Thursday, March 19, 2020, 2:45 p.m.
A Message from Wendi Dew, Assistant Vice President, Teaching and Learning and Isis Artze-Vega, Vice President, Academic Affairs
On Monday, March 16, 2020, we shared our best guidance for moving courses online. This piece by our colleagues at Connecticut College offers additional helpful ideas, including the suggestion that we explicitly acknowledge some of what we’re feeling and reassure students that we will figure it out together. We also want to share wise counsel from Delta College — let’s focus on teaching enough:
- Enough assignments to have students learn
- Enough time to have meaningful contact with students
- Enough energy left for other priorities in your life
- Enough self-regulation to be content with enough and not panic over missing perfection
Please give yourself and your students extra grace during this trying time.
In light of your thoughtful feedback and questions, today’s communication shares the results of a student technology survey we conducted this week; provides a survey to ascertain your new technology needs, including proctoring; describes our current efforts regarding proctoring; and suggests a variety of alternatives to proctored exams.
On Monday, March 16, 2020, we emailed all students who were not taking any online courses this term, to acknowledge that they may be feeling uneasy about courses moving online for the rest of the term and to let them know we are committed to supporting them. We also inquired about their technology resources, needs and concerns.
Of the nearly 2,300 students who responded (which may, of course, skew toward those with greater technological access), 91% reported having a computer at home; 34% have a tablet; 88% have a smartphone; 65% have a webcam; 67% have a microphone or headset; 97% have Wi-Fi; and 90% describe their Wi-Fi as 3 or greater (on scale of 1-5) for reliability and speed.
As illustrated below, in students’ responses to the question, “When do you plan to complete your online coursework?” there is no discernible pattern in students’ schedules, and most explicitly selected the “no regular pattern” option.
Now that local schools have extended the closure of their physical locations, it is even less likely that students will have the ability to adhere to a fixed schedule. This aligns with our previous recommendation that, to the extent possible, you avoid synchronous whole-class expectations. Alexandra L. Milsom, assistant professor at Hostos Community College, CUNY, affirms this advice in a popular article:
“Do not rely on synchronous meetings. We’re in a major crisis, so do yourself a favor and drop the expectation that you and your students will meet at your usual times … Plan backward from [your] assessments and distribute them in such a way that people living through disaster will have a chance at completing them.”
Engaging with students individually, as during virtual office (or student engagement) hours, is one notable exception to our counsel to avoid synchronous sessions. (Per your request, we’ll be sure to include tools, resources and support in connecting with students in our next communication.)
We also asked our students what most concerns them about courses moving online, and here are the most common responses:
- Responsiveness of faculty and how to ask questions
- Sense that online learning is much more difficult
- Not learning enough to be successful in subsequent courses
- Having issues with technology during exams
- Not knowing how well they’re doing without feedback
- Access to tutoring and where to find help
- General lack of knowledge of what an online course is like
- Lack of strong study habits and time management
With respect to student concerns about how to be successful online learners, please note that we are quickly assembling resources and will offer remote tutoring as of Monday.
Requests for New Technology Survey
Understandably, many of you have been emailing your requests and suggestions for new technologies directly to a member of the Office of Information Technology (OIT) and/or Teaching and Learning team. So we can be sure to capture all of the pressing needs, and can prioritize and implement critical, time-sensitive solutions with broad reach across the College, please complete this brief Request for New Technology survey.
*Note: Even if you have already emailed OIT, a Teaching and Learning colleague or anyone else, please do re-submit your needs in the survey.
While it isn’t currently feasible to offer unlimited proctoring, we are finalizing our evaluation of two vendors, guided by feedback shared earlier by the Academic Integrity Work Team; are developing principles regarding the allocation of proctoring; and want to hear from you regarding your proctoring needs. Using the Requests for New Technology survey, please describe your proctoring needs.
Proctored exams may increase already high levels of anxiety for students new to the online testing environment. Given the number of questions we’ve heard from faculty about proctoring and the essential role assessment plays in student learning, we’ve curated a few alternatives to proctored exams and key resources. They are intended to support you in upholding rigor and academic integrity, and maintaining reasonable demands on your time.
As we suggested on Monday, you’ll want to start by revisiting your learning outcomes and isolate what students have not yet learned and what’s most important. This means you likely won’t need to assess all of their learning and may instead be able to be more focused in your assessment.
- Consider an online, unproctored exam. In their pro/con analysis of online, unproctored exams, our colleagues at the University of California, Davis noted that a key benefit is that testing anxiety is “somewhat attenuated by the exam’s open book, open note status.” Although “open book/notes decrease the summative function of the exam, this issue may be outweighed by the exam’s potential to promote additional learning.” It will be important to tell students outright that resources (text, notes) are available to them.
- Revisit your test questions. Aim to ask questions with personal relevance or reflection, and/or ones that make connections to previous course assignments or discussions, so answers aren’t easily sourced elsewhere. Application questions that reach beyond regurgitating facts make good questions too.
- Use time limits, where appropriate, given the test question considerations above. By setting a reasonable time from the moment you release the exam to the deadline, you limit students’ ability to look up answers, and it’s possible to provide extra time on assessments (which are referred to as “quizzes” in Canvas), even after publishing it. Canvas provides more resources and information on time limits and providing multiple attempts.
- Draw from a test bank, if available. Many textbook publishers offer test banks, which can be imported into Canvas. Access to more questions makes it possible to administer different versions of your exam. You will want to make sure you carefully align the questions to the learning outcomes and edit for clarity. To reach out to a member of the Teaching and Learning team for assistance with importing your test banks, please use our new Faculty Support Request form.
For a short matrix of final exam options, with additional assessment ideas, as well as a summary of the potential impact on student performance and well-being, for each, we invite you to visit this site (keeping in mind that our available technology differs from theirs). This resource describes a few non-exam ideas you might also consider — what some might call “alternative” or “authentic” assessments.
Tools such as Respondus Lockdown Browser, which prevents students from using internet browsers during assessment, are available to you. As always, provide students with clear instructions. The link for students to download Respondus Lockdown Browser is in Atlas. Select the Faculty tab, search in Faculty Tools for the Learning Technology Downloads, and you’ll find the URL available in the Respondus Lockdown Browser information. For written assignments, a plagiarism detection solution such as Unicheck is also integrated with Canvas.
Finally, we applaud you for prioritizing your major assessment(s), as doing so sometime soon will help you ensure that students’ and your own time is spent most effectively, focused on the key remaining learning goals. Again, in Milsom’s words, “Plan backward from those assessments and distribute them in such a way that people living through disaster will have a chance at completing them.”