[NOTE: Face-to-face classes at VCU have not been canceled (yet!); the guidance we have received so far is to prepare for a move to distance education. So, this morning, I sent an email to all of my colleagues in the School of Education. It doesn’t cover everything I wanted to say, but I didn’t want to overwhelm people… (also, the subject line of the email referenced is the same as the title of this post.

UPDATE (0312/20) – f2f classes cancelled for at least two weeks]

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Greetings colleagues,

I thought I’d take a moment to offer some advice in this uncertain time. This advice is based on nearly a decade of teaching from a distance, a handful of years in administration around distance ed., and the gobs of good advice I’ve seen shared among my professional circles in the last few days.

I would start by saying that my choice of words in the subject line was purposeful. What we need to be doing at the moment is different than what we would be doing if we were preparing to design, build and teach a full-on, fully online course. We are not; at least not right now. We are responding to an urgent situation where academic continuity is the goal. So, with that in mind, some general advice as you prepare for just-in-time remote teaching/learning:

 

  1. As always, lead with empathy. Our students are likely to be anxious on many levels. They will be anxious about the state of the world, their own health and that of their friends and loved ones, as well as their own academic progress. So, I would consider starting with a simple empathic message, delivered by email and, perhaps better if possible, via video. In the video, you might just reassure students and give them some basic parameters for how things might look in the coming days/weeks. I use Kaltura Capture for all of my video announcements, but you don’t even need to use that. You can use simple workarounds like starting a Zoom meeting with just yourself and recording the meeting. That creates a video file you can share.
  2. In addition to empathy, it’s OK to be vulnerable with your students. Teaching this way may not be your preferred means, and you will struggle, so you can ask your students in advance for some forgiveness for likely bumps in the road. You might even incorporate that note into your opening message to students.
  3. Think about this as a week-to-week thing; don’t try to build a whole (or even half) online course in a week or two. To start, ask yourself, “What low barrier to entry thing can I have my students do this first week?” Maybe you want to start by just having them engage in a discussion in a Blackboard discussion board. Give them a prompt or two and have them write and chat with each other. Maybe that’s enough at the outset. Get them started without much pain.
  4. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good enough. If you need to create content such as a video, a captured lecture, etc., it doesn’t need to be professional quality right now. Your students will understand. And, frankly, I would argue that sometimes there’s value to something like a quick, low budget video so that your students can see that you, too, are not always perfect. I sometimes reply to VoiceThreads with a video response using my phone in my car (while parked, I promise). I believe these kinds of engagements humanize me and we know that instructor presence matters when teaching from a distance.

 

Additionally, I am more than happy to add you to my Build-a-Course Workshop Blackboard site. That site was built for a fully online course on how to teach from a distance, so it’s not exactly geared toward the current situation. But, it’s chock full of resources about distance education (including technology tool tips) and there’s a discussion board in there we can use to ask questions of each other and to help each other out. Please let me know if you would like to be added to that Bb site.

Lastly, I have curated a list of resources from out in the wild of the Internet over the last few days. Feel free to stop reading at this point if cognitive load is a concern.

 

There’s more, but I’ll stop there.

I am happy to help if I can.

 

Yours in social and academic distancing,

JB