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Moving to Digital Learning Fast: More Questions Answered

With the coronavirus pandemic closing college and university campuses everywhere, faculty are tasked with a quick move to online instruction. Here, education experts offer advice on how to make the transition.

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Faculty members across the country are suddenly having to teach online — and while some may have been delivering instruction totally or partially online for years, others may be changing their pedagogy for the first time. To help those impacted by campus closures and other responses to COVID-19, Campus Technology reached out to education technology experts and instructional teams for their online learning tips and advice.

This is part 2 of a series. You can find part 1, "Moving to Digital Learning Fast: Where to Start," here. You can find part 3, "Moving to Digital Learning Fast: Staying Positive," here.

What's essential and what's non-essential in developing our digital learning plan for the next two weeks?

"There are tools that are available that can get the job done. They won't be perfect for every scenario, but they are good enough. Institutions need to be flexible and take a practical approach to helping students complete their studies." —Michelle Caers, CEO, Crowdmark

"The most important thing for the first two weeks is continuity of study. Students should feel as if, with all of the changes and transitions, the overall content and quality of their education is surprisingly unaffected. Patience goes a long way here — not everything will work perfectly the first time. Finally, it is important to recognize the perfectly normal anxiety that all participants in this new education format will experience. There is no reason to pretend that this isn't disconcerting in many ways — but we are all in it together and will get through this time together." —Frederick Lawrence, secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society

It is important to recognize the perfectly normal anxiety that all participants in this new education format will experience. There is no reason to pretend that this isn't disconcerting in many ways — but we are all in it together and will get through this time together.

"The most essential element of a plan is to ensure that faculty are empowered to begin transitioning to an online environment as soon as possible. Teachers and students will need access, basic information on getting started, and where they can go to learn more — either on their own or in a group. Regular communication — from the institution to the campus, from departments to faculty and from teachers to students — is also critical. Finally, institutions should make sure that their technology service providers are ready and able to support the increased load and that staff and faculty have a 'plan B.'

"Non-essentials for teaching faculty who haven't taught online before include training on the in-depth instructional design for online environments, adoption of new teaching practices, or developing their own content. While important for well-designed online courses, most teachers will have little time to 'recreate the wheel.'" —Carli Tegtmeier, vice president of sales and higher education at Pronto

"It's essential to communicate and to continue to communicate. The situation is so rapidly changing that we will learn from digital learning plans and need to adapt to what is working well and what isn't. Keeping in contact with students and other faculty members to understand what works well and doesn't will allow improvements to be made to provide the best possible experience." —Kara Longo Korte, director, product management at TetraVX

"The first thing you have to do is make sure students have the course shell and faculty have content for the courses. Make sure students understand what is expected of them, have the resources they need and have the ability to submit assignments and do their group work." —John Baker, CEO, D2L

"Do focus on the most essential learning objectives and activities for your students.

"Do identify options for displaced students, including resources for students with food, shelter, health care or personal safety insecurity when they are off campus.

"Do provide clear expectations relating to grading, assignments and assessments during this time.

"Do recognize that students and faculty are likely not working as effectively or efficiently as they otherwise might.

"Do take advantage of online resources and tools that might otherwise not be available.

"Do provide the 'basics' of effective instruction: a way for students to access information, a way for students to collaborate, a way for students to communicate with faculty, and a way for faculty to facilitate discussion and interaction.

"Do consider leaning resources from professional learning organizations like the Online Learning Consortium. Their rubric for online learning can help you remember all of the important things like direction lines and accessibility needs.

"Do use this as an opportunity to be inventive and to learn new things about your subject, your students and your methodologies.

"Don't try to move all of your programs to a fully online experience in two weeks.

"Don't assume your students will have the same learning experience off campus that they have on campus.

"Don't assume all of your students will be able to access every online activity.

"Don't try to create complex activities or requirements quickly." —Natalie Murray, VP student experience; Katherine Porter, faculty experience manager; and Joann Kozyrev, VP design and development, Western Governors University

"Essential: Create study schedules and plans for students so they stay on track. Non-Essential: Having study groups is more likely to lead to more distraction than learning." —Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

What about the two weeks after that?

"Continuous communication and continuous improvement are going to be key. There is so much we can learn from others and it's important to take note and adjust as needed." —Kara Longo Korte, director, product management at TetraVX

"Figuring out how to offer exams, including proctored exams or open book exams.

"Online exams are going to be critical and if we can't all congregate into a big exam hall, we need to apply other solutions.

