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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Keep Calm and Keep Teaching

By M’hammed Abdous

I know that this transition to online learning is an uncharted territory for a lot of faculty and students -and that it could be an additional source of stress and anxiety for faculty. I want to reassure you that ODU's Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT) is here to help you.

To this end, I want to remind you that the CLT is a talented group of dedicated professionals who are working long hours and responding to hundreds of emails and requests for our help. Our goal is to make this transition smooth and stress-free for everyone.

Over the past two weeks, the CLT has put together several online and self-paced workshops that cover the basics, as well as intermediate and more advanced technical and pedagogical aspects, of online learning. We have experts who understand how to leverage technology to accomplish your course learning outcomes. You can rely on us to help you find practical solutions to any teaching or learning situation.

Our handouts and documents, covering a range of issues, are posted on the Keep Teaching site. These insights, tips and best practices are evidence-based. They are grounded in research and years of experience developing, designing and teaching online courses at ODU.

From these tips and insights, let me share seven key suggestions:

1) Ask yourself: "What are the most important things that I need my students to learn in the next couple of weeks?" Stay focused on your course learning objectives. To help you answer this question, and to help you develop a game plan:

  • Survey your students. Find out if they have technology access issues. The CLT has developed a quick survey that you can do in Blackboard to assess your students' readiness, access to computers and the Internet, and their overall familiarity with online learning.
  • Involve them in drafting and preparing your teaching plan. Speak openly with your students. If you involve them as partners, they are going to be engaged, understanding and motivated to be part of this experiment. For example, you can involve them in deciding how to facilitate the content, the assignment and assessment types, and the deadlines, among other items.
  • Be flexible with your students, and they will reciprocate. (Remember, though, that the digital divide among students is still a concern).
  • Leverage the technology to build a learning and caring community around your course: a discussion board for questions and for students to help each other and share their own stories (and perhaps worries) in these difficult times. As you practice social distancing, you can foster social learning.

2) Be realistic. Set expectations based on your students' preparedness and readiness, and communicate with them regularly. Let them know what you are doing and planning. Ambiguity is tough for students. If they don't know what to do or expect, their anxiety and stress could increase. This could potentially push them to withdraw from the course.

3) Think about how to structure your course ... and be consistent. Are you going to do synchronous activities (that is, with everybody at the same time) or will you use asynchronous activities? Whichever you choose, be consistent.

  • Lecturing and discussion are easy to replicate, to a certain extent.
  • Labs and hands-on activities can be challenging, so think creatively. Record a lab and share it with your students or record a virtual walkthrough with your mobile device. Talk to your students.
  • Paper-based tests for math and engineering can be difficult to do online; think about using take-home exams, with more complex problem solving. Leverage your Blackboard test options. Move away from the proctored mindset. Foster academic integrity instead of trying to fight cheating. There's no such thing as a 100% solution to testing, and that includes face-to-face and proctored exams.

4) Don't try to reinvent the wheel: leverage open educational resources. Reach out to the library. But also be creative, share resources and learn from your colleagues.

5) As you work from home, designate a quiet workspace where you can get fresh air, with limited distractions, and a beautiful background for your video conferencing needs. You can even post a "Quiet Zone -Meeting Online" sign on your door. Test your Zoom and Blackboard access to make sure that everything is working fine. Establish a regular schedule, a routine with a daily plan that includes breaks that will help your well-being. Keep in touch with your colleagues through regular video-conferencing meetings.

6) Look at this crisis as an opportunity to learn new tools and new technologies. Use it as an opportunity to revamp and retool your teaching. Again, think creatively. Think about this forced experimentation as an opportunity to rethink your teaching and learning practices.

7) Finally, let's be thankful that this is happening now, and not few years ago when we had slow and cumbersome dial-up connections. Let's be grateful for our extensive distance/online learning experience at ODU.

So be flexible, be patient, be kind, be helpful. And remember: You are not in this alone. You have a dedicated team of professionals at the CLT ready to support you and to make this transition a new learning opportunity for you and your students.

M'hammed Abdous is director of the Center for Learning and Teaching, and assistant vice president for teaching and learning with technology. For assistance, email clt@odu.edu.