Moving Your In-Person Course Online

In attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, some schools are requiring faculty to convert their in-person courses to online courses in the middle of the term. What issues come up in this transition, and what are good ways to handle them?

Here are some matters to address:

1. Class Meetings

Will you be holding whole-class meetings online, at the same times and durations, to simulate in-class meetings? Or will you break up your class periods to have multiple online sessions during that time with fewer students in each? Or will you be switching to a more asynchronous learning format (in the manner of some fully-online courses) in which you post lecture notes or videos of you lecturing?

2. Technology

If you are planning on using videoconferencing to teach with, which software/platform are you using, and why? If you plan on using online discussion without video as part of the course, what application are you using for that? How might class size affect these decisions?

3. Assignments & Requirements

Are you changing the required assignments at all? Dropping any? Adding new ones? Is there a way to fruitfully preserve in-class presentations or group work as part of your course? If participation counts as part of your students’ grade, how is that affected by the move from a in-person class space?

Suggestions on any of these issues, or of other issues to address, are welcome.

UPDATE (3/9/20): A list of various guidelines and suggestions for emergency online teaching from dozens of schools.

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Adam Omelianchuk
4 years ago

Here is what I wrote up for my chair here at Clemson.

In the event of a university closure, I will be able to maintain my PHIL 1020 (x3) classes and my PHIL 3460 class through the use of Canvas and YouTube. In the event that Canvas shuts down, I am still able to contact all of my students via email because I have saved my course lists with their contact information.

Specific Plans for PHIL 1020 (Logic)
For Canvas: I will instruct my students to upload their homeworks to canvas using an app that allows one to scan or photograph the assignment and post it as a PDF. I will then direct them to a YouTube channel where I have my lectures already posted for the course — something I made last summer. My tests will be made open book and they only need to be completed by the end of the day on the due date. Slides of my lectures will be made available via hyperlink (most of them already are, but the full set will be posted).

Office Hours will be hosted via Hangouts, Skype, Facetime, or Zoom — whatever works best for the student by way of appointment.

In the event that Canvas goes down, I will communicate to all of the students via email.

If things become nearly unmanageable near the end of the semester, I will offer them a deal to take the grade they have earned or do the Final open note in order to increase their grade.

Specific Plans for PHIL 3460 (Biomedical Ethics)
For Canvas: I will make YouTube videos for my lectures and have the students respond to discussion questions I pose in the video using the “discussions” tab of the Canvas page. Lecture notes are already available via hyperlink in the page, and will continue to operate and grade as already specified by the syllabus.

In the event that Canvas goes down, I will communicate to all of the students via email and have them respond to the YouTube videos on a Google Document for that day’s lecture.

Office Hours will be hosted via Hangouts, Skype, Facetime, or Zoom — whatever works best for the student by way of appointment.

The end-of-the-semester deal will be similar to the one above except that instead of their interview assignment, they can write a reflection on their experience with the COVID-19 virus and the ethical issues we’ve discussed in class that have been most salient/relevant about it. Further instructions on what I will look for will be detailed.

Fritz McDonald
4 years ago

I have been teaching online for about a decade. In fact, my whole courseload this year is online. The main point I’d like to make here is that online teaching is not easy, and making a face to face class into an online class is not a simple matter. My university has an office for E-learning, well set up Learning Management software, and a subscription to a videoconferencing platform (Cisco WebEx). My department also paid for video screen-capture recording software (Camtasia). All of these resources were very important, essential to the work I’m doing. In addition, I’ve taken a course with one of our Instructional Designers here at Oakland University. Before taking that course, which took four weeks and a ton of work, I have to admit that my online classes were not very good. They’re better now, I think, but it’s still really tough to teach online. It really involves learning a whole new skill set.

Short, recorded videos work better. Long videoconferencing sessions are difficult to run and manage. If you want to have something like a classroom discussion, and your learning management system allows for it, consider using the forums/discussion board feature. If you’re going to do some kind of synchronous activity, consider making it non-required and supplemental to the main video-based instruction.

I would suggest making videos rather than just posting your PowerPoints and lecture notes online. Students, in my experience, are much more likely to watch a video than read another text. I post my videos to YouTube. This helps because everybody knows how to use YouTube. You can also track how many views you have on YouTube.

The videoconferencing software that my university uses is Cisco WebEx, which is very good. You can broadcast your screen as well as a video of yourself. That allows you to run a PowerPoint, Keynote, or other presentation while your video of yourself is running. It allows students to ask questions and broadcast videos of themselves. Their video pops up automatically when they raise their voice or virtually “raise their hand.” You can also discuss with students over chat, either person to person or to the entire class. This is pretty sophisticated software that is better than running a Zoom or Google Hangouts session. Still, it’s hard to get students to get the hang of it. I wrote an article about some of the issues I encountered with it:

The gist of the article is that you can’t just run videoconferencing sessions and expect it to work very well, and you can’t expect videoconferencing replace all the material from a face to face course.

The software I used for recording videos for asynchronous sessions, which my students prefer, is Camtasia.

If you transition from face to face to online, you should definitely consider altering your assignments. You can try to foster discussion by having graded discussion forums. Those have their limits, though, as is detailed here:

Fritz McDonald
Reply to  Fritz McDonald
4 years ago

One more really important thing–instructor presence is a big deal in online teaching. Email your students a lot to keep them updated on exactly what they need to do, how they need to do it, and when. Don’t just assume they will read what’s on the learning management software page.

Bill Vanderburgh
Bill Vanderburgh
4 years ago

Some of the points in this link echo points already made, but this is something I put together for my colleagues at CSUSB and it might be useful to others.

4 years ago

Jennifer Szende shared these excellent resources and guidance for teaching philosophy online back in October:

Jennifer Szende
Reply to  Melissa
4 years ago

I’ve added a new post that is more relevant to the current emergent context of being pushed into sudden mid-course online teaching:

Wendy C Turgeon
4 years ago

I echo Fritz’ comments about the challenges of online. Many UG students do not take online because they want the face to face contact and, in many cases, know that they are not self-motivated. I have taught online for years and enjoy it but yes, it is a LOT more work for the professor.
Canvas includes a conference option. If you are running a small class, you might try that so they can meet at their regular time and see you and the other students. I am hoping that I can corral them if I insist on the same days/times.

For my larger classes I am going to use videos of me, discussion forums, and some kind of assignment that is manageable for all of us. Yes, this is not easy and many students will be flustered and confused. Here is hoping this ends sooner than later.

4 years ago

We are strongly recommending to our faculty to resist the urge to conduct synchronous classes (we have Zoom access now). Keep in mind that your students’ situations are NOT the same as when they were on campus. Some don’t have reliable access to high-speed internet. Some will have school-age children or siblings at home and no quiet place to work much of the time. Some will be working extra shifts or at other times because of the virus. Expect that the tech will fail. Every school (primary, secondary, college and university) is shifting to online learning. We have no idea what effect this will have as spring breaks end and all of the classes start back up.

Also, don’t expect that you will be making a clean transition to online learning. You are not making an online course. You are making a quick transition to remote learning. Think hard about what skills your students should have after your course–6 month, a year later, what can they DO because they took your course? Focus everything on that. Then look at your normal weekly schedule–what happens in your class? what can you keep, and what needs to change.

In your LMS, create a folder for each week, with a document detailing that week’s plan. Have the same basic schedule each week so that students can get into a rhythm.

Be kind and flexible, with yourself and with your students.

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Kimberly
4 years ago

I’ve been having much success with partly synchronous online courses over the past year, but the key (as Kimberly stresses) is to recognize that Zoom and other synchronous video/audio sessions are *not* reliable, and that they especially cause problems for students with less sophisticated computers and WiFi connections.

The easiest way I’ve found of getting around this problem is just making my synchronous sessions text-based. In particular, I create Slack pages for my courses. Not a single student since then has written to me with any technical problems. Whatever kind of computer they’re using, or even if they’re on their phones, the sessions seem to run without difficulty for everyone. And even if students miss a session for some reason, they can go back and scroll through everything they missed.

Moreover, Slack makes it very easy to facilitate small group work and to switch back and forth between group activities and larger classroom activities.

I’d be happy to discuss this further if you’re thinking of trying it: just let me know and I’ll be in touch.

Shelley Lynn Tremain
4 years ago

Some readers and listeners of this blog might be interested in the JSTOR Teaching Pandemics Syllabus that I have posted to BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY. You can find it here: