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Remote Lessons Learned and Help Moving Forward

From: 
Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Sent: 
Thursday, April 16, 2020, 1:22 p.m.
To: 
KU Lawrence Faculty
Graduate Teaching Assistants, instructors of record
Deans, directors and department chairs

Summary:

  • The remote learning transition survey reveals opportunities to reduce stress and help our students and instructors.
  • Asynchronous instruction can help ensure more students have the ability to stay current.
  • Students are seeking structure and communication on that structure.
  • Help is available for students and instructors who are grappling with technology issues.
  • The finals schedule remains in place, although instructors can pursue many options that can reduce student stress.

Dear Colleagues:

I hope that you, your families, and your students are well.

Thank you for the time, honesty and consideration you put into responding to the remote learning transition survey. Our team learned a lot from your responses. From the information we gathered from you, as well as the results of our student survey, we’ve developed recommendations from campus support units on best practices and developed tips to easily incorporate effective change. I also want to remind you of campus resources that are here for you.

You have performed an unprecedented amount of work and exhibited tremendous flexibility in transitioning your courses online. We announced the change on March 11, and, through your efforts, we were able to remotely resume classes 12 days later. Together, we have enabled our students to continue their academic paths. Thank you for doing the best you can as educators, researchers, mentors, and community members during this unprecedented and most challenging time.

Here are the most important lessons we’ve learned from our campus surveys:

  1. Students and instructors are feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

Both instructors and students referenced heightened anxiety that is hindering their success. Of the student respondents, 76% noted personal stresses and 70% noted increased generalized anxiety as the main limitations to their ability to engage in remote learning activities. Many of us, whether teaching or learning, are facing new challenges in addition to coursework. As instructors we can help by:

  • Practicing compassion and flexibility for our students, as well as for ourselves. None of us expected this, but we are all in this together. Please assume individuals are doing the best they can under the circumstances, and give others the benefit of the doubt. Please also make sure you give yourselves a nod of recognition for your work and take care of yourselves!
  • Considering alternative plans for finals. Finals are always a time of heightened stress levels for students, so it’s not hard to imagine that this semester is highly challenging for our students, and especially our soon-to-be graduates. We must assess our students’ learning, although some options are more flexible than others. (See more in the section on Finals, below.)
  1. Asynchronous (non-live) teaching methods are highly recommended, and we must also foster connection.

Faculty at CTE and CODL recommend asynchronous teaching methods to ensure equity to the extent possible in this situation: our students are now in differing time zones, facing a variety of issues with connectivity, and may be encountering additional responsibilities, such as caring for siblings or other loved ones; or may be experiencing personal illness. These situations can prohibit attending live-streamed events, and are more likely to negatively affect our most vulnerable students. What you can do:

  • If you livestream lectures, you are probably aware of connectivity interruptions, both personally and for some of your students. Please adjust expectations accordingly, build in flexibility for student participation, and see the section below on Technology Issues and Access for additional tips and resources. At a minimum, please record lectures and make them available so students can watch again.
  • For instructors who are avoiding live streaming of lectures, we also encourage you to use other ways to interact with your students, such as video or chat-based discussions. To brainstorm alternatives, contact CTE or visit remote.ku.edu/interacting-students.
  1. Students are having difficulty predicting what is coming next in their courses.

These past months have been an exercise in uncertainty. While there are many unknowns, instructors can remove some of the guesswork from the equation by clarifying and communicating expectations for the remainder of the semester. What you can do:

  • If you haven’t already, ensure students understand any updates that have been made to your course syllabus and your grading system.
  • Create a calendar or timeline for the rest of the semester, emphasize the importance of particular assignments, etc., and address these with your class. Ideally, you are using Blackboard, which allows you to set due dates with assignments that then appear on students’ calendars. Please note: If you do not assign a Due Date in Blackboard to an assignment or test, it does not show up on your students’ To Do list or Calendar.
  • Provide your students with guidelines for how, when and where to spend time on your course. See recommendations and find downloadable text on the remote.ku.edu site.
  1. Faculty and students continue to have issues with technology.

Both instructors and students made frequent mention about technology issues.

  • If you do not have satisfactory technology or the internet access you need to teach, please for the sake of our students, contact your department IT staff for solutions. KU IT has options including Wi-Fi hotspots and laptops they can lend. They just need to hear from you.
  • For your students, KU IT has created a laptop lending program, provided additional options for software access, and assembled a list of internet options for students. You can learn more at remote.ku.edu/access.
  • Also, our Educational Technology team is available to help you navigate functionality in Blackboard, including the Due Date feature, grade center, exam functionality, and more.
  1. There is confusion about what is happening with Finals.

Many have asked, “What are we going to do about finals?” The finals schedule remains intact. It is there to avoid overlap of exams in a student’s schedule. More than a third of our instructors reported they plan to use timed online exams as part of their assignments and assessments. While we do need to assess student learning, our Academic Change Management Workgroup recommends avoiding live/synchronous delivery of final exams if possible. This is a unique time during which we must do everything possible to reduce stress levels, avoid straining our technology capabilities, and ensure our students have an equitable chance to demonstrate what they have learned. There are many possibilities you can consider this semester other than a live, timed online final exam. Many alternatives are documented at remote.ku.edu/finals. Additionally, you can contact the Center for Teaching Excellence, , to brainstorm alternatives with a peer consultant in your discipline.

Moving Forward: For many, this semester is a first foray into teaching with online methods, although our efforts more accurately represent “emergency remote teaching.” We have performed exceptionally with only limited time to prepare. While no one anticipated our current setting at the beginning of the semester, we know that the summer session will be online. If you are teaching a course this summer, please do not hesitate to contact the professionals at the Center for Online & Distance Learning who can help you plan and implement your summer course.

As Chancellor Girod stated in the April 2 University Update, “We will be a different university on the other side of this, but we’ll be a stronger university on the other side of this.” We are all learning and challenging ourselves in new ways. I am proud of our work together and commend you for your great work in helping each other, and helping our students, rise to the challenges presented by this occasion.

Respectfully,

Barbara

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor

 

Campus resources

Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE): If you need to make an adjustment but have questions on best practices, contact CTE. Composed of faculty and graduate students who actively create and call upon their networks, CTE offers a clearinghouse of best practices you can access anytime. Contact them at cte@ku.edu or 785-864-4199, visit the website at cte.ku.edu, or attend one of their many workshops held virtually, cte.ku.edu/calendar.

Faculty Consultant Network (FCN): The Faculty Consultant Network is hosted by the CTE and is composed of KU faculty members with expertise in online teaching and digital tools. They are a resource for faculty and GTAs. Find a participating faculty member and learn more at remote.ku.edu/faculty-consultants.

Center for Online and Distance Learning (CODL): If you have an instructional idea in mind but aren’t sure how to accomplish it online, CODL can help you match pedagogy with technology. Contact them at codl@ku.edu or 785-864-1000, or visit codl.ku.edu.

KU IT Educational Technology: If you plan to leverage Blackboard or another KU IT educational technology, the KU IT Ed Tech team can answer your technical questions. Contact them at itedtech@ku.edu or 785-864-2600, or visit blackboard.ku.edu.

KU IT Technology Support: If you need technical support, including a loaner laptop or Wi-Fi hotspot, contact your departmental IT support staff at tsc.ku.edu or the IT Customer Service Center at 785-864-8080, itcsc@ku.edu or technology.ku.edu/faculty-staff-support. Knowledge Base articles for technical support are available at kuit.service-now.com/kb, and how-to videos and guides for many services and software are at howto.ku.edu

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