, so students know what will happen if classes are canceled, including procedures you will implement. Consider doing this each semester, so you are ready in case of an emergency.
2. Get details about the closure or event
Campus closures or emergencies will be reported to the University community via Targeted Announcements and on the NEIU Coronavirus webpage.
3. Check with your department
Your department may issue more details about the situation and guidelines about their expectations for classes. Check with your chair and dean before doing too much planning.
4. Communicate with your students right away
Even if you don't have a plan in place yet, communicate with your students as soon as possible, informing them that changes are coming and what your expectations are for checking email or Desire2Learn (D2L), so you can get them more details soon. See Provost Rome’s announcement to faculty on March 16.
5. Consider realistic goals for continuing instruction
What do you think you can realistically accomplish during this time period? Do you think you can maintain your original syllabus and schedule? Do you hope students will keep up with the reading with some assignments to add structure and accountability? Do you just want to keep them engaged with the course content somehow? See the CTL COVID-19 Faculty Support Desire2Learn shell for information on how to move to remote instruction.
6. Review your course schedule to determine priorities
Identify your priorities during the disruption—providing lectures, structuring new opportunities for discussion or group work, collecting assignments, etc. Give yourself a little flexibility in that schedule, just in case the situation takes longer to resolve than you think.
7. Review your syllabus for points that must change
What will have to temporarily change in your syllabus (policies, due dates, assignments, etc.)? Since students will also be thrown off by the changes, they will appreciate details whenever you can provide them.
8. Pick tools and approaches familiar to you and your students
Try to rely on tools and workflows that are familiar to you and your students, and roll out new tools only when absolutely necessary. This change to instruction can be taxing to people’s mental and emotional energy; introducing a lot of new tools and approaches may leave even less energy and attention for learning.
9. Identify your new expectations for students
You will have to reconsider some of your expectations for students, including participation, communication and deadlines. As you think through those changes, keep in mind the impact this situation may have on students' ability to meet those expectations, including illness, lacking power or Internet connections, or needing to care for family members. Be ready to handle requests for extensions or accommodations equitably.
10. Create a more detailed communications plan
Once you have more details about changes in the class, communicate them to students, along with more information about how they can contact you (email, online office hours, etc.). A useful communication plan also lets students know how soon they can expect a reply. Make a plan also for how you will track when you have heard from students.
Communicate with students
Keeping in touch with students is vital during any changes to your class(es)—whether a planned absence on your part, or because of a crisis impacting all or part of the University community. You'll want to let students know about changes in schedules, assignments, procedures, and broader course expectations. Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions.
Keep these principles in mind:
- Communicate early and often: Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren't in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Don't swamp them with email. Consider setting up a regular time at which you post announcements or send emails.
- Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response. Ask them to set up notifications in their Desire2Learn (D2L) account so that they know when you post things.
- Manage your communications load: You will likely receive some individual requests for information that could be useful to all your students, so consider keeping track of frequently asked questions and sending those replies out to everyone. This way, students know they might get a group reply in a day versus a personal reply within an hour. Also, consider creating a Raise Your Hand discussion forum in D2L, and then encourage students to check there first for answers before emailing you.
Distribute course materials and readings
You may need to provide course materials to students differently from when you meet face to face. Providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.
Considerations when posting new course materials:
- Make sure students know when new material is posted: If you post new materials in D2L, be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they set up their D2L notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted.
- Keep things mobile phone friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a phone available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats. D2L is mobile responsive. Videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them during a crisis.
Depending on your course, you may need to deliver some lectures to keep the course moving along. Be aware, though, that a 45-minute live lecture sprinkled with questions and activities can become grueling.
Here are a few suggestions to improve online lectures:
- Record in small chunks: We learn better with breaks to process and apply new information. To aid student learning, record any lectures in shorter (5-10 minute) chunks, and intersperse them with small activities that give students opportunities to process the new knowledge, make connections to other concepts, apply an idea, or make some notes in response to prompts. Smaller chunks also lead to smaller files, especially when using voiced-over PowerPoint presentations.
- Be flexible with live video: Lecturing live with Virtual Classroom in D2L is possible. However, it is likely that some students won't have access to fast internet connections, and others may have their schedules disrupted. Please survey your students to determine their access to help you to be as equitable as possible.
- It's not just about content: If a crisis is disrupting classes, lectures can mean more than just providing course content; they also establish a sense of normalcy and a personal connection. In online courses, we talk about the importance of "instructor presence.” Consider ways that you can use mini-lectures to make students feel connected and cared about: acknowledgement of current challenges, praise for good work, and reminders about the class being a community. This kind of connection can help their learning during a difficult time.
Run lab activities
One of the biggest challenges of teaching during a building or campus closure is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.
Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:
- Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work).
- Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
- Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
- Explore alternate software access: Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. Explore options that may be available to your students.
- Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.
Foster communication and collaboration among students
Fostering communication among students is important because it allows you to reproduce any collaboration you build into your course, and maintains a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn. It helps if you already had some sort of student-to-student online activity (for example, D2L Discussions) since students will be used to both the process and the tool.
Consider these suggestions when planning activities:
- Use asynchronous tools when possible: Having students participate in live conversations can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like D2L Discussions or email allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
- Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. How does this activity help them meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments?
- Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
- Balance newness and need: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online collaboration with the additional effort such collaboration will require on everyone else's part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.
Collecting assignments during a period of remote instruction is fairly straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, scanners or printers.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Require only common software: Students may not have access to specialty software located in on-campus computer labs. Be flexible when you can -- such as accepting both Word documents and Google docs.
- Avoid emailed attachments: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using the D2L Assignment tool instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
- State expectations, but be ready to allow extensions: In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear, but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
- Require specific filenames: It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.
Assess student learning
It is fairly easy to give small quizzes to hold students accountable or do spot-checks on their learning, and this might be ideal to keep students on track during a period of remote instruction. Providing high-stakes tests online can be challenging, they place extra stress on students, and test integrity is difficult to ensure.
General tips for assessing student learning during remote instruction:
- Embrace short quizzes: Short quizzes can be a great way to keep students engaged with course concepts, particularly if they are interspersed with small chunks of video lecture. Consider using very-low-stakes quizzes to give students practice at applying concepts—just enough points to hold them accountable, but not so many that the activity becomes all about points.
- Move beyond simple facts: It is good to reinforce concepts through practice on a quiz, but generally it is best to move beyond factual answers that students can quickly look up. Instead, write questions that prompt students to apply concepts to new scenarios, or ask them to identify the best of multiple correct answers.
- Update expectations for projects: Campus disruptions may limit students' access to resources they need to complete papers or other projects, and team projects may be harmed by a team's inability to meet. Be ready to change assignment expectations based on the limitations a crisis may impose. Possible options include allowing individual rather than group projects, having students record individual presentations, or adjusting the types of resources needed for research papers.
- Consider alternate exams: Delivering a secure exam online can be difficult without a good deal of preparation and support, so consider giving open-book exams or other types of exams. They can be harder to grade, but you have fewer worries about test security.
Portions of the guidance on this page are adapted, with permission, from the Indiana University keepteaching.iu.edu website. "Keep Teaching" content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License by the Trustees of Indiana University.