This blog was guest authored by Kriss Ferluga, Director of University Academic Services at Davenport University and Blackboard Catalyst Award Winner 2020. For more information go to: https://community.blackboard.com/catalystawards.
Many of us made a sharp turn into online learning when the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring. Fortunately, our students were largely forgiving of our sudden changes, and we all did the best we could to get through what we hoped would be a temporary situation. But we now know that we’ll be working around COVID-19 for the foreseeable future—certainly, as we start the new academic year—so it’s time to put more thought into how we build and deliver our courses.
At Davenport University, I help instructors teach classes in multiple delivery formats, and built a global campus instructor assessment course in Blackboard that focuses on both teaching topics and technology tools used to help instructors succeed. I always had a steady flow of faculty through the course, but the pandemic has caused participation to explode. Between the course’s launch in January 2017 and our transition to teaching from home in late March 2020, I taught over 240 instructors. Between March 2020 and September 2020, I’ve taught 283 more! It’s a lot of work, but I’m glad to be able to help our faculty gain the knowledge and confidence they will need for a strong Fall start.
If you don’t have a similar preparation course at your school, and you’re wondering how to build courses that meet the challenges of these times, I advise you to keep the following three things in mind.
1. Start where you’re comfortable.
If you’re new to online teaching, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Yes, Blackboard Learn (and Blackboard Collaborate) are full of features that will help you communicate with students, present information, collect assignments, administer tests, and post grades and feedback. You don’t have to master every feature immediately. Focus on the things you’ll use first, like posting announcements, sending emails, and working in the discussion board—and practice using those features before you jump into more advanced course design. Choose what works best for your content, your students, and your teaching style, and get good at those. You can always expand later.
2. Make—and follow—plans.
I’m a big fan of planning in my courses. Even before COVID-19 turned everything upside down, having a plan helped me maintain a sense of control in my teaching environment. A plan could be a detailed agenda, a rough outline, or just some notes. Even if something went wrong—maybe I lost power, maybe the discussion topic I thought would be so engrossing fell flat—I wasn’t left scrambling, because I could go back to my plan and figure out what to do next. Now that we have to expect a little bit of chaos in our day-to-day teaching, planning your classes in advance can be a huge help. And if you include a little more in your plans than you actually need, you’re ready with alternatives. End up with leftovers? Instant extra credit assignments!
3. Be flexible and adaptable.
This seems to go against point number two, doesn’t it? Well, remember, no plan is perfect. And, as I said, we really should expect that we’ll have to be flexible in the 2020-21 academic year—COVID-19 just won’t let us write our plans in stone. Adaptability can also apply to how you build your course. If you’re changing formats, whether you’re shifting to asynchronous online, synchronous online, or a combination of one or both of those with some on-campus meetings, you need to be mindful of what goes into your course. You might ask yourself: should you deliver a long lecture in a Blackboard Collaborate session, when all the temptations of the internet are a click away for your students? Should you try to administer (and touch!) paper tests in a classroom when you can build tests in Blackboard? Think about what’s safe, what you need to convey, and what will work best with the features available to you.
These three things can help you get ready, and feel ready, to start this new and unpredictable school year. As our situations change (which they surely will), the plans and the comfort level you’ve built will give you a solid foundation to stand on as you flex and adapt to whatever comes your way.
And the bonus tip? It’s this: be patient. You, your students, and your school are all doing the best you can in a rapidly shifting educational landscape. There are bound to be surprises, both good (you might LOVE teaching online!) and bad (you might not have the best equipment for the job). Remember that we’re all at the mercy of our internet connections. Both Blackboard and many service providers have boosted their strength, but if you’re teaching remotely, or you have remote students, there could be connection challenges. Be patient, and fall back on that great foundation you’ve built, and you’ll get through it. We all will.