Keep teaching

Jacob Farmer

Adjunct faculty, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, IU Bloomington

Director, Client Services, University Information Technology Services, IU

How do you, a face-to-face instructor, keep class running if you need to quickly move things online? Jacob Farmer decided to meet this challenge head-on by introducing one online class meeting per semester. He not only learned how to teach through an unexpected disruption to teaching; he discovered that he could increase student participation and engagement.

An initial experiment

In first simulating what it might be like to move his teaching online, Farmer asked his students to join a web conference at the regularly scheduled class time. The results were not promising. He learned that not all students had a webcam or a reliable internet connection; some joined by audio only. The biggest takeaway: No one asked questions as they otherwise would have done in the classroom.

Jacob Farmer doesn't wait for a situation where he temporarily has to take his face-to-face class online with minimal notice. He builds a practice session into his syllabus from the start. Together, these practice sessions have helped him figure out what works and what doesn't in online class sessions.

A more successful approach

Given his initial results, Farmer now builds an online practice session into his syllabus, having students complete an activity on their own time rather than meeting at the assigned class time. It takes more preparation but, since the lesson can be reused, it can save him time in later semesters.

His simple formula:

  1. Create a two-minute video about the basics of the lesson—what students should expect and what you, in turn, expect from them.
  2. Give them the reading and an activity to complete, building up to an assignment.

Farmer used one of these asynchronous lessons during Little 500 week in Bloomington and had a much higher participation rate than if he'd held class as usual on campus. Students even expressed their gratitude to him for providing this type of lesson when their schedules were particularly full.

Want to try this yourself?

For your own online practice session, Farmer recommends choosing a low-stakes assignment, that is, material you could make up during a face-to-face class if necessary. Try it synchronously first—you don't need to prepare differently. (However, Farmer discovered that his usual method of presenting content in the classroom using Top Hat did not work in Zoom.) If you have a little more time to invest, try preparing a Canvas module for your students to complete on their own time.

Farmer initially feared that his experiment might fail utterly. But, once they understood what he was trying to do and why, his students were very forgiving and helpful in giving feedback about what worked and how to make the experience better.

Keep teaching resources

The Keep Teaching website covers multiple options for keeping your class running. Start by focusing on the most basic elements you need to put in place to meet your short-term instructional objectives.

There's even a dice game to help you wrap your head around your options and realistic goals for continuing instruction. You may find areas that require further discussion about policy and procedures.

The Resources section also covers a series of Canvas modules on tools (e.g., Zoom and Kaltura) that can help you keep teaching in the event of a prolonged disruption.

If you have a little more time to invest, try preparing a Canvas module for your students to complete on their own time.