Testing is a big topic of discussion right now.  Delivery of our courses remotely will continue into the fall, and with that testing will also continue to be done online.  It’s worth the time to look at your course materials and the learning outcome to see if a test is the most appropriate method of assessment.  

If possible, replacing a test with another assessment is a way to address concerns with academic misconduct and unauthorized collaboration in an environment where controls are not as strict as they have been in the past. 

Some courses will still need a test, based on the subject matter or the learning outcomes.  In that case, it is worth have a look at the questions and type of exam to see how it can be adjusted.  The way that we are currently teaching and delivering testing lends itself well to open book testing.  

Open book questions call on students to apply materials, not just copy from the course materials or repeat something found in the textbook.  Open book questions can really challenge students to think about what they have learned, how they understand it, and how the information is applied in the real world.  

Even for closed book tests, asking questions that students can flip to in course materials are not the best right now.  Multiple choice questions that challenge students to demonstrate an understanding, not a repetition, of materials is ideal for our situation. 

If you are using a test bank, take the time to make adjustments to it.  Chances are the test bank you are using is on a website somewhere and students will just search for it.  Take the time to change names or items in the question so that students do not just copy it into a search engine.  For example, if the test bank says “Sally sells apples”, change it to “Manjeet sells pens”.  The application of the idea doesn’t change, but it deters students from copying answers.  

PACE is mandating the use of a test bank starting this fall. We will work with instructors to set this up; in short it requires that tests have a bank of a minimum of 1.5x the number of questions individual students will see so that the tests can be randomized.   

Take the time to think about the use of tests, and the questions, to ensure that academic rigor is maintained. 

After posting this, I had this shared with me. It is a great visual of the question of testing in the current setting:

So you need to put your exam online?

Things I’ve Learned – Wrap Up

My course with U Calgary on teaching in the virtual classroom wrapped up this past weekend.  We were tasked to look at tools we have learned to use in our online platform and how we would incorporate them into a virtual class session.   It was a great way to end off the course and to think about how you want to have the students become engaged with the material, the instructor, and each other. 

As you’ve probably seen by now, Zoom has a lot of tools that can be used when teaching a class.  The trick is to think first about what you want to achieve in the session, what is the topic and the outcome, and only then to think about the tools and how they work.  Only use the tools that are going t work for your topic and outcome, don’t try to make things fit (the square peg in the round hole idea). As a general rule, when first teaching a group, the recommendation is to start with simple tools before moving the complex, and to check at the start of each session that everyone remembers how to use the tools and is ‘good to go’.

In Zoom, the tools range from: 

ToolUsed forKeep in mind
Cameramaking a connection with the classstarting / ending a sessionUse selectively for best impactNot everyone may want to turn on their cameraUsing it continuously adds very little when someone can only see your face
ChatGeneral conversationSharing spellings, linksGetting input from a large number of people Checking understanding on things with simple responsesChat is recorded as a text file and is not visible in a recordingGood practice to read the chat aloud so that the recording picks it upConsider pre typing messages you want to send in a Word Doc so that you copy and paste to save time
Chat (private)Can connect one on one with individuals Be sure to change back to everyone when you want to text the groupAnd that you are not on group when sending a private message! 
Raise handTo check for questionsTo allow for interruptions To select someone to answer a questionLower hands after use so that you know when they are raised next timeShows in the participant window 
VotingStraight forward options with only 2 choicesChecking that everyone is in session or at their computerClear after use Has a built-in counter so that instructor can see the number of respondents Shows in the participant window
Whiteboard UW account currently allows only for host to annotateCan preset materials onto the whiteboard, but have to have meeting open to do thatCan save a copy to your computer
Screen shareCan share anything from your computer to the callMake sure anything you want private is closed so does not accidently displayConsider share a specific application instead of your desktop
Polls Good for checking understanding (think MCQ)Good for checking moodCan be set up in advance or done on the flyCan be done anonymously or record namesResponses are stored, allowing for checking participation 
Breakout RoomsFor group discussionNot recordedStudents can share whiteboard or screenStudents can call you to come to room for assistanceInstructor can leap in and outWhen closing rooms, Zoom gives a 1 minute warning before shutting them
General indicatorsStudents have the ability to ask the instructor to speed up, slow down, need a break, or that they are away from the computer 
Onscreen reactionsThese are good for check insRequire that you have camera view open & may need to scroll through to see them

If you want to review a very comprehensive list, check out this website:

but bear in mind that not all of these features are available through our UW Zoom set up.

If you want to see my final course assignment in which I put the tools to use in a simulated classroom, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/DpFnrz0nDGQ

Things I’ve Learned – Five

My course with U Calgary is wrapping up, putting everything into practice and trying out different ways of delivering materials to see how it works.

For each of the course assignments, we are using a form of a storyboard. A storyboard is a visual of what you are going to deliver in a session, and there are many ways to set them up. There are some available online specifically for working with the Articulate software: https://community.articulate.com/downloads/course-design/storyboards

The one we are using is relatively straight forward:

The left hand column has a visual of what will be displayed on the screen of the virtual classroom, the timing column denotes the number of minutes spent on that visual, the facilitator column is the script, what is being said to the class, the producer column in the technical directions. Technical directions may be to open a poll, close a poll, monitor chat, advance slide, etc..

Very few of us at PACE have the luxury of a producer, but I still found it valuable to fill in as I have the document with me during my teaching session and the column acts a cue for all those things that need to be done.

When I first started teaching, I had used a form of storyboard, but as PPT became more common and had a notes section, I got away from it. Now that I’m learning to adapt to the new way of teaching, I’m finding a huge value in going back to having a storyboard for designing and delivering my session.

You can learn more about them, and this specific model here: https://lightbulbmoment.info/2017/01/25/facilitator-guide-for-live-online-classroom/

Things I’ve Learned – Four

I’m going a real appreciation for what our students go through. This course with U Calgary has been condensed into 4 weeks, 2 to 3 sessions a week, home work, reading, and working on top of it. Aw, the life of a student.

This course has been great for sharing resources on things to do, not to do:

CNET: How to look and sound great online

What NOT to do in the virtual classroom

Many of the tips shared are small things but worth remember:

-set up your space: have a glass of water nearby, pen and paper, kleenex handy, turn your phone off, set up the lighting properly

-make your camera eye level
No one knows what is holding up your computer so use what ever you need to raise the camera so no one is looking up your nose or down your shirt

-look at the camera
Most people are looking at the screen to see what is showing or to read from it, as much as you can look at the camera, then you are making ‘eye contact’ with your audience

-when doing screen sharing, share the APPLICATION, not the desktop
If you share the desktop, students will see what is on your desktop and if you have programs running, like email or chat, they will see previews if that is enabled or even content if it is open

Other tips are much bigger and need to be thought about early on:

-online teaching is NOT the same as face to face, so plan your session well
This point is regularly reinforced. The online class has to be planned well to be active and to be meaningful. Everything takes longer and needs more instruction and more visuals!

-be engaging, with your voice and with activities

-have a disaster plan
What will you do if your computer goes down? Or if you have a power failure? How will you communicate with the class? At PACE, you can reach out to the program manager, the Academic Program Manger, or Instructor Support for help in an emergency, but it is worth thinking about in advance. What else could go wrong? What if your slides are visible? The breakout rooms don’t work? Have a plan to cover off any issues.

This entire way of teaching is new, and it is going to take awhile to get used to and get comfortable with, both for instructors and students. Take the time to practice and practice some more, be willing to try out new things.

PS. As of yesterday, UW updated the features available in Zoom. If you look now you have a lot of choices on how students can engage besides just raising hands!

Things I’ve Learned – Three

The course with UCalgary continues to reinforce the need to have solid design for your materials in our new environment. That design extends from thinking through what students need before and after the remote teaching session, and how that will be delivered, and how the live session will work.

Some really good articles that were shared in the course:

Five Best Practices When Converting Classroom Content for the Virtual Classroom

  • a REALLY good and quick discussion on what should be assessed in changing an in class presentation to a remote teaching session, especially the comments on how to decide what to keep in the virtual classroom and what to leave out

Choose Virtual Classroom Methods to Support Learning Goals

  • a reminder to ensure that the delivery method matches the goal of the session

In taking this course, I continue to see over and over again the need to be more deliberate in what I choose to do in the virtual classroom and how I do it.

