On March 16, Bennett College shifted to remote instruction for the remainder of the 2020 spring semester to ensure the safety of its students, faculty and staff amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. For many faculty members it is the first time they have taught remotely. Dr. Santiba Campbell, assistant professor of psychology, and Mia Mitchell, English instructor, shared their experience tailoring their classes for remote instruction and helping their students adapt effectively.
How long have you been teaching online courses and/or instructing remotely at Bennett?
Campbell: I have been at Bennett since August 2012, but this is my first time utilizing remote instruction outside of online exams and having students submit assignments online.
Mitchell: I have been teaching at Bennett since 2010 but began teaching online courses four years ago. In 2016 I chose to do training for teaching online courses; I taught my first online course the following semester. Since then I have mostly kept my instruction face-to-face, only offering one or two online or hybrid courses a year.
What elements does your online course and/or remote instruction involve (discussion boards, quizzes, videos, PowerPoints, etc.)?
Campbell: Not all of my students have laptops or good internet connection, meaning they don’t always have access to BelleNet, so they suggested using GroupMe. It seems odd, but it has worked well for us! My students recently had an assignment where they select a movie, when in person I pass around a signup sheet to prevent repeats, instead, students sent their selection in the GroupMe and checked their classmates’ choices to ensure theirs wasn’t the same. GroupMe also works well because students with phones but no laptop respond faster via GroupMe than email.
Mitchell: I use Moodle and many of its tools including its discussion board, chat room, and test building and poll taking features. Using Moodle, I can post voice memos and short videos with instructions for an assignment, reminders or explain an earlier reviewed concept further. The system is also equipped with live web conferencing platform, BigBlueButton. Typically, to help students collaborate I use Moodle’s Wiki plugin, which allows them to create group content and the glossary feature allowing them to create and edit a term glossary for the course. As of recent, I have primarily switched over to Google Docs. Google Docs is convenient because it’s collaborative, updates in real-time and is safe; no one has to worry about their computer crashing or losing documents.
What are the steps you have taken to alter your traditional teaching methods for an online classroom?
Campbell: Some of what I’m doing is the same, and I believe the most important element of that is maintaining the same energy I have in my in-person classes, in my remote instruction. I always say “you have to be Beyoncé in the classroom,” no matter what’s going on in your life; you have to think of the classroom as a stage—the lights are on, the fan hits your face and you put on your best performance. That’s easier for me to accomplish in-person when I can feed off everyone’s energy, to do that remotely, I use the gallery feature on Zoom so I can see everyone at the same time. However, this doesn’t always work as some of my students are in different time zones and have to be ready for class at 6 a.m., I plan on designating a specific day, maybe “Wake up Wednesday,” where everyone has to have their camera on and show themselves.
Mitchell: I have been using Zoom for live lectures and discussions, in addition to pre-recording some of my lectures, which is what I typically do for my online courses. This semester, all of my classes were face-to-face, so I felt it would be beneficial to keep that connection going via Zoom since my students were used to it—I actually had a student thank me for that. This situation is different because students didn’t sign up for an online course, they’ve been forced into remote learning, so I have to think of everyone’s needs and tailor my instruction to fit them. Although there has been much change, my students haven’t missed a beat; they picked up on things right away.
Are there any tools/apps you use to aid in online instruction/courses? If so, what are they and what do they do?
Campbell: I began using Screencast-o-Matic and did voiceover explaining slides, but my students wanted Zoom, so I have adapted to that. GroupMe has also been a surprise player, as I mentioned earlier.
Mitchell: Prior to remote instruction, I started offering both virtual and face-to-face office hours to accommodate student needs and preferences; now I simply have virtual office hours. Some Google tools, Remind and Nearpod have been useful as well. Nearpod is a student engagement platform that allows me to create live polls that display results right away, I use it for test review to gauge how much the class understands the material. I have continued to use Wakelet for visual storytelling, it helps students gather and display the real-world content connected to their presentation topic.
What are the top 3-5 pieces of advice you would give to professors to aid in teaching students effectively online?
Campbell: My #1 piece of advice is be flexible. We do not know what’s going on in our students’ lives all the time, and we’re dealing with things we wouldn’t typically have to deal with in a face-to-face class. I’d also add that you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, we are all in this together, and when in doubt, ask—ask faculty, staff and your students.
Mitchell: Explain, explain, explain. You can’t gauge a reaction or immediately know if there are questions the way you can in an in-person class. You must make sure instructions are clear and that students understand the expectations and various elements of the course. It’s also important to provide plenty of opportunities for collaboration, to communicate often and make it as fun as you can. Lastly, get regular feedback. Poll your students frequently to see if they’re ok, to understand what they’re getting and not getting, and give them timely feedback.
Is there anything you have implemented during remote instruction that you plan on continuing when face-to-face instruction resumes?
Campbell: I might keep the GroupMe going. I think I’m getting more questions because they can just send a message instead of having to go to office hours or ask in class.
Mitchell: I was already using a lot of these tools before but may continue to use collaborative documents for peer review and collaborative notes. I have noticed that some students who don’t often respond in class are responding more online—this reinforces the importance of being sensitive to different students’ learning styles and personalities—using the online tools while we are having in-person instruction will allow quieter students to have more of a voice and feel more included in class discussions.