IU's eLearning Research and Practice Lab
Actionable insights from the student and faculty surveys about going remote
With the goal of providing actionable insights, the lab's preliminary findings lay out four main recommendations to guide future planning. Here we take things a step further, detailing strategies, resources, and support that can help you figure out what to do with these recommendations.
What are clear learning goals?
Learning goals lay out your expectations for students — what's vital in the course, what they should be able to do at the end of the course, and how to assess their progress along the way. But how do you make them clear?
Be specific, measurable, and learner-centered (meaning focused on student actions, or what they should spend their time practicing and studying). Both course- and assignment-level learning goals should be outcomes-based, focusing on what students should be able to do afterward.
Learn more about developing clear learning goals. The Teaching for Student Success series also has a related module. To get there, enroll in the course if you haven't already, go to Modules and then to Module 1: Course Design, and explore the "What do I need to know about learning outcomes?" section.
Recommendation 1: Assign classwork judiciously and in alignment with clear learning goals
73% of students agreed that it took more effort to complete their assigned work after the transition to remote instruction, and many reported high anxiety due to ballooning numbers of deadlines and assignments.
Most students responding to the study reported increases in coursework volume, and in the effort required to complete it, paired with a decrease in their understanding of the course's learning goals. In open-ended comments, there were also many references to "busy work."
Strategies, resources, and support
On the Keep Teaching website, IU teaching center consultants recommend one assignment per week (posted and submitted via Canvas) that:
- Connects to module and course objectives
- Situates relevance to students' lives/careers (answers the question, "Why are we doing this?")
- Provides a clear process/task list
- Articulates expectations for learning outcomes
This kind of transparency will help students better understand your expectations and the purpose of specific coursework. Clear communication is critical — in your syllabus, assignments, and assessments. (In the following sections, Recommendations 2 and 3 provide suggestions about using excellent communication to ensure students get the interactivity and feedback they need.)
For a deeper dive, read Dr. Katie Linder's Blended Course Design Workbook (online at IUCAT) — featured in this issue's Food for Thought column — or her book on High-Impact Practices in Online Education.
Recommendation 2: Create opportunities for student-instructor communication, especially for first- and second-year students
During the spring period of remote instruction, instructors became the primary lifeline between IU and its students. However, 67% of instructors agreed that they felt disconnected from their students, and 74% of students agreed that they'd lost touch with the Indiana University community.
Strategies, resources, and support
As the instructor, you set the tone of communication for the entire class, both in-person and online. Communicating regularly and meaningfully makes the difference between an engaged and a disengaged student. Listening is also essential to creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding, so you know when your students are confused, overwhelmed — or happily learning!
The Keep Teaching website recommends several ways to open lines of communication between yourself, the in-person students, and the online students at the start of each class session — along with suggested ways to be more present outside of regularly scheduled class periods. Check in regularly with your students to find out what kinds of activities work best for them and how you can improve.
For additional ideas, check out Keep Teaching's strategies for communication and building community:
- How can I create and maintain a sense of community in my course?
- How can I hold online office hours?
- How can I keep students engaged during a Zoom class session?
- How can I use student feedback to adjust my course throughout the semester?
Keep it simple: Use Canvas
Canvas Announcements can provide timely reminders — and also help recap, reinforce, and clarify essential ideas from class activities and discussions. They can also help you be more present for your students, increasing their engagement.
Canvas Discussions can help you meaningfully engage with students, guiding them toward the most important aspects of course content. Referring to specific discussion threads and their authors during class can help underscore the value and utility of these discussions.
Also, if you post all assignments and deadlines in Canvas (even when an assignment is completed outside Canvas), your students can make use of the Canvas To-Do list or Boost to stay organized and manage their time effectively.
To make things even more transparent, consider creating a single page of all assignment due dates for the course, and post it prominently within your Canvas course site.
You could tell the instructors who really cared and tried their best to make sure students were learning the material despite all that was going on. The evident care of those few instructors, going out of their way to maintain clarity, [was] truly helpful and appreciated.
Recommendation 3: Facilitate student success and foster a sense of virtual community through student-to-student communication
When students noted that discussions were a primary aspect of their classwork (without distinction of whether these were synchronous or asynchronous), they also reported increased success and better outcomes. However, only 33% of students reported that such discussions were a primary aspect of their classes after the transition to remote instruction.
Strategies, resources, and support
To facilitate community, improve engagement, and reduce isolation, it's also essential to provide more opportunities for students to interact with each other. Activities that encourage interaction with peers can help students construct meaning from the course content. As one student responded in the survey, "With online learning, I wasn't able to benefit from other students asking questions during class and creating discussion, which always helped me to understand the material better."
On the Keep Teaching website, IU teaching center consultants recommend using all of the tools at your disposal to get students engaging with one another synchronously and asynchronously. Here are four fundamental approaches to maximizing student-to-student interaction:
- If possible, have the students in the class visible to those online and vice-versa.
- Try to organize class time around rich learning experiences in which students are actively engaged with one another.
- Use Zoom breakout rooms so online students can participate in group work at the same time as in-person students.
- Use cloud software for collaborative work.
For additional ideas, check out Keep Teaching's strategies for interactivity and student collaboration (which touch on topics like facilitating group work, discussions in Zoom, and peer review).
Approaching things from a student's perspective, Keep Learning offers a range of tips for online learning. Emphasizing communication with instructors, these practical tips are framed as strategies for success, for self-care, and for staying connected even in times of isolation.
Recommendation 4: Collaborate with other members of IU's vibrant teaching community by sharing materials and successes, and providing venues for others to do the same
90% of instructors agreed with the statement, "I created my own instructional materials," and 68.13% agreed with the statement, "I was willing to freely share the materials I created with others." However, only 29% agreed with the statement, "I asked others to share their instructional materials with me."
As one instructor noted in their open-ended comments, "I might have benefitted from a repository of successful online assignments and activities that help monitor student engagement and understanding, especially if the repository was discipline-specific. It might have been easier to adapt colleagues' assignments (that they were willing to share) to my own course, instead of feeling like each of us was trying to reinvent the wheel."
Strategies, resources, and support
To reframe the student-focused statement from the previous recommendation: To facilitate community, improve engagement, and reduce isolation, it's also important to provide more opportunities for instructors to interact with each other. Collaboration with colleagues could become one of the main ways in which course content is meaningfully constructed by faculty, especially during times of transition when a coordinated approach might help mitigate increased responsibilities.
To this end, a group of IU faculty has created a Teaching Online Community of Practice — for details, contact Adam Maksl, IU faculty fellow for eLearning Design & Innovation. Also consider joining the Higher Ed Learning Collective, an effort spearheaded by IU's Erika Biga Lee. Your campus teaching center can also be an excellent resource for engaging with colleagues, both on your own campus and across the entire university.
Learn more about finding, curating, and delivering others' content on Keep Teaching — and be sure to make use of the Canvas Commons at IU for finding relevant course material from other instructors and sharing your materials like courses, assignments, modules, discussions, pages, and quizzes. Also, if you've done more online teaching, sharing your materials on a departmental Canvas site could go a long way toward helping colleagues figure out how to construct their courses.
Teaching during a pandemic can limit many of your usual, informal avenues of communication. Each week, make sure course content aligns with clear learning goals, create opportunities to interact with your students, and encourage them to engage with one another and find ways to collaborate (and possibly commiserate) with colleagues, so you have the support you need.