TLOS Top 10: Instructional Continuity Special Edition

Computer illustration

From: Division of Information Technology

The COVID-19 situation has dramatically altered the spring semester at Virginia Tech, and Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies (TLOS) is doing everything they can to support the university's swift transition to online instruction. The coming weeks will be challenging for instructors and students alike, so TLOS has developed this special edition of the “TLOS Top 10” to share tips and gentle reminders that will help faculty adjust to a new model of teaching and interacting with students. As the semester progresses, the latest information and resources related to teaching online will be organized on the Continuity of Instruction website: https://tlos.vt.edu/continuity/

1. Set Realistic Expectations

Faculty are working in unprecedented circumstances that call for innovation and adaptation, but also for empathy and generosity. As one faculty member at another university told his students, "We cannot just do the same thing online. Some assignments are no longer possible. Some expectations are no longer reasonable. Some objectives are no longer valuable." As faculty adjust assignments and class activities, remember that the shift to online instruction will consume additional time and energy from everyone involved simply because the learning environment is new and unfamiliar.

2. Adopt an Asynchronous-First Approach

For the remainder of the semester, students may be in different time zones, they may have limited bandwidth at home, they may be caring for family members, or they may be dealing with any number of other challenges. Pre-recording lectures and planning activities that can be completed offline will give students the best chance to succeed. However, faculty choosing to meet during their originally assigned times should consider using Zoom to record each class session. These recordings will help students who encounter technical difficulties or those who aren’t able to attend for any other reason. Request free, automatic captions for videos in Kaltura to make them more accessible.

3. Look for Low-Tech Alternatives

When adapting assignments and exercises to online formats, consider, “What is the lowest-tech way to accomplish the learning objectives of this activity?” High-bandwidth tools like Zoom and Kaltura may be needed for some activities, but in many cases, using discussions in Canvas, a Google Groups listserv, or a WordPress blog will reduce complexity and increase interactions among students.

4. Make Small Adjustments to Improve the Online Experience

When it comes to video-based instruction, whether pre-recording lectures or meeting synchronously, select a space that has good light and minimal noise or visual distractions. Avoid backlit spaces (for example, in front of a window) and consider using a virtual Zoom background—faculty can make their own or download the Virginia Tech backgrounds. Use a microphone, headset, and/or earbuds to improve audio quality.

5. Use Ally to Improve the Accessibility of Canvas Course Materials

Ally is available in all Canvas courses and provides course-specific feedback to make materials more accessible. Ally provides students with flexible options to download alternative formats of course materials, but only instructors can see the color-coded accessibility gauges. Visit the Choose Accessible Learning Materials (C.A.L.M.) page or contact assist@vt.edu for more information about accessibility and universal design.

6. Plan Ahead for Video Processing Times

Because many institutions are moving to online instruction, cloud-based services like Zoom and Kaltura are experiencing a significant spike in uploaded videos. Processing times for newly uploaded videos vary depending on the length of the video and the size of the processing queue. At peak times, long videos may take up to 24 hours to be processed. Let students know there may be a delay for live recordings to post to Canvas and plan ahead to ensure that pre-recorded videos are available when they are scheduled to be viewed.

7. Set Virtual Office Hours

Most likely, students will have many questions as they adapt to online courses. One way to help students through the transition is to schedule virtual office hours in Zoom. Zoom integrates with Canvas to automatically invite students in a particular course to scheduled meetings. During office hours, faculty can hold an open discussion, encourage students to ask questions in Zoom’s chat interface, or meet with one student at a time by using Zoom’s waiting room feature.

8. Share Tips and Reminders with Students

Many students have little or no experience with online courses, so they will be experiencing some of the same growing pains that faculty might be feeling. Students may have slow internet connection speeds, live in different time zones, or be dealing with other complications. Consider proactively sharing the “Student Tips for Academic Success in an Online Environment” or “Technology Tips for Managing Coursework with Lower-Speed Connections” pages with students. Faculty may also want to remind students to change their Canvas notification settings to receive messages via email so they won’t miss course-related announcements.

9. Consider Adding Curated Streaming Video to Your Courses

University Libraries has compiled a list of more than 100,000 streaming videos available to Virginia Tech students and employees. These documentaries, instructional videos, feature films, and cultural performances are available to supplement original course materials. Many of the video services allow faculty to extract clips and create playlists, making it easier to assign specific content. In addition, TLOS provides access to LinkedIn Learning, which offers unlimited access to self-paced online learning. The LinkedIn Learning library covers everything from art history to software tutorials to math to technical writing.

10. Connect with TLOS and the Continuity Partners for More Help

Throughout the COVID-19 situation, TLOS employees and a large network of Continuity Partners are available to answer questions, help solve technical problems, and connect instructors with other Virginia Tech offices. Here are a variety of ways to get help: