Many professionals are questioning what the educational experience will look like come fall 2020 and even spring 2021. Institutions are crowdsourcing information and making decisions for the months ahead. University leaders are performing around the clock course design work in preparation and anticipating for the future, even though the future remains quite unclear due to the global health crisis.
Higher education professionals have the awesome responsibility to ensure that students can continue to pursue their degrees without delay. They’re also focused on meeting the individual learning and accessibility needs of all students.
To help higher education professionals during these uncertain times, Verbit partnered with multiple thought leaders to share actionable advice and perspectives with regard to online learning. These were shared live during our June webinar, A to Zoom: Acing Online Learning, which was built for more than 500 participants. These viewers also received insights on Verbit’s new Live Room app that helps with student engagement on Zoom and other web conferencing tools.
Adjusting and planning for online learning
University leaders, professors, disability directors, instructional designers and other faculty are searching for best practices for teaching online and via web conferencing tools. The industry is rapidly transforming and embracing a ‘new normal.’ The top-of-mind elements that professors and others are grappling with include web conferencing capabilities, common security concerns, accessibility measures and the mental health of students.
Experts from Zoom, the University of Florida and Verbit gathered to explore the ongoing opportunities and challenges that today’s schools face, including executing learning via web conferencing platforms like Zoom. These quick tips should help to prepare you for the upcoming semesters.
Designing courses for Zoom and online environments
It’s important to note that face-to-face, or offline, courses require different design considerations for the online environment.
“Pre-planning and making the students aware of changes, their schedules, and all other elements eases the anxiety of the unknown.” Amanda Jackson, a learning specialist at the University of Florida, noted.
“When designing courses, it is important to keep top of mind your expected learning outcomes,” Dr. Misty Cobb, a transformational technology and education expert, added. “When you are planning, reserve synchronous sessions for activities that benefit from real-time interaction. I enjoy live collaboration for activities that reinforce course content and learning outcomes and build a sense of community.”
Cobb recommends that instructors and course designers review quality rubrics for ideas around methods for supporting learners. Some options include rubrics from Quality Matters, the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program Rubric, the SUNY Online Course Quality Review Rubric, the Quality Online Course Initiative (QOCI) Rubric from the Illinois Online Network, or the Rubric for Online Instruction from California State University – Chico. Cobb specifically noted the EDUCAUSE series “7 Things Your Should Know” and encouraged participants to review the information available on the hyflex model.
“A few specific things I encourage you to keep top of mind are the idea of providing an orientation to your course, chunking your content, making available a variety of assessment types, providing clear course/instructor policies and expectations, and clearly communicating grading procedures and processes,” Cobb said.
Do’s & don’t’s for teaching via Zoom
Instructors and course designers are also seeking practical advice and technical best practices for executing instruction via platforms like Zoom. Mahsa Abadi, Customer Success Manager at Zoom Video Communications, had some best practice tips for universities in this situation.
- Start That Video: Adding a human touch with video is a great way to keep students engaged. Look at the camera to create eye contact with your students. This helps to create a more personal connection while teaching over video.
- Lights, Camera, Action: Use the tools available to you to improve your presence. Make sure there is enough light, your sound is OK and use the Zoom virtual backgrounds to tidy up your background to create a less distracting visual for students.
- Discuss Online Etiquette: Discuss etiquette and expectations of the students in your first virtual class and periodically revisit the topics. Things like being muted when not speaking, not eating during class, reminding them that they’re on camera can prove to be helpful. Pre-set your meeting to mute participant’s microphones upon entry. This helps to avoid background noise and allow your students to focus on your lesson.
- Keep Them Engaged: Screen sharing, polling, whiteboards, annotation abilities and breakout rooms help to engage students by keeping them active.
- Embrace The Pause: Take a moment after the end of your comments and allow for students to engage before continuing on. When delivering a presentation and sharing images, files or video, give your students a moment to open or take in what you’ve shared before diving into it.
- Share Files: Use the in-meeting chat function to share any handouts, papers, images etc before ending the class and ask students to download them
Ensuring security via Zoom
Security is also top of mind for today’s Zoom and web conferencing users. Abadi suggests utilizing password and waiting room features to ensure security measures are taken effectively. Note: The security button is only visible to the meeting host and co-host.
- Set Strong Passwords: Prevent unanticipated guests from joining with passwords. When scheduling a meeting, under Meeting Options, select Require meeting password, then specify a strong password (make your password at least eight characters long and use at least three of the following types of characters: lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers, symbols). Participants will be asked to enter this password in order to join your meeting.
- Utilize Waiting Room Features: This capability allows the host to control when participants join your meeting. As the meeting host, you can admit attendees individually, or hold all attendees in the virtual waiting room and admit all when you are ready to begin.
- In-Meeting Settings: Use these to lock your meeting. You can also limit screen share to the meeting host only to prevent any ‘foul play.’