In the hectic weeks since a new coronavirus caused parts of the country to shut down, a network of university staff has pulled together to undertake a massive effort, ensuring the virus doesn't shut down learning at UNLV.
Embedded technologists are one branch of that sophisticated network. These experts work with specific colleges within the university to advance their technological capabilities and help faculty with technical issues. Over the past couple of weeks, they jumped into high gear to ready the university’s in-person and hybrid courses for remote learning.
“It's really a stress test of what is possible, and it's a moment when we can react creatively,” said Yvonne Houy, a learning technologist working in the College of Fine Arts.
Together with the Office of Online Education and the Office of Information Technology, five embedded technologists and one general technologist have been coordinating to overcome barriers and create learning solutions that work for various academic disciplines.
“It is a busy time, but it really has given us a great overview of the amount of teaching and learning that is happening on this campus,” said Suzanne Becker, the embedded educational technologist for the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs. “One of the challenges is just the wide range of experiences and knowledge that people have. Another challenge is working with folks to put some of their more complex ideas online.”
Unique problems require thoughtful, carefully crafted solutions.
That’s where the technologists come in.
A dance course, for instance, can use video tools built into UNLV's Web Campus course management system, also known as Canvas. This can help a faculty member deliver demonstrations on specifice techniques. Students can then perform movements for their instructors and get valuable feedback. It’s a way to foster two-way communication, Houy said.
Technologists can also help instructors be mindful of technology limitations as they conduct their courses. For example, in most cases recording and posting a demonstration or lecture is better than trying to live-stream. Live streaming video places stress on bandwidth for most home Wi-Fi, and uses large amounts of data when accessed via the mobile devices that many of students use.
While remote instruction will continue for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester and possibly continuing into the summer sessions, technologists, instructional designers and others working behind the scenes will help students continue to progress toward their degrees, said Nicole Hudson, associate director of campus relations for the Office of Online Education.
“It is a challenging time, but we have great tools and technology to help (students) be successful,” she said. “I personally was an online student and know the rewards of the technology to help you still reach your goals.”
Here are some tips for individuals on both sides of the remote learning equation.
Tips for students
On preparing for online courses: “In whatever location they’re in, if they can, make sure they have a dedicated space they can work in or an established space,” Becker said. “Set up a little schedule for themselves. What’s happening when they’re working remotely, many faculty are maintaining the structure of the class by providing remote web-based lectures or meeting times that coordinate with the on-campus class meeting times, so that sense of structure will still be present. Checking in with their professors if they have any questions will be more important than ever now that they’re working remotely.”
On best learning practices: “Continue learning! Keep a regular schedule. Do something for every class on most days, even if it is only for 30 minutes. Take short breaks. Remember that mobile technologies have made many things possible not imaginable a few years ago. We can, and increasingly do, learn using online learning resources,” Houy said.
Asking for help: Organization, communication, and reaching out to all of the available resources will be vital for students as they shift to fully remote learning, according to the embedded technologists. Students can reach out to the OIT Help Desk for technical assistance and should contact their professors if they encounter issues.
Tips for instructors
On creating genuine learning experiences: The “key is to use the resources available on our website but take the time to connect with students and meet them where they are. We have examples of faculty who created great video messages to connect to their students in a real and authentic way,” said Hudson.
Visit Teaching Remotely: This centralized resource from UNLV OIT offers guides to the tools and technologies available to you, as well as pedagogical advice about the shift to remote instruction.
On adjusting the course to technology: “If the current technology does not accommodate your current student learning outcomes, focus on the longer-term student outcomes: What rich learning experience can you create for long-term learning goals in your field?” Houy asked.
Reach out for help: UNLV’s online learning experts emphasized the importance of instructors seeking help when needed, communicating passion, staying connected with students and working with other instructors to make the most of online courses. Collaborating with your college’s embedded technologist can also help yield tools you may not have considered, Becker said.
From the Faculty Center: Continue to email support requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. The center requests for pedagogic transitions, consulting, and getting started with new technologies. There are also ongoing WebCampus Workshops and virtual open labs. To register, visit the WebCampus Training Calendar.