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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Robinson

Changing to Online Teaching

The modifications of my regular classes for Online Pandemic Teaching.

I had a firm design principle never to increase workload by moving to the online format. I was in the fortunate position of being familiar with virtually all of the necessary technology to do this, with the exception of the video

conferencing software. I was an early adopter of the idea of recording online teaching material, using whiteboards and narrated video, way back in 2005!

The changes made were:

• Lectures are now recorded into short video units, each of ten minutes duration.

• Lectures are available as either streaming video, or as narrated PowerPoint, which can be downloaded.

(This is useful for students with slow internet connections, who find streaming video is too much for their internet system. Hello, rural Ontario)

• Minimum numbers of events or assignments with deadlines for students to remember. Experience is showing us that students are finding it difficult to track many deadlines across several courses.

• Clicker questions in class are replaced by short, low-stakes online quizzes, with a grade for participation. Each of these checkpoint quizzes can be taken multiple times, for practice. Questions are taken randomly from a

large test bank.

• Office hours now moved to online, using a whiteboard to assist in problem solving. I give two hours per course during regular term time.

• A clear, and accessible format for the course on our Learning Management System, CuLearn (Moodle).

• Explicitly asking students during a poll in each video tutorial a “How is it going today?”.

I have heavily emphasized that assignment deadlines are flexible, and the students need only to ask for an extension to be granted. My course outline for Physics 1003 in the Fall of 2020 has the following statement:

Covid-19 Statement

We recognize that this is not a normal semester. Nobody participating in the course expected this or knows how the situation will unfold in the coming months. We have prepared an online course using best educational

practices, and with experience gathered during the summer teaching sessions. We can promise you an engaging and fulfilling educational experience. We recognize that teaching by remote, with many of you not even on

campus, is different from the usual experience, and we want to assure you that you have our full support, and you should contact us to discuss any issues you may be having.

We intend to take a flexible approach to deadlines, and if you need an extension on handing in a piece of work or assignment, you should ask. You do not need to give us a reason. You will not be asked to provide any medical documentation. If you want to talk to someone, please do approach us. Even if we cannot help directly, we will be able to direct you to someone who can help.

Further Lessons Learned

The above policies were in place for the Fall semester. We now have more information, and experience with students taking 5 or 6 courses simultaneously.

  1. Overall screen-time is a grave concern. There are too many screen based activities for students taking a full course load.

  2. Too many deadlines to manage. Keep it simple, with maybe one regular deadline per week for your course.

  3. Cut down on content. HERESY. Yes, cut stuff out.

Hopefully the Winter course I am co-teaching, Physics 1004, will move smoothly, using these principles.

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