For most of UNLV’s engineering faculty, two weeks was all they had to take courses they’ve spent years developing and presenting in person, and transitioning them for an online, virtual environment. It’s been a heavy lift, but necessary for the faculty to deliver on the university’s academic mission.
The college has been crowdsourcing best practices among the faculty. Their key finding after the first week of remote teaching: Soliciting feedback from students is critical to helping students through the transition and improving their teaching methods.
For some, the feedback method was as simple as asking students in a live chat or taking a quick poll at the end of the first remote class. Others sent surveys to students after their online class. But regardless of the method, soliciting and responding to feedback as quickly as possible and sharing that input with colleagues is helping everyone in the college get through the transition.
“Perhaps one of the best things I’ve seen is how responsive our faculty have been to each other as challenges and questions arise," said Rama Venkat, dean of the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering. "Everyone is helping each other out, sharing their knowledge and tips they’re picking up as they themselves learn.”
Asking students for their input regarding their online course experiences provides important feedback so tools and methods can be adjusted if needed. The feedback has ranged from what learning platform students preferred, to the quality of audio, and their opinions on live-streamed lectures versus pre-recorded audio/video.
The Faculty Center Quick Guide will walk you through the steps to develop a simple feedback form, distribute through WebCampus, and then act on the results.
Live vs Recorded Video
One issue that came up was bandwidth. With so many people working from home and schools teaching remotely, bandwidth is definitely at a premium, so pre-recorded video is often preferred. To alleviate issues during a live lecture, however, faculty recommended encouraging those watching to turn off their cameras. While it is nice to see everyone “in person,” the extra bandwidth requirements can cause jerky or fuzzy video, which becomes a distraction.
Quite a few faculty had students respond that the audio through a speaker phone was clearer than that through the presenter’s computer. It may depend on each person’s computer microphone quality, but definitely a good thing to test in order to choose the best method.
Keeping all participants except the presenter on “mute” is also effective in making sure the presenter’s information is heard. In order for students to still feel like they are able to participate and ask questions, faculty used several methods. Some used the “hand-raise” button and then unmuted participants so they could ask questions. Others had students type their questions into the “chat box” and made sure to take a break at set intervals to read out the questions coming in and answered them.
In addition to soliciting and responding to student feedback to enhance the learning experience, another tip to encourage student engagement was continuing to hold office hours, virtually. This can be done in a WebEx session by posting a link to your personal “lobby.” Students wait in the lobby until you admit them.
Some faculty are opting to use Zoom, which offers “breakout rooms” to promote discussions among teams. Students can be transported to a “discussion room” for a limited time, and then transported back for larger, full group discussions. Just note that Zoom is not an institutional product, so the office of information technology does not offer tech support.
You can also host virtual group meetings or one-on-one video chats using Google Hangouts Meet. The application is not integrated with WebCampus but does allows you to share documents on your screen and record and share sessions for access later. Automatic live captioning is available for accessibility as well. Google temporarily granted UNLV accounts the ability to host meetings for up to 250 participants. The Google Meets for Educators page has more information.
Other ideas and feedback included:
- Recording live lectures for students who missed class or had technical difficulties at the time of a live lecture so they can go back, watch it, and not miss anything.
- Using a tablet to annotate slides during a live lecture for derivations and problem-solving.
- Using an overhead projector that can be connected via a USB cable to a computer to produce live video with good resolution.
- Creating content in a variety of mediums – pre-recorded and posted video, written presentations, etc. – to test out what works best both for your course and your students.
“I have been truly humbled by the efforts our faculty have put forth in such a short time to not only learn new technologies for lecture content, but find creative ways to deliver labs to our students, and test software to continue engaging with them,” Venkat said.
Visit the Teaching Remotely website for even more tips and tools.