"We need to come up with equitable solutions for students as best we can. We have to remember some students have to make choices. They might have to buy either a phone or a laptop and won't have both.

"Part of this is making exams accessible to everyone — [use] something that just needs a browser." —John Baker, CEO, D2L

"With experience comes deeper understanding of how the platform can be best leveraged to teach your course and to get your students engaged. After the first two weeks, I'd open it up to your students on recommendations they have to make it better and more engaging." —Wayne Bovier, founder and CEO at Higher Digital

"Once the initial experience with remote learning is established, instructors can begin to experiment more with the technology, taking advantage of its capabilities." —Frederick Lawrence, secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society

How can our instructors include active forms of learning in what we're doing?

"Encourage creative online research like virtual tours of museums and Google Earth. Have your students create and share their projects made from things they have at home via demonstration on video." --Wayne Bovier, founder and CEO at Higher Digital

"Social media platforms can be an excellent resource for facilitating discussion, collaboration and active learning while students are working remotely. Could students create a video instead of an in-class presentation? Could they build a website together?

"This can also be an excellent opportunity to focus on non-campus resources. Many cultural institutions are making resources available for free online. Are there ways you can incorporate these resources as you might otherwise not be able to? Perhaps you can incorporate a virtual museum tour, concert, opera performance or scientific simulation into your activities. What are some off-campus locations you've always wished your students could experience? An online 'field trip' might be a great option!

"If you work in a field that thrives on peer review or incremental feedback on student work, there are tools that allow students to post and comment on each other's work. And remember that even students who don't have good computer access do have phones. They can [record] themselves doing anything from a think-aloud while solving a math problem to using an acrylic painting technique. Within the bounds of privacy laws, you can also encourage students to share the work they are proud of, even if they just start with a family-and-friends online network. And remember, necessity is the mother of invention: Some of the things which you create during this time might be really useful in your classes in the future!" —Natalie Murray, VP student experience; Katherine Porter, faculty experience manager; and Joann Kozyrev, VP design and development, Western Governors University

"Ask questions. Most online software platforms allow you to poll the audience and engage with the audience. Use these tools." —Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

"Active learning can range from encouraging students to explain, discuss and answer each other's questions on a topic (such as in live chat or asynchronous discussions) or incorporating pre-made, self-check quizzes or flashcards (readily available on the web)." —Carli Tegtmeier, vice president of sales and higher education at Pronto

"Online platforms allow for one-on-one 'chats' between an instructor and individual student or among all students together. This would permit a 'flipped' classroom experience in which students prepare materials in advance and work on problems or case studies in class. Just because it's online doesn't mean that the class has to turn into strictly a lecture format." —Frederick Lawrence, secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society

Is now really the time to adopt new technologies?

"No — the time was yesterday. Coronavirus is just forcing schools into the 21st century a lot faster. Schools should have been teaching online a long time ago." —Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. All of us, students and faculty alike, will come out of this moment with new and important skills. To be sure, it is not the way we wished to learn them. But necessity is, as the cliché goes, the mother of invention." —Frederick Lawrence, secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society

"I think shifting students to as much of an online model as we can is the only way for us to save the school year. I don't think many schools will reopen this semester. There's a high probability that schools will be shut down for many weeks." —John Baker, CEO, D2L

"Availability and familiarity of technology is a plus, as is simplicity. Teachers (and students) probably don't need a broad range of deep tools to adapt to remote teaching. What they do need are a core set of capabilities that focus on fast and easy communication, file sharing and student-to-student interaction. From there, each teacher will need different tools to facilitate learning in their course. The key is to identify tools that can be easily adopted, but provide the biggest return. For on-ground faculty, learning and building in the learning management system is going to be a big lift. However, a communication platform where they can share resources, interact via chat and face-to-face with video, share updates and encouragement, even have students submit assignments, all on an app that mimics messaging tools they are already familiar with, will be much more easily adopted." —Carli Tegtmeier, vice president of sales and higher education at Pronto

"If a technology solution is in place that works, perhaps it's a good idea to stick with it. But so many technology solutions are currently being designed with a user-experience-first mentality that a new technology might be intuitive enough to use and if it offers a better solution to a need, it just might be worth making the change." —Kara Longo Korte, director, product management at TetraVX

"While it's not realistic to expect to transition a fully in-person educational experience to a fully online experience in such a short span of time, this can be an opportunity to explore new options and avenues for instruction. If you focus on those goals and objectives for what you want students to do and show, this will help guide you toward what to do in the short term and in what direction you want to grow if the timeline for being online extends." Katherine Porter, faculty experience manager; Natalie Murray, VP student experience; and Joann Kozyrev, VP design and development, Western Governors University

"Now more than ever is the time to incorporate appropriate technology solutions that can be implemented en masse as students, teachers, schools and universities all move to online learning at once. It's also a good reminder to include student learners in the design of new technology solutions. When introducing technology for the first time, allow for ample time for students to assimilate to their new online learning environment." —Sara Monteabaro, learning lead, MIT Solve

"Leverage what you or your school have in place before adding to the complexity for your faculty or students. If you don't have a good solution to a problem, then bring it up as a university-wide problem to solve so one solution can be used for everyone." —Wayne Bovier, founder and CEO at Higher Digital

Should our faculty worry about finals or major projects during this period?

"Yes. Since final exams and major projects tend to be the focal point for students and teachers' main method of assessment, we cannot sacrifice these activities. Once the basics of remote teaching are in-hand, teachers should turn their attention to assessments and figure out how to accept digital versions of projects or papers, or work with their institution to ensure that remote proctoring of exams is possible." —Carli Tegtmeier, vice president of sales and higher education at Pronto

"When working on a transition like this, it is important to not worry, but rather take a moment to analyze and assess the goals of the learning outcomes. Generally, in an online learning environment, students can take exams or submit major projects with similar fidelity as physical classroom courses. Although this may not be an exact duplication, with some thought and consideration, many learning objectives can be still assessed in a virtual environment. Although many topic areas can be assessed in a virtual manner, there are some subject areas or skill-based assessments which may not be able to transfer well to an online environment. In those cases, faculty and administration should try to determine if there is a way to adjust the assessment to still validate that the student's learning goals have been met. If not, administration should look to move the assessment and incorporate into a future course other alternatives to validate that the student has the appropriate knowledge and skills to proceed with their program and meet the outcomes you have designed for that degree program." —Marc Booker, associate provost; and Kelly Herman, vice president, Accessibility, Equity & Inclusion, University of Phoenix

"They should absolutely be thinking about it and preparing for it. How can a traditional final or major project be adapted to the current situation? Preparing for that now and staring to set expectations can only help." —Kara Longo Korte, director, product management at TetraVX

"Every school is on its own schedule, but for most, taking the first few weeks to get comfortable with the technology is the right next step. There will time for converting all final exams into online take-home exams, and all projects into online deliverables." —Frederick Lawrence, secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society

"This really depends on feedback from the students. Students who have excelled at the start of the course may not wish to complete any additional assignments or exams. However, some students will want the opportunity to improve their grade with a final exam or assessment. It's about being fair." —Michelle Caers, CEO, Crowdmark

"Faculty should be aware that students are likely not able to dedicate as much time to school work as they might otherwise be able to — especially students who may be displaced, lack reliable internet access or have insecurity relating to food, shelter or medical care. It can be helpful to both students and faculty for institutions to provide universal guidance on grading, score reporting and testing so that everyone has consistent expectations." —Joann Kozyrev, VP design and development; Natalie Murray, VP student experience; and Katherine Porter, faculty experience manager, Western Governors University

"There are no reasons why most major projects can't continue unless they require going into a lab environment. Clients run tens of thousands of projects online. And alternative projects that can be assigned if those the students were working on can't be completed online. This is where asynchronous learning is better than real-time learning. Students need the space to work on projects with groups or individually over a period of time. In terms of exams, we have to make sure students are still on track for success. Faculty matter greatly in this effort — they need to be able to adapt nimbly for all challenges students may have." —John Baker, CEO, D2L

"Replace final exams with projects students can turn in." —Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

"Testing and evaluation should always be part of a course. However, I'd recommend reconsidering finals and tests that may not translate well to an asynchronous environment." —Wayne Bovier, founder and CEO at Higher Digital

What should the IT staff be focused on during this time?

"Supporting students and faculty and remembering that others are likely not as tech savvy as they are." —Kara Longo Korte, director, product management at TetraVX

"Technical support." —Shaan Patel, founder of Prep Expert

"Providing support and answering educators' questions about using technology in a responsive way." —Michelle Caers, CEO, Crowdmark

"IT teams should try to operate under a strategically designed structure that includes a robust service desk staff and a proactive team offering up advice and resources in advance of the need. For example, quick and easy tutorials on using Microsoft Teams or Zoom videoconferencing that are distributed through a campuswide e-mail can prevent calls to the help desk, freeing up time for them to deal with more acute or specific technology issues students and faculty may be facing. Ideally, the proactive team's actions can be driven by constant collaboration with the help desk, gathering information about what issues the support staff is more frequently dealing with and then turning them into proactive or just-in-time help opportunities." —Natalie Murray, VP student experience; Katherine Porter, faculty experience manager; and Joann Kozyrev, VP design and development, Western Governors University

"Making sure their students and faculty are safe.

"Making sure their supply chains are solid and reaching out if they have doubts.

"Providing students and faculty tips and tricks for adapting to the online environment.

"Making sure students have a course shell, determining if they need additional support and answering questions like, 'How do I help prepare for online exams or testing?'" —John Baker, CEO, D2L

"Two things: 1) security, and 2) monitoring and performance.

"Security must continue to be a top priority for IT staff. As an unprecedented number of students and teachers turn to digital learning, the number of devices connected to a school's network will skyrocket. In IT, we refer to these devices as endpoints, and endpoint security is critical to ensuring student, teacher and institutional data remains safe and secure. There are clear steps IT staff can take to maintain the highest levels of security: Establish rigorous access control policies, take a sophisticated approach to endpoint monitoring, and create a staffing structure in support of good cybersecurity.

"While security must be a top priority, it's also critical for IT staff to gauge how its infrastructure is handling the added volume of users on the network. In light of COVID-19 and increased digital learning, we're seeing education customers create dashboards, so on one screen, they can monitor server response time, packet loss and network latency, all while tracking CPU, memory and disk usage to forecast capacity and application performance problems. In doing so, they can identify and address issues before they impact the learning experience for students and teachers." —Brandon Shopp, vice president for product strategy at SolarWinds

"The most important things for IT staff at this time are providing simple and accessible instructions and opportunities to learn the online technology, and being virtually available to answer questions." —Frederick Lawrence, secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society

Do you have any advice regarding how we keep our campus community informed?

"Communicate early and often. Share facts and not opinions. Quickly refute inaccuracies." —Kara Longo Korte, director, product management at TetraVX

"Institutions should choose multiple modes of communication and make communication consistent across those modes. We know, for example, that today's students are less likely to pay attention to email, and yet that may be a preferred method for faculty. So, institutions should cover their bases when it comes to communication--and encourage faculty to do the same thing with their students." —Carli Tegtmeier, vice president of sales and higher education at Pronto

"Provide regular e-mail communications and share resources on blogs and social media." —Michelle Caers, CEO, Crowdmark

"A cross-functional communications task force involving leadership from across the university should provide input on the latest developments in their areas of focus, which should inform a regular communications cadence that makes use of e-mail, websites, student portals, employee intranets, etc. The task force should be careful to find a balance between keeping the community well informed and overloading them with too much information.

"In our response strategy, we bucketed items into four categories:

  • How do we make sure our people are safe and prepared for what comes next?
  • How do we make sure our supply chain is going to be reliable?
  • Once people are looked after and comfortable, how can we support them, how do we set up resources for clients and partners?
  • How do we prepare for the financial impacts of this unusual situation?

"Communicate as soon as possible to all stakeholder groups, from leadership to students. University announcements should be provided on a home page; push notifications to phones if you have major updates." —John Baker, CEO, D2L

"Remember that most of your students, faculty, and staff are likely keeping a close eye on the news, receiving e-mails from all the companies they do business with, and probably feeling overwhelmed by hearing much of the same thing all the time — perhaps while not receiving the information they actually need. What, specifically, can you as a university offer to your constituents that offers something new and useful? And what do they need to know specifically related to their roles as students, faculty or staff? Focus on those core competencies and requirements." —Natalie Murray, VP student experience; Katherine Porter, faculty experience manager; and Joann Kozyrev, VP design and development, Western Governors University

"Keep all updates regarding online learning in one place so students, faculty and staff know where to get updates whether that be a dashboard or portal." —Wayne Bovier, founder and CEO at Higher Digital

"Make as clear as possible which sites will contain which key information, so that those with questions know where to go for answers. For example, multiple well-intended e-mails may tend to confuse rather than clarify. Provide sites for discussions among interested participants. But otherwise create a limited number of sites that one can consult and be appropriately informed." —Frederick Lawrence, secretary and CEO, The Phi Beta Kappa Society

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