Interactions in Teaching

I recently came across an article talking about the interactions that take place to make learning happen. I wish I could find it again to give credit and source it, but I cannot find it 😦

The gist of the article was that in teaching there are three interactions or relationships that take place that make learning happen:
1. between the instructor and the student
2. between the student and the course materials
3. between the student and other students

When we are in the physical classroom, it is easy to see all three of these at play. Clearly the instructor works with the students to have them gain the materials, and the students work with the materials to gain mastery. Students working with others also helps with learning: students teach each other, share perspectives, or even correct misunderstandings.

As we teach remotely that student to student interaction can be more difficult to make happen. As instructors, we should look at how to build that in: breakout rooms (either in the session or outside of class), allowing time for inter student actions, calling on students to answer questions instead of just giving answers ourselves. There are a host of ways to do it.

As you plan your next session, reflect on the three learning relationships and how you will build them into your next session.

Things I’ve Learned – Two

This past weekend was the second live session for my UCalgary course.

There were several major takeaways; one in particular that is causing me to rethink the way that I use our virtual classroom time.

The first takeaway was on the Six Principles for the Virtual Classroom:

  1. Design to get regular feedback
    1. Not seeing your audience means those visual cues from the classroom are gone, plan to get some feedback at frequent intervals
  2. Engage early
    1. Set the stage for the whole class by planning an engagement piece early in the session
  3. Everything requires instructions
    1. Be clear on what you want from the audience and how, there is lots of room for error as students cannot reach out like in face to face for your input nor can they see what classmates are doing
  4. Scripting is more important than ever
    1. Be sure of exactly what you want to say and how you want to say, having a script can help
  5. Visual and verbal cues are important
    1. Interact as much as you can with the audience, use both verbal and visual cues (slide deck or similar) for every step as you go along
  6. Time on line is different than time face to face
    1. Things online always take more time, you cannot just duplicate an activity from the classroom into the virtual world, plan for it to need more time

Discussing these principles lead me to rethink how my virtual classes run: think of them as activity blocks. In working with the class ‘live’, why spend time on ideas or concepts that students can learn on their own; if all I’m doing is speaking, they could just watch a recording and get the same value. Instead, I need to think in terms of activities: what activity is the class going to do.

Chunk the session into activities. Those activities work toward the learning outcome: start simple, progress.

Another learning point this weekend came from the Teaching in Higher Education podcast, specifically the episode entitled Everything You Wanted to Know About Building A Great Screencast Video, https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/screencast-videos/

Well worth a listen. Although aimed at middle school teachers, there are some points to consider:

-length of videos you post for students: 6 minutes is the ideal time. More than that, students start to loose interest. More than 9 minutes, students will forget what they’ve learned

-do you make your own videos or link to other peoples? This was interesting, there is a suggestion from the speaker that students want to hear from their teacher, not someone else, and that using some one else’s videos can reduce your credibility. Food for thought as I have been linking to others a bit in my course.

That was the key points from my second class, with a little bonus, more to follow as the course progresses!

Things I’ve Learned This Week

This week I started taking a course with the University of Calgary, Virtual Classroom Strategies, to get some tips on delivering live remote classes – a fact of life for us for the coming months! After each class, I’ll offer up some of the tips I’ve come away with.

Class one was this week, and a lot of the early stuff is consistent with what we have experienced at PACE since we’ve moved online:

-be clear on instructions to students on when to be online and what will be covered

-plan your online class to make the most of the time you have

Then there were a few things that I had not thought about, but will be sure to include going forward:

-when returning from a break, ask students to raise their hand so you can ensure that everyone is back.  You do not have to wait for everyone, but it’s a good way to see that people are there and who you can call on for participation

-asking for a thumbs up or other reaction ensures students are awake, BUT it does not ensure they are engaged.  Just like the face to face classroom, plan activities that ensure students are engaged with the session and that the activities further the learning of the materials

-when you are using the Chat feature, do you allow private chats between students?  Or just the host? Or only in a large chat room?  There are arguments for all of those.  I have not being using the allow private chat feature in Zoom, but there are times when that can be of use for students, such as doing “pair and share exercises”

There is little that is right or wrong when delivering virtually.  As it is new for many of us, it’s about sharing ideas and trying stuff out.

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

The University of Florida has an excellent 3 minute video that outlines the Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.  Developed in 1987 by Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson, the seven principles are good points to keep in mind when teaching in higher education:

  1. Encourage contact between students and faculty
  2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Encourage active learning
  4. Give prompt feedback
  5. Emphasize time on task
  6. Communicate high expectations
  7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

Number 3 really resonates with me!

Check out the video here: