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Transition to Remote Learning: What we Learned and Tips for Your Success

From: 
Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Sent: 
Wednesday, April 29, 2020, 4:37 p.m.
To: 
All KU Lawrence and Edwards Students

Dear Students,

Your voice matters, which is why we asked you to share your thoughts through our campus-wide remote learning student survey. We received a tremendous response, and I am grateful for your participation. KU leadership and I are still analyzing all the individual comments, but we are working to quickly address the most pressing needs. For example, our decision to extend the deadline for selecting the credit/no-credit grading option was a direct result of your feedback both through the survey and other channels.

The dominant theme that came through loud and clear was that most of you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. In your responses, 76% noted personal stresses and 70% noted increased generalized anxiety as limitations to your ability to engage in remote-learning activities. In light of the difficulties you face, I am amazed at your resilience and persistence. The majority of you feel you can successfully complete your courses and that major objectives can still be met. Still, nearly a third weren’t confident that remote learning was meeting major objectives and allowing you to be successful. We’re working to change that.

I have asked our academic leaders and your instructors to help support your success by being more flexible, adapting courses and finals, and being more engaged with you both academically and personally. Our faculty have done an incredible job under very difficult circumstances. It typically takes 4-5 months to create an online course. While none of us would say your classes are full-fledged online courses, your instructors showed great agility in transitioning to remote learning in a week. I have to acknowledge the incredible amount of work that has been done by everyone, including you, to rapidly move to remote learning during this crisis.

We are Together

Though we are physically distancing to keep ourselves and others safe, we are together in spirit. However, each of us are facing unique obstacles during this shared experience. That also came through clearly in the survey responses. It breaks my heart to hear some of the struggles you are facing—from parents losing their jobs, to new responsibilities of caring for younger siblings, sharing one family computer in a household, and more. I have asked your instructors to address individual circumstances to every extent possible. Like you, instructors are balancing teaching and family obligations during an extremely stressful time. And our Graduate Assistants, in particular, are juggling their roles as both students and teachers along with other obligations. As a KU community, I ask that we all act with empathy and compassion for each other and ourselves.

Flexible Instruction

Nearly all (98%) who responded to the survey said instructors had successfully transitioned your courses to an online format. Although, simply having a course online isn’t the same as a well-designed and robust online learning experience. Your instructors continue to adapt and refine their techniques, and we have provided additional guidance to them based on what we heard through the survey.

A challenge instructors face, however, also came through clearly in the survey—conflicting needs and desires of students. Some of you prefer meeting through live video during your regularly scheduled class time. Others said that different time zones, other commitments and shared family computers made that difficult. Instructors must balance the differing needs of all students. We have asked them to be flexible and, as much as possible, provide options to meet various needs.

At the institution level, we also are building in more flexibility based on your feedback. As we announced on April 21, we have updated university policies to provide you with more options during this challenging and unusual semester.

Rethinking Assessments and Finals

Just as we have asked instructors to be flexible in their remote teaching format, we also have asked them to be thoughtful in how they assess your learning and progress. In particular, we have asked them to consider the various methods they can use to conduct final assessments and encouraged them to pursue flexible options that may be more appropriate for our current situation. Your instructor should provide information regarding the timing and format for any final exam. If you have conflicts or special concerns, I encourage you to talk with your instructors as soon as possible. If you are currently in a different time zone than KU, be sure to account for that difference in your planning for finals and communicating with your instructor.

Communication and Engagement

Physical distancing has left us feeling isolated and disconnected from the KU community and our support systems. Competing demands mean that many of us are spending less time engaging with each other on a personal level. Those short personal chats before or after class with a classmate or instructor likely aren’t happening.

While email, Zoom and online chats can’t take the place of those in-person interactions, I have encouraged instructors to be available and check in on you more frequently—both academically and personally. We all care about your wellbeing, and your emotional and mental health is our number one concern.

In your responses to the survey, personal stresses and generalized anxiety were the top limitations to the ability to engage in remote learning. The sources of anxiety and stress are many and nuanced, but we know uncertainty about the future is increasing the stress and anxiety. And while we cannot eliminate all uncertainty, one thing in particular we’ve asked is for instructors to clarify expectations for the rest of the semester and remove as much uncertainty as possible about what you should do to finish successfully.

Just as we’ve asked instructors to focus on communicating with you, I’m asking for you to communicate with your instructors and with all of us who are here to support you. Your instructor may not know the obstacles you are encountering. While it can be uncomfortable, the most immediate resolution to your concerns may be achieved by working with your instructor. In addition to your instructors and your advisor, several campus resources can help, including the Student Emergency Aid Network and Student Support and Case Management. More information is available at remote.ku.edu/access, and you can contact the KU IT Customer Service Center for help with technology issues. If you simply don’t know where to turn, please email me and my team at provost@ku.edu.

Strategies to finish

Like all of you, I’m just trying to figure this all out as we work through the crisis together. I recognize it’s easier for me because I have the luxury of world-class experts both within and outside KU providing me advice and guidance. So, as you look to successfully complete the last few weeks of the semester, I want to make some suggestions:

  • Stay organized: If you have not already, capture the remaining assignments, deadlines and exams in a planner, calendar or notebook, and communicate with your instructor if you are unsure of expectations.
  • Check in and communicate: Check in with your instructors during virtual office hours or at other times, either through Zoom, Skype, email, chat or a phone call. Share your concerns and any personal or academic barriers that may hinder your success in completing the course. If you are encountering an issue with a course, remember that working with your instructor is often the quickest path to getting your concern addressed. Your instructors want to see you succeed, and it is helpful for them to hear from you.
  • Be persistent: Your instructors also have many competing demands on their time; so if you haven’t heard back in a few days, follow up with them. If you still don’t get a response, you can contact the chair of the department or program in which your course is taught (look up the chair by going to the department website or contact the school’s administration office). The dean of your school or the College is also available to help you.
  • Ask for help: Our campus support resources are still here to support you, and most can do so remotely, including Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of Institutional Opportunity & Access, the ADA Center for Equity and Accessibility and our University Ombuds. I outlined additional resources for health and wellbeing in a March 23 message. I encourage you to reach out and ask for help and support during this difficult time.

On a final note, I know that our current situation isn’t ideal. We are facing an unprecedented crisis that has had far-reaching effects. I know you must want to be with friends and classmates in an energetic and stimulating campus environment such as the University of Kansas. While we miss being together on our campuses, we can still connect and learn and grow.

Our faculty and staff are working hard to craft a more engaging experience for you whether you are finishing this semester, continuing with us remotely over the summer, or reconnecting this fall. We can find hope knowing that we are rising to the challenge and becoming stronger as individuals and as a university.

Study hard and best wishes with finals.

Respectfully,

Barbara

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor

Office of the Provost
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