Binghamton University moves online in response to coronavirus: Best practices for adapting your course

Binghamton University’s Center for Learning and Teaching offers advice to faculty on how to move courses online

As part of Binghamton University’s response to the evolving coronavirus situation, all classes will be put online by Thursday, March 19.

While the rapid pace of the transition presents some challenges, Binghamton University’s Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT) has been providing guidance to faculty and staff as they prepare for the switch.

Many resources can be found on their academic continuity webpage, including trainings and contact information for help.

In addition to the technical assistance, CLT has also provided practical tips on how to adapt courses for online learning:

Be patient

Typical online courses can take up to three to four months to build, so building a course out in a matter of days may feel unfamiliar and frustrating. Be patient, and refer to the resources and training Binghamton University has made available.

This rapid transition to online teaching is a wonderful opportunity to think about creative ways for developing new learning opportunities and assessments, as well as ways to encourage engagement with your students and create a sense of community.

Synchronous or Asynchronous?

While both provide advantages and disadvantages, you have the option to pick one or to incorporate both.

  • Synchronous: instructors and students meet online in “real time,” allowing for some interaction.
  • Asynchronous: instructors prepare the course materials in advance, allowing students to access them at any time

CLT recommends using one or more of these three options for shifting your class online:

  1. Run your course live through Zoom.
  2. Pre-record short lecture videos with Panopto.
  3. Skip the video and consider creative options such as annotating a slideshow with notes, setting up a discussion in myCourses or sharing links to outside resources.

Focus on interaction

Online courses are not the same as correspondence courses. Instead of focusing on packaging and delivering content, focus on the interactions between you and your students, students with other students, and students with the course content. Consider how to make your course as engaging as possible.

Organization and layout

It is paramount to structure your course materials in myCourses in an organized and easy-to-follow fashion. Consider organizing content in weekly folders or in content module folders. This will result in less confusion among students (and fewer emails in your inbox!).

Communication and feedback

In such a stressful time, clear communication with your students is vital. Make expectations as clear as possible, establish unambiguous and consistent policies and make them available in an easily accessible place (not just via email).

When it comes to assignment instructions, communication is also very important. You want your students to focus on the assignment instead of struggling with how exactly to do it.

With the lack of face-to-face interaction, feedback is critical. Keep in touch with students, and provide both individual and class-wide feedback.

Course content

Attention spans are short, especially when students aren’t in the classroom. Consider varying your course content by packaging them into “chunks,” and switching between these chunks every couple of minutes. Content chunks of five to seven minutes are ideal, with chunks over 15 minutes being discouraged.

Consider breaking up your lectures with pre-made, third-party materials, such as book chapters, videos, websites, podcasts, online simulations and articles.

Exams

myCourses offers many different options for question types, and also has options for some auto-grading. You can randomize the question order, use timed options and easily adjust accommodations for students.

In this unique situation, treat online exams similarly to open-book exams. By taking the exam remotely, students will have access to the internet and each other, so author the test accordingly!

Group work and discussions

Group work can still be done with the use of group assignments, discussion threads and Google Drive. Because students are losing the ability to meet with their groups in person, consider setting aside time in your Zoom session for them to virtually meet with their group members.

Discussion threads are a great way to keep lines of communication open between you and students. Craft interesting discussion questions and set clear rules for posts and responses. If you’re teaching a larger class, you can break students up into smaller discussion groups.

Accessibility/Accommodations

While the current goal is to get your online course up and running as soon as possible, don’t assume all of your students will have access to a laptop and internet.

While no one solution is going to solve every possible situation, there are different options available to help service the needs of unique cases. Discuss alternative and realistic options with your students who need these special accommodations. For example, students can still access Zoom meetings from a landline, even if they aren’t signed on to the internet.

Also, consider accessibility. Make sure your PDFs are screen-readable, and include alt-text with all of your images. If you use different colors for text on your PowerPoints, make sure there is enough contrast between the text and the background.

Audio quality

Nobody is expecting a Hollywood production, so worry less about your video quality and more about your audio quality. Make sure you are speaking loud and clear, and use a microphone if you have one available. Test out your audio and get feedback from others before making your online class live.

This is a unique and unprecedented time for Binghamton University. With a few weeks of the semester already under our belts, remember that you know your students best, so structure your course in a way that you think will work best for them.

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