Kristina is another faculty member who has more than one role at the college. She is an Instructional Assistant for Psychology, as well as an instructor in that department. And she also embraced the sudden switch to online teaching, saying “it’s something that I was really looking forward to doing, and I feel like the online environment allows students that typically don’t have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in a classroom setting to be able to shine.” I’ll be honest with you: Kristina had so many amazing things to share about her experience, the experiences of the faculty she supports, and how she worked with and supported her students, I don’t have space for it all in this post. But, I am hoping she will agree to share more at the eLearning Demo Fest this June 10th!
Kristina started teaching Psychology 110 online this January, after about 10 months of helping faculty in Psychology move their courses entirely online. She also oversaw the lab components of those Spring, Summer, and Fall term Psychology courses, but because she has been assisting with the delivery of online courses and course components for many years, instead of having to figure out how to do things from scratch, she was able to look at ways to better support students and help them find their way through this unexpected new world of online learning.
Over the years of working with faculty in Psychology, Kristina has earned their trust. When access to instructional designers in CETL became challenging due to the sudden increased demands, the Psychology faculty felt comfortable asking her how to adapt their courses for online “because [she] knew both their pedagogical philosophy and how and why they wanted to do certain things…[she] knew what their goals were.” But as demands grew, and Kristina had to work on her own online teaching, she slowly coaxed faculty to get support from CETL.
For herself, Kristina says she almost feels more comfortable teaching online than face to face. She saw this transition as an opportunity to work on making the experience as positive as possible for her students. She did not face the learning curve that many other faculty at the college faced, such as learning how explicit instructions need to be online, how to create instructor presence, how to engage with students, etc. One thing she noted that was different from teaching online during “normal” times however were the stress levels of students, both from facing a pandemic and having to learn online for the first time. “I bend over backwards to try and address the emotional component of learning first and foremost, and that was the biggest thing that I’ve learned in the online environment.”
Now, because of Kristina’s experience and comfort with teaching online, rather than discussing specific challenges, rewards, and lessons learned, I want to share with you some of Kristina’s approaches to teaching, and learning, online.
First, Kristina surveyed her students a week before the course started. “I made the questions very particular to [my] course and asked them what three things they wanted me to do to support their learning – something that either worked for them previously or that they would like to try this semester.” As a result she made some last-minute changes to her course, aside from the requirements on the syllabus which she explained to her students was like a contract – something that could not be altered.
Some of the things students identified were wanting study guides for quizzes (which she created and took the time to explain to students how to create their own), wanting more time for tests (so she changed questions from knowledge-based to application-based questions so that time was no longer an issue – if students are running out of time on the quiz, they can contact her during the quiz and request additional time), having test anxiety (so she equally weighted lab assignments and quizzes and evaluated anxiety provoking topics such as statistics via lab assignments instead of quizzes), wanting flexibility (so she allowed extensions for assignments without penalty), and needing due date reminders (so she arranged for D2L to send them reminder emails and posts reminders in the News).
In addition, Kristina practices some aspects of Open Pedagogy by letting students contribute to assessments. “I had them create application-based questions [by asking] them to develop scenario question that were one or two sentences long about a part of the brain that was damaged, and provide the correct answer [for their questions]. Then I incorporated all of those questions and answers into a Jeopardy game for them… [Finally,] I chose three of those questions out of the 40 and put them on their quiz. I went over this activity with the students in lab beforehand to answer any questions. Then we also did a review game in class that covered the same types of concepts that were going to be on the quiz.” During the review, she asked students to share how they might approach answering the question, such as highlighting key words, drawing pictures, or eliminating response options.
And she also incorporates Universal Design for Learning principles, for example, giving students flexible deadlines. For example, when they ask for an extension, she asks “When do you think you can get the assignment handed-in? You know what your work schedule is, you know what your classroom demands are – when can you get this done, instead of me of dictating that….allowing students to be accountable to themselves.” But what she has noticed is that each time this has happened, it’s been one time only “none of them take advantage of it.” She just sees it as treating her students like adults, like human beings, saying “I’m treating [them] the same way that I would expect a supervisor to treat me.”
Within her synchronous sessions, Kristina does what she calls concept checks, where students work on problems anonymously on the whiteboard, so they feel comfortable being confused, or trying something they were not sure of. She also gives students multiple options for responding in the synchronous sessions: microphone, polling, open chat, private chat, and writing on the whiteboard or on her PowerPoints, so again they have the choice of how they want to engage.
Kristina works hard at building community and engaging with students where they are at. She starts each class off by posting a question on the whiteboard. For example, she asked “For students who are local, what restaurants do you like going for takeout and…and for students who are not local, what’s your favorite recipe that you make at home? I do a lot of that kind of white board activity to stimulate some conversation.” And what I really appreciated was the way she encourages students to answer questions, saying that “the most important part of participating when you ask a question is that they offered an answer. So even if a student’s completely off base with their answer, I always start off with thanking them for responding, pull out the pieces of information that were correct, and then ask other students to build on the information that was correct.”
Kristina says, by way of advice to anyone starting to teach online: “be as transparent as possible with your students. Be explicit with the students about what your expectations are and why you have those expectations. [Explain] why you’re asking them to do specific assignments, and how you create your tests, why you design them [the way you do]…Because it allows them to understand and predict how to approach work in the course. It takes out the guessing…review what they can and can’t ask for. Do what you say you’re going to do, and if you solicit feedback, don’t tell them you’re going to do something about it, and then not follow up on it!”
Finally, Kristina says “just embrace it. It’s going to be as good as you make it … don’t fear it. Put as much into it as you would anything else, because the return on your effort is going to probably be [more than you can imagine].”