5 tips from my first week teaching online from home during coronavirus closures

Two days after I published “8 tips for setting up and teaching online classes during coronavirus closures,” my campus transitioned online. Here are some of the lessons I learned from the first week to give those of you about to begin an idea of what to expect.

Two days after I published “8 tips for setting up and teaching online classes during coronavirus closures,” my campus made the decision to transition online due to COVID-19 for the remainder of the semester. After two days of canceled classes and a weekend to prepare (not great, but better than some peer institutions in our state), our first week of online instruction just concluded. Here are some of the lessons I learned to supplement my original tips and give those of you about to begin an idea of what to expect.

1. Explain what’s changing

Students need to know how your course is going to work moving forward. In my original article, I suggested:

It might also be helpful to draft a temporary syllabus, explaining how existing class policies, schedules, and assignments will change during the period of online instruction. In everything, clarity will help.

After making one and talking to students about their other courses, I’d strongly encourage this as something worth the time investment, even as our time is limited. Not only is the syllabus useful to students, but it may also help with grade disputes that arise from any changes you institute.

I created an “Online Transition Update” syllabus, highlighting (literally, in yellow) parts that were changing (e.g., attendance requirements, scheduling of exams), and removing some of the unchanged boilerplate stuff that makes syllabi eight pages long and unreadable.

I did the same for instruction sheets and rubrics for major assignments that changed, such as a service learning project that can no longer include an in-person pitch to our community partner (☹).

In line with Original Tip #1 (“Make it easy to navigate”), I put all of these new documents in an “Online Transition Info” folder and put it right at the top of our online content so it’d be the first thing students see when they log on. In line with Original Tip #2 (“Make it accessible”), that folder also included a video walkthrough of the Blackboard course and links to all the different ways students could contact me and each other.

2. Communicate early and often

The morning my classes went live, I posted an announcement to my course page on Blackboard, which was also emailed to all students. Four quick points:

1. Here’s how to use the course (direct to the “Online Transition Info” folder)

2. Here’s what we’re learning about this week (direct to the week’s learning module)

3. Here’s what’s due this week (direct to the week’s assignment folder)

4. Here are the opportunities to join us live this week if you’re able (include links to live sessions)

Continue reading “5 tips from my first week teaching online from home during coronavirus closures”

8 tips for setting up and teaching online classes during coronavirus closures

Suddenly teaching online because of COVID-19? Learn from me, a Blackboard certified online instructor – or perhaps more relevant – a guy who suddenly got thrown into online teaching with no idea what to do.

Update: Since this post, I’ve transitioned my classes for online delivery, and shared 5 more tips from the first week of working from home.

Universities are closing campuses and moving classes online to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19. Positive cases are on the rise, both because of spread and increased availability of testing.

On that trajectory, it’s likely that many of us will be doing some online teaching in the very near future. And while universities act like this is the simplest transition in the world, it’s not. Online instruction is an entirely different animal, and throwing professors who haven’t done it before into the fire is not going to work.

My first job after completing my doctorate was as a full-time online lecturer, something I had never done before. It was a ton of work, but in the end I found a groove of teaching courses that students enjoyed and I felt like were meeting the course objectives I would have set in a traditional classroom.

So, learn from me, a Blackboard certified online instructor… or, if you prefer… learn from me, a guy who suddenly got thrown into online teaching with no idea what to do. Continue reading “8 tips for setting up and teaching online classes during coronavirus closures”

Can you hear me now? The (ridiculously over-dramatized) end of a millennial relationship

I gained much in 2015. But every gain comes at a cost. I should know, because this year I sacrificed one of my most defining relationships.

Even worse, I did so consciously. Willingly. I could have saved it, but I let it go. The day will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Continue reading “Can you hear me now? The (ridiculously over-dramatized) end of a millennial relationship”

Sports blackout rules don’t fit Internet Age

In a society whose entertainment is increasingly Web-centric, it was only a matter of time before technology caught up with our desire for streaming video anywhere, anytime. For most, that now means Hulu and Netflix. For sports fans, the next generation arrived with ESPN360 ESPN3 WatchESPN (Reliable service; inconsistent branding). Loads and loads of sporting events from the worldwide leader. Stuff that was airing on ESPN or ESPN2, plus tons of smaller college and second-tier sports not televised anywhere. Watch it live, watch a replay, watch on your computer, on your TV, on your phone. The future is now! Unless:

“We’re sorry, this game is not available in your area.”

Ah, the regional blackout. Designed to protect television and radio networks from hemorrhaging audience share to competing outlets, thus insuring lucrative broadcast rights, blackouts are part of making the games work financially for all parties. Traditionally, it kept national broadcasters from airing games in the two teams’ hometown markets. So, if ESPN wanted to nationally televise a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Detroit Tigers, they can do so. But, folks in Florida and Michigan wouldn’t be able to see the ESPN broadcast, because local television contracts require that the hometown broadcast be the only show in town. Same thing for the NBA, NHL, and major college athletics. There are exceptions, but you get the general principle.

(The NFL blackout policy is much worse. Comparable to a ransom, it further requires a team to sellout its stadium before a game can be televised in that team’s home market. You want TV? Buy up our outrageously priced tickets. At times, it has led to TV stations and advertisers buying up remaining seats at the league’s 72-hours-to-kickoff deadline.)

The Internet messed this up. People are becoming more accustomed to receiving content whenever and wherever they please. And they can… except when it comes to sports, where the old blackout rules carried over into the digital age.

Continue reading “Sports blackout rules don’t fit Internet Age”

[Clickworthy] Isolating ourselves behind a Facebook Wall

The problem […] is that we invite loneliness, even though it makes us miserable. The history of our use of technology is a history of isolation desired and achieved.

What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity.

The impact of technology on interpersonal relationships has been a favorite research topic of students who often find themselves in the middle of the phenomenon. Last year, at least half of my students’ communication research papers dealt with Facebook to some extent, half of those making social media the primary focus of the paper. How does Facebook affect friendships? Business communication? Marketing efforts? When something new comes along, we are curious about these things.

But at the base of it is our relationship with other people and the impact that has on ourselves. Facebook, after all, is about “friends,” right? Do we find social sustenance in curating our public profile, in interacting with one another on a virtual wall? Or, do we overuse a technological advancement meant only to complement our relationships as a replacement for the real face-to-face event?

Why do we allow technology – even technology with social intent – to leave us lonely? Social beings left unfulfilled by our own decisions.

Stephen Marche explored these psychological inconsistencies in a cover story for the Atlantic. I picked it up on a newsstand earlier this week and couldn’t put it down. This isn’t surface drivel about a pop topic. Marche throws data at you left and right as he contemplates a lonely world full of distant friends and the effort we endure to create polished virtual selves. He references a number of studies, using words like “longitudinal” along the way. It reads like a literature review stripped of parenthetical citations and laced with philosophical ponderings.

You’ll have to set aside a decent amount of time for the full read, but it’s well worth it. From a feeling of despair, Marche goes further to understand effective use of mediated technologies and a reordering of priorities.

Read the story. You’ll be ready to text, tweet, or wall post your way to something meaningful… like a cup of coffee with an old friend you realize you only know through a timeline.

Clickworthy Bonus: If you enjoyed Marche’s writing, are nowhere near retirement, and like being angry with your elders, read this essay from the April edition of Esquire.