Please do a bad job of putting your courses online

I’m absolutely serious.

For my colleagues who are now being instructed to put some or all of the remainder of their semester online, now is a time to do a poor job of it. You are NOT building an online class. You are NOT teaching students who can be expected to be ready to learn online. And, most importantly, your class is NOT the highest priority of their OR your life right now. Release yourself from high expectations right now, because that’s the best way to help your students learn.

If you are getting sucked into the pedagogy of online learning or just now discovering that there are some pretty awesome tools out there to support students online, stop. Stop now. Ask yourself: Do I really care about this? (Probably not, or else you would have explored it earlier.) Or am I trying to prove that I’m a team player? (You are, and don’t let your university exploit that.) Or I am trying to soothe myself in the face of a pandemic by doing something that makes life feel normal? (If you are, stop and instead put your energy to better use, like by protesting in favor of eviction freezes or packing up sacks of groceries for kids who won’t get meals because public schools are closing.)

Remember the following as you move online:

  1. Your students know less about technology than you think. Many of them know less than you. Yes, even if they are digital natives and younger than you.
  2. They will be accessing the internet on their phones. They have limited data. They need to reserve it for things more important than online lectures.
  3. Students who did not sign up for an online course have no obligation to have a computer, high speed wifi, a printer/scanner, or a camera. Do not even survey them to ask if they have it. Even if they do, they are not required to tell you this. And if they do now, that doesn’t mean that they will when something breaks and they can’t afford to fix it because they just lost their job at the ski resort or off-campus bookstore.
  4. Students will be sharing their technology with other household members. They may have LESS time to do their schoolwork, not more.
  5. Many will be working MORE, not fewer, hours. Nurses, prison guards, firefighters, and police officers have to go to work no matter what. As healthcare demand increases but healthcare workers get sick, there will be more and  more stress on those who remain.
  6. Some of your students will get sick. Others will be caring for people who are ill.
  7. Many will be parenting.
  8. Social isolation contributes to mental health problems.
  9. Social isolation contributes to domestic violence.
  10. Students will be losing their jobs, especially those in tourism and hospitality.

All of these factors mean that your students are facing more important battles today than your class–if they are even able to access it.

creative E-learning Concept Book and Laptop 3d render

Photo by NosUA from Getty Images.

As you put your class online:

1. Put your energy into the classes that are required for your major or minor or that are required by other majors or minors. Electives and GE classes are an important part of a good education, but we have already decided that what students learn in any one of those courses is not vital. (The exceptions to this are GE courses that are required for a major.) For some of us, this is every class we teach, but for others, we have the ability to choose to focus our attention.

2. Do not require synchronous work. Students should not need to show up at a specific time for anything. REFUSE to do any synchronous work.

3. Do not record lectures unless you need to. (This is fundamentally different from designing an online course, where recorded information is, I think, really important.) They will be a low priority for students, and they take up a lot of resources on your end and on theirs. You have already built a rapport with them, and they don’t need to hear your voice to remember that.

4. Do record lectures if you need to. When information cannot be learned otherwise, include a lecture. Your university already has some kind of tech to record lectures. DO NOT simply record in PowerPoint as the audio quality is low. While many people recommend lectures of only 5 minutes, I find that my students really do listen to longer lectures. Still, remember that your students will be frequently interrupted in their listening, so a good rule is 1 concept per lecture. So, rather than a lecture on ALL of, say, gender inequality in your Intro to Soc course, deliver 5 minutes on pay inequity (or 15 minutes or 20 minutes, if that’s what you need) and then a separate lecture on #MeToo and yet another on domestic violence. Closed caption them using the video recording software your university provides. Note that YouTube also generates closed captions [edited to add: they are not ADA compliant, though]. If you don’t have to include images, skip the video recording and do a podcast instead.

5. Don’t fuss too much about the videos. You don’t need to edit out the “umms” or the postal carrier ringing the doorbell. Editing is a waste of your time right now.

6. Make all work due on the same day and time for the rest of the semester. I recommend Sunday night at 11:59 pm. Students who are now stay-at-home parents will need help from others to get everything done, and that help is more likely to arrive on a weekend. While, in general, I dislike 11:59 due dates because work done that late is typically of lower quality, some people will need to work after the kids go to bed, so setting the deadline at 9 or 10 pm just doesn’t give them enough time.

7. If you use a textbook, your publisher probably has tests that you can download directly into your learning management system (LMS). Now is the time to use them. Despite publishers’ best efforts, these tests quickly float around online, so take a few minutes to add some anti-cheating protections. First, organize questions into test banks and have them fed to students at random. For example, if you want to ask two questions about pay inequity, select 5 of them from the test bank, and have your LMS feed two of them to students at random. This makes it MUCH harder for students to work together, because they will never get the same exact test as a peer. Second, change the wording on the questions so they can’t easily paste them into Google. In example questions, changing the name of the person in the example is one fast way to make the questions harder to locate online.

8. Allow every exam or quiz to be taken at least twice, and tell students that this means that if there is a tech problem on the first attempt, the second attempt is their chance to correct it. This will save you from the work of resetting tests or quizzes when the internet fails or some other tech problem happens. And since it can be very hard to discern when such failures are really failures or students trying to win a second attempt at a quiz or test, you avoid having to deal with cheaters.

9. Do NOT require students to use online proctoring or force them to have themselves recorded during exams or quizzes. This is a fundamental violation of their privacy, and they did NOT sign up for that when they enrolled in your course. Plus, they are in the privacy of their homes, sometimes with children who will interrupt them. It may be impossible for them to take a test without interruption. Circumvent the need for proctoring by making every exam open-notes, open-book, and open-internet. The best way to avoid them taking tests together or sharing answers is to use a large test bank.

10. You have already had some kind of in-class work, I’m guessing, so you do not need to further authenticate their identities on exams. If you are suspicious that a student is cheating–for example, someone was previously performing very poorly on in-class assessments and is now scoring very well, which might make you think that they’ve hired someone else to take the class for them–address that situation individually.

11. Remind them of due dates. It might feel like handholding, but be honest: Don’t you appreciate the text reminder from your dentist that you have an appointment tomorrow? Your LMS has an announcement system that allows you to write an announcement now and post it later. As you put your materials online, write an announcement reminding them of the due date to be released 24 hours before it is due. The morning of, send a note to everyone who has not yet turned it in. (In Canvas and Blackboard, you do this by going into your gradebook and right clicking on the header of the assignment. You’ll see an option to email all students who have not yet completed the work. It takes less than 1 minute if you are already logged in.)

12. Alert them to any material that is not appropriate for children to watch, including minute markers for scenes of violence or nudity. Again, you need to assume that they are doing their work with children in the background.

13. Make everything self-grading if you can (yes, multiple choice and T/F on quizzes and tests) or low-stakes (completed/not completed).

14. Don’t do too much. Right now, your students don’t need it. They need time to do the other things they need to do.

15. Listen for them asking for help. They may be anxious. They may be tired. Many students are returning to their parents’ home where they may not be welcome. Others will be at home with partners who are violent. School has been a safe place for them, and now it’s not available to them. Your class may matter to them a lot when they are able to focus on it, but it may not matter much now, in contrast to all the other things they have to deal with. Don’t let that hurt your feelings, and don’t hold it against them in future semesters or when they come back to ask for a letter of recommendation.

****

This advice is very different from that which I would share if you were designing an online course. I hope it’s helpful, and for those of you moving your courses online, I hope it helps you understand the labor that is required in building an online course a bit better.

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466 thoughts on “Please do a bad job of putting your courses online

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  1. Totally agree, there are lots of legends about online courses and so on. Can you imagine Italian Ministry of Education has this idea to let the public school start again in september with online courses ? Until January 2021 ? Luckily, students teachers and parents took the streets (respecting the social distancing of course) to protest. To say the least, I find it offensive after all the efforts teachers students and families put in this emergency to say “wow, good work, just go on with the online classes !”

      1. Apparently, they justify the decision with the danger of Corona coming again. The thing is, the government rightly asks all the business to disinfect the places – therefore they would be forced to do the same, and considered the state of many public schools in Italy…

  2. Regarding Spring 2020 semester: It was like you were reading my mind, and putting my thoughts on paper. During an Instructor Department meeting, my co-workers were saying they were going to assign many online assignments & DEMAND that the students complete it all. I responded, “Are you kidding me?! The world is in a crisis right now….!” (That instructor doesn’t like me too much, now- LOL).

    1. Thank you for being a voice of reason!

      I suspect many people who kept trying to insist on business as usual were in denial about the depth or scope of this disaster. I am trying to be sympathetic to that, but we can’t allow their coping mechanism to hurt others.

  3. Hi Rebecca,
    a late, quick note to let you know that your most excellent post has now been translated into French (I assumed your authorizing a Spanish translation made it valid for other languages too). We use it in my University here in Paris to try and fight the tendency of all admins and a lot of colleagues to create a fantasy world in which online courses are the perfect solution to lockdowns (and of course in the long run, budgetary problems as well). Unfortunately, the high capacity of your average faculty member for complete denial makes it difficult for them to understand that no, posting reams of typed lectures and a few videos and then requiring a two-hours synchronous exam (seriously…) is not acceptable. Unfortunately at this point the crazies are squarely in the majority, probably because students have not had a chance to strike back yet —but tanks for the rhetorical arsenal anyway, it’s put to good use on a daily basis!
    Keep up the good work, and thanks again,
    Pierre

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words, Pierre!

      “High capacity of your average faculty member for complete denial”–what a fantastic explanation of it! I try to remind myself that they are panicking, too, and that denial is a coping mechanism, but…whew!

      I think we will find the answer in the fall, when students choose not to re-enroll in classes at all or at least not in certain people’s classes.

      Best wishes to you in France!

  4. As someone who was happy to finally graduate until the lockdown, I wholeheartedly agree on this post. We had schools blaming things on a student who could be going through depression. They don’t care about that since “It’s those damn video games” they want to blame.

    I’m one of the few people in my school that actually tries to help others through their negative thoughts but as the lockdown continues, I feel like my happiness is gone. Plus, with how teachers act at times and spam homework assignments which can be between 3-5 assignments, that made me feel worse!

    All I’m saying is that we need to rally around the schools and the boards of education to riot on how they don’t give a damn about students’ health, not thinking how they can access the internet if they don’t have the tools and stopping them from sending multiple assignments and have them do on the same day only a minute before midnight!

    1. Thank you for sharing your story here, Donte, and thank you for your care for your peers. You are absolutely right–faculty can do A LOT right now to help students, if they can think from the perspective of a student.

      And thanks for giving me the phrase “spam homework assignments”–that is exactly how it feels to students!

  5. As an educator, I felt like a lot of this was geared to college, not K-12. Also, I agree with about 40%. The rest is hyperbole, that’s my opinion! Here are some thoughts to ponder: K-12 kids don’t need to “save data”. K-12 kids ARE getting meals from schools and community (protected by federal law, supported by states/supts.). K-12 kids know technology, better than teachers. They may not have the executive functions to use correctly, but they ARE digital native. Energy should be given to all classes, who are we to throw in the towel. Roll up your sleeves and make THE MOST of this. We are teachers, we are creative. Synchronus work supports kids who may be socially isolated. In the case of our school district, it has also helped us identify when situations at home are challenging, and when students/families may need legal support (for this mental health/domestic violence issues). K-12 need that social interaction with their teacher! She says her kids listen longer than 5 minutes. In this environment, NO. Teachers will create better assessments with inquiry thinking than a test bank! This will also curb the cheating that she outlines (as a prevention). Open notes, detailed responses, LESS items. Good teaching has moved away from the T/F, multiple choice… we leave that to standardized testing (which is also horrible, IMO).
    To the comments about inequity- EVERYTHING about this is inequitable. Not just recording lectures. How will you guarantee that students have technology to watch period. Again, my perspective is K-12, but this is being shared all over in the K-12 parent population, and I wish you had made a distinction. I do work with University students, and they are nursing students. HIGHLY impacted now, and for them, a lot of what you said is true.

    1. Well, you are right—this is a blog mostly about higher ed. If something in it is useful for k-12, do it. If not, don’t.

      But it also sounds like you are missing the reason why this resonates with so many k-12 teachers: because setting impossible standards for students doesn’t help them. It loses them. When a parent has 3 kids in school and each has 10 apps they have to learn how to use amid every other difficult thing right now, you have assigned the parent an impossible task. And then no one is successful.

      Point is: keep it simple. Rely on good pedagogy, not a lot of tech. That’s less intimidating to teachers and more satisfying and leads to better outcomes for students.

      1. Your response to Sarah is so good. Even some teachers read and write in haste without reflecting deeply on the objective of the message.

      2. Thanks! I suspect that everyone is a little frustrated these days, and it’s hard to express that to the people who are actually at fault or who can make the changes we need. And it’s easy to misread or see things from the perspective that affirms how bad we already feel.

  6. I came to this article from another where the author kindly recommended it (Schmidt, S.J., 2020. DOI: 10.1111/1541-4329.12187). I am truly thankful for your point of view and valuable recommendations. I have never taught my students using electronic platforms or the Internet; however, this pandemic has forced me to introduce these “tools” into my teaching world. I appreciate your experience and willing to consider both, the students and ourselves, in this extraordinary teaching scenario.

  7. Thanks Rebecca
    very interesting this article. It helps me to understand the other side (students) needing. Thanks and ciao from Italy!

    1. Great read. My language department actually expects us to deliver synchronous sessions online. Naturally, my MWF at 9 a.m. quickly dropped to 1/3 participating. My TTh at 12:30 p.m. has participated 100%. But after 4 weeks (and I’ve never taught online), I’m exhausted by all my prep doing so much you suggested not to, including lecture capture and synchronous delivery. I am an adjunct that never wanted to teach online because I enjoy f2f. What to do when it is your chairs, deans, or administrators pushing us so hard?

      1. Wow, this is awful. I’m so sorry.

        Your university hired you because they think you are smart enough to teach a class, and you are, so do what you think is best. That they do not support you in doing this is a failure of their leadership. I’m sorry you are having to live with the consequences. And I am sorry that your students are, too. If only 1/3 of the 9 am class is participating, that’s a good sign that the system in place is failing–not that 66% of the class is lazy. So this is a perfect illustration of how aiming for what we might THINK is perfection (synchronous classes) leads to worse outcomes.

        If you realistically aren’t coming back in the fall–either because you expect enrollment to drop or because you don’t want to do this again (given that we are likely to be online in the fall)–then I would simply teach as I think best. Maybe that means one thing for the 9 am class and another for the 12:30. Maybe it means moving them both asynchronously. Maybe it means something else.

        If you are planning on coming back, can you ask a tenure track faculty member for support in petitioning the higher ups?

  8. Want to thank you so much for this article; it helped me to get started switching my in-person classes to online classes. I never wanted to teach online because I like being in the classroom with my students. It really spoke to me and was very helpful.​

    Hope that all is going well for you!

    1. Thank you, Charlene, for this positive feedback!

      I think we should recognize the sadness that many of us are feeling in this move to online. While we still have jobs, our job now is so different from the one we had before (one we likely chose because we loved it). It’s a big loss!

      I am hopeful we will find ways to love online teaching (even if not as much) this year.

      Onward!

  9. I’m actually part of the archives department at a university on the quarter system, and many of your principles are applicable to our situation and/or helping spark ideas to how we can teach with primary sources online. Thanks very much! And now I’m going to see what other posts on your blog might be helpful …

  10. Hi Rebecca, a dear colleague of mine sent me your post and I just LOVE IT. As a Spanish teacher in Germany, I am seeing how many of my colleagues are struggling with the pressure of going online (much of this pressure comes from their institutions!). Your post was enlightening, and I would like to translate it into Spanish and publish it in my site for my colleagues. With the proper attribution and link to your original article, needless to say. Would this be okay for you?
    Best health and safety, Noema Pérez

  11. Kia kaha Rebecca,
    As a New Zealand tertiary educator in design, I found your voice and courage inspiring whilst I remain positive during our COVID19 lockdown. A link to your article was published as part of a valuable wellbeing resource provided by our national tertiary education union (TEU) email update this morning. I have since shared it with my colleagues/administrators who equally found your words most helpful.

  12. “2. Do not require synchronous work. Students should not need to show up at a specific time for anything. REFUSE to do any synchronous work.”
    The first sentence makes perfect sense to me, as a matter of equity, etc.. The second, I have no sense of why you have written it — what do you mean to say? Hold no classes online, even if they are optional (and recorded for those who cannot participate)? I must be misunderstanding your meaning, for what you suggest appears to reduce classroom life to point-and-click feedback and one-on-one coaching (which I take to be synchronous work, unless it is by email and other non-synchronous media).

    1. I think you are getting stuck on thinking that an online class=a live session or recording of a live session.

      These create inequity. If we think live sessions are valuable, then we should also understand that a recording of that live session is less valuable–the difference, perhaps, between playing a game and being a spectator.

      If what is valuable about a live session is a lecture from the professor, without interaction among students, then there is no reason to do that live: you record it for everyone.

      I think, for right now, we have to find ways to teach that do not use any live features–because even if we record it, we are contributing to inequity.

      That doesn’t HAVE to leave us with a reduced classroom life. Asynchronous conversation in a class can be RICHER than synchronous conversation (because your 2-second thinkers and your 10-minute thinkers are no longer in competition for airtime).

      All of this is assuming a lecture/discussion model, and, of course, other people use other models. (I haven’t thought through, for example, how the Socratic method can be brought online).

  13. I wonder if the title of this page could have been “Don’t try to do a perfect job when you suddenly have to teach online-only” or “Just do the best you can when you suddenly have to move your F2F courses online,” or “How to teach a ‘good enough class online with little advance notice.” I think what rankled a few readers (although most of us are very grateful for Rebecca’s posts) was just the seeming request to “do a bad job” rather than not worry about doing a great job and try to be compassionate towards our students and ourselves. My university just decided today (two days after spring quarter had officially begun–although classes actually start next week) to offer all students the option of taking their spring courses Pass/No Pass–in part, I think, as an acknowledgement that moving all of our classes online with about two weeks to prepare could not possibly result in courses that really would provide the equivalent of our in-person classes–most of which are relatively small and rely heavily on faculty giving “personal attention to students.” I think that most of us who have never taught online before are learning as much as we can (or as much as we can handle) about how to teach online effectively but since very few of our faculty who teach undergraduates have ever taught online previously and very few of our students have taken online classes before, there’s been a fair amount of anxiety. I think D.W. Winnicott’s term “good enough” (which he used to describe mothers) is useful to keep in mind. We’ll all do the best we can under the circumstances, as we learn a lot about technologies we’ve never used and about pedagogy, education, and the meaning(s) of community.

    1. I suspect that that title was intended to provoke a few people. 😎

      I agree with you, and would like to repeat what I said below: If you’re adding to your class, either do it because it’s part of the normal class, or it’s really necessary under the circumstances.

  14. Rebeca, I never thought situations like the ones you have described with students in regular classes, being forced to take distance education, can be happening in a first world country. I am writing you from El Salvador, and your comments and suggestions have made our decision making process a bit easy in my university… “if this is happening there, imagine how our students and teachers are struggling in here…” Thank you very much for sharing…

  15. My partner’s school principal shared this with his staff and I wish my own administrators would do the same. Thank you for writing this.

  16. Thank you SO much for this great advice! I’ve been struggling to do many of the things you’ve advised to stop doing (synchronous classes, recording lectures, coming up with unique testing, too many assignments). I’m going to start putting all of this very wise advice into practice NOW.

    1. It’s easy to get caught up in doing too much—because teachers so often do too much so well!

      I hope you find some relief in stepping back and cutting down. The good news is that everyone will benefit!

  17. Yeah Rebecca, you have put me at ease while our Students and staff transition to a new style of learning enroled for! Fortunately my courses are Leadership and HR where we remind Students that as Leaders we are “Change makers” and early adapters.

    Our own school has provided so much information one can be overwhelmed yet greater than to little! One addition to your numbers~ In each correspondence with students is HUMOR. At times I copy and paste exaggerated pictures of our classroom and myself (borrowed from google images).

    As certain topics appear we often insert a title from a classical song. For example, when this “transition” first took place I typed we are no longer a “NINE TO FIVE” (by Dolly Parton) organization……… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbxUSsFXYo4 (always include the link)

    Another was: You may think our class now is a “BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER” (Simon & Garfunkel) yet we’ll make the best of this and also have fun! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrcwRt6J32o

    Our class remains with the same amount of homework, testing, and case studies yet if we can draw occasional laughs, many stresses averted! A couple Students emailed back and recommended uplifting songs to use in future “lectures”. Yes, someday when released we’ll all be singing “GOOD DAY SUNSHINE” (Beatles) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFxXoHkIwMk

  18. I agree with much of the advice in this post, including the parts about students being stressed, students not needing additional work with unpredictable deadlines, and students having difficulty accessing necessary technology. However, I think the author is unnecessarily dismissive about the issue of proctoring exams taken online.

    Of course most students are never going to dream of cheating on an exam. That is true whether they are in-class or out-of-class. But a small minority of students will take advantage of the ability to cheat, and therefore everyone (non-cheaters, cheaters, and the university as a whole) can benefit by having a proctored environment for “cheatable” exams. (For the basic science courses that I teach, there really are right and wrong answers that can be quickly looked up. Without closed-book proctored exams, it becomes hard to distinguish between students who understand the material and those who don’t.)

    Both of the institutions for which I currently teach have told us instructors that any exams that would have been proctored in-class will now be proctored online (and they provide the software and tech support to do so). It seems a little irresponsible for the author of this post to tell everyone, regardless of circumstances, to just throw that out the window.

    Having just proctored 80 students taking online midterms in four sections of two classes, I can say that technology issues did arise, but privacy / students’ rights issues did not. Some students didn’t have webcams or couldn’t install the software on their computers, so I proctored their exams individually or in small groups using Zoom on their cell phones. With patience and understanding, we worked it all out. I assured them that the images recorded by the proctoring software (Respondus and Proctorio) would not be used by anyone other than me, and that I would not even look at the video transcript unless there were any irregularities. No one questioned the need for proctoring or complained about it. For the students who were having technical difficulties and needed a Plan B using videoconferencing, it was actually a chance to get some face-time and to reassure them.

    None of this is ideal, of course. It’s true that the students didn’t sign up for this experience; nor did we. But it’s one thing to have realistic standards about what can be accomplished in a mid-pandemic academic experience; it’s another thing to say that we should not even try to uphold standards of student participation, contact hours, and academic integrity. If we look like we’re giving up, that’s not going to be very inspiring to our students.

    1. I don’t suggest giving up. I suggest alternative ways of ensuring the validity of tests.

      Even if students didn’t complain about privacy today (and how could they, given that we hold their tuition money), they still may. And they may have massive reservations but not be willing to communicate them to you.
      If you COULDN’T proctor remotely, what would you do? You’d write essay tests, perhaps. Or other things.

  19. Some excellent advice. I’d like to highlight though that it seems to be geared for faculty who are finishing up a semester long class online–versus those of us who are just beginning a 10-11 week class (March 30). One idea that I didn’t see emphasized is the value of finding respite in scholarship–playing with ideas that can help us deal with life challenges. Of course all of us handle stress in different ways–but I think we should promote this wonderful aspect of the academy. Again–because I’m about to begin a 10-11 week course– not finish up another class, I’m looking at my class as a shelter in the storm (for students and myself).

    1. For sure. I have a new series out for quickly building an online class for those launching in the next few weeks. You can check it out on my blog. The first post is called “START HERE.” If you start with it, by tomorrow you’ll have your syllabus built.

  20. Wow. There’s so much BAD advice here, that I wonder whether you have even taught before. Okay, I teach math instead of sociology, and I teach at Arizona State (for 20 years), where class sizes of 75+ have been the norm since 2008, so there are some issues that are different, but there is still a lot of bad advice here.

    Before I respond to the worst of the suggestions here, my 2 cents’ worth of advice for a teacher in the current situation is to ask him/her/itself: Am I doing anything that I wouldn’t be doing for a live class, and if so, is it absolutely necessary?

    Now for some criticisms. (This is not a complete list, btw.)

    (1) No synchronization? Really??? If I have a class with 90 students in it, I have to let every one of them take it when they want? I have to prepare 90 different versions of the test and grade them all myself (because I am teaching a class where the publisher doesn’t have a website)? Have you ever DONE that, Rebecca Barrett-Fox?

    (2) “Do not even survey them to ask if they have [a computer]. Even if they do, they are not required to tell you this.” Lovely. /s This opens the door for excuses upon technology excuses at the end of the semester, when it’s too late to do anything. (I’ve already lost control of disallowing TI-89s and TI-92s on tests.)

    By that logic, why not throw out the possibility of helping with disabilities as well, because that also violates a student’s privacy? Oh, yes, it’s because the point is to help the students overcome their disabilities. So trying to help students overcome the difficulty of not having a difficulty should be allowed, too, huh?

    (3) You also say things will go terribly wrong over the course of the semester. Really? Gee, I hadn’t thought of that. Too bad we can’t assign a temporary grade of Incomplete in such situations … /s

    (4) “Do NOT require students to use online proctoring or force them to have themselves recorded during exams or quizzes. This is a fundamental violation of their privacy, and they did NOT sign up for that when they enrolled in your course.” So, we’re allowing them to take tests unsupervised?

    “You have already had some kind of in-class work, I’m guessing, so you do not need to further authenticate their identities on exams.” Yeah, but that was UNSUPERVISED, and the point of tests is that we know that they took them.

    Once again, have you ever actually TAUGHT before?

    1. Christopher,
      I’m not going to respond to this point by point, but I will say three things:

      Your words are disrespectful, and your research skills are lazy. Have I taught online before? You can figure that. Trying to discredit my argument by attacking my credibility is lazy, especially because it’s very easy to discover that I’ve taught online before (about 600 students this year).
      Not synchronous test taking doesn’t mean writing 90 tests. It means using a large test bank, with questions drawn at random from sub-banks within it. Have I ever done it before? A gajillion times. You can find my post about how to design hard-to-cheat tests using good pedagogy, not invasive tech, on my blog. If you can’t figure out how to teach online without invading students’ privacy, I hope you will consider better practices.
      We do not help students “overcome their disabilities,” which is condescending and ableist. We help them succeed. Language of “overcoming” is… ugh. Please go educate yourself; make an appointment with DS as your university so as not to burden anyone not paid to help you with correcting your ignorance.

      1. (1) When I asked whether you had taught before, it was a rhetorical question. I thought that was apparent.

        (2) Test banks don’t work so well for math classes. I’m guessing that you wouldn’t know that, because you’re not a math person. For a given test, there are only a certain number of types of questions that could be asked. Creating tests that result in nice numbers (so that students can focus on the concepts) is difficult as well.

        (3) “Ableist” … that’s a new one for me (as well as the spell-checker in Firefox). Speaking as someone who has disabilities that I overcame (and some that I’m working on, like autism), I don’t have a problem when people use words like “disability”; I’m not a snowflake, and I certainly didn’t require any psychobabble. Political Correctness started out as a good idea but has gotten way out of hand.

        In fact, since you like PC so much, you should know how un-PC it is to talk to someone in the way that you did. With the way you phrased it, you wouldn’t

        (4) As for what you didn’t reply to, I assume that you don’t have a response. To re-emphasize: Not everyone has a computer, not everyone has a webcam (as I found out this past week; out of a class of 90 students, about 5 didn’t have one).

        (5) As for cheating on tests, it is harder to detect when giving math tests than the social sciences. If two students turn in identical correct essays, you know there was cheating. If two students turn in identical correct math tests, you cannot conclude that.

  21. Outstanding work! Being a fairly new teacher (10 years), and coming from the industry, Engineering/Architecture/Manufacturing, we must have this voice of reason. The expectations must be genuine, yet realistic in in the scheme of what is trying to be accomplished. Every teacher has their own set of skills, standards, limitations, etc. What the student needs is consistency and clear communication.

    You have worded all of your thoughts extremely well and I appreciate all of your comments. We have shared this blog across our departments at the high school level and the overwhelming response is… THANK YOU! I needed to hear that.

    Warmest Regards.

  22. There are a number of good suggestions in this post, but… while I recognize that there is not enough time to convert a F2F class to a perfect, amazing quality online course, I find this (sensational) call to do a bad job to be of poor taste. Students pay a lot of money to attend most universities and make sacrifices that most of us, as reasonably well-paid faculty, have long forgotten. I’m sorry, but we owe it to the students to do the best job we can.
    We’re facing an extreme situation, granted. And it won’t be perfect, not even close. We all have families and a variety of other stressors that will (and should) take the front burner, but not doing a good job on purpose (and because you’re afraid you’ll lose your sit in the F2F ivory tower – or you don’t want to give administrators the pleasure of seeing you rise to the occasion) is shameful. I say let us face adversity and face this challenge in a way that will be an example and an inspiration for our students.

    1. There is nothing in here that says–or implies–that I think we should cheat students or foot drag in order to deliver a deliberately bad product in order to protect our jobs. Not only do I not say that hear, I advocate for excellent online courses whenever we can make them available.

      My point is that if you aim above your students’ abilities, you will fail them. It’s better to aim for what they CAN do in this particular crisis and help them succeed at that instead of doing what an unfortunate number of my colleagues ARE doing, which is ADDING work to students’ lives because they erroneously think students are on a “staycation.”

      1. Rebecca, your title itself clearly says that we should do a bad job! isn’t that a call to “deliver a deliberately bad product”?
        You are calling for us to do a bad job putting our courses online at a time when online is the only thing that is available to our students.

        My plea is for us to to an amazing job going online in this time of crisis. And doing an amazing job should certainly include being sensitive to our students personal conditions and challenges (this situation will disproportionately affects students with disabilities, economic difficulties, minorities, etc..) This is a time for us to double our efforts, rise to the challenge, rather than “do a bad job of putting [our] courses online”.

      2. It is too bad people think of this horrible situation as a “staycation” for students. Our university has made a distinction between an “online course” which was designed to be online from the ground up, using external consultants and resources along with the professor, and a “remote course” which is what many people are doing now, holding virtual video classes during the regular classtime. I’m more inclined to develop something in between.

        The Adobe Education Exchange had a great format, where the courses had a weekly online synchronous meeting (two or three weekly to hit the most timezones) that were recorded so students can watch them in their own time.

        That is the largest benefit of computer or web-based instruction. Students have a lot going on in their lives right now and it’s our job to make their learning easier… but still academically rigorous.

        Now is the time for professors to become familiar with using online tools to reach students instead of being afraid of technology.

  23. I’ll just add my voices to those that have praised this post – it’s subversive and brilliant, and at the same time highly practical and effective. I’m a senior academic not only trying to put my own course online, but in my position also helping other staff, as well as being involved in senior institutional discussions. And outside I have an aged (89 year old) mother who lives alone and who I need to watch over carefully; ideally she’d be in some sort of supported living arrangement, but now? And I’m sure everybody that posts here has external pressures and worries. And some (most?) of us are scared, frightened, terrified – we would be less than human if we were not – of this very uncertain world. Anyway, thanks again.

  24. That’s the best thing I read about online teaching… students (and teachers) need some sense of continuity. I’m putting more time into the tech stuff 1) because I’m waaayy behind on that, and 2) to model for the students that ‘yeah, I can’, and 3) i don’t have much else to do in lockdown.

  25. Genuinely so grateful someone is saying this. My professors have made things that much more stressful, assignment tons of assignments to cover every aspect of the in person class. Things that took two seconds in class that weren’t even graded are now taking hours online. They’re all due at different days and times, causing so much unnecessary stress. I missed the entirety of last weeks assignments, not realizing anything was due, because I was so wrapped up in processing everything going on in my personal life. I’ve had to drop 2 courses that weren’t going toward my graduation because I just couldn’t handle the workload. I wish I could hand this article to every single professor out there.

    1. Dear Katclay6,
      Have you tried talking to (well, emailing) any of these professors? Perhaps they don’t realize how much time some of their assignments are taking, or how difficult the assignments are turning out to be, because, like many of us, they may never have taught online before and are trying to figure out what works. I think that most professors would be open to hearing from students about how the online experience is going and might consider modifying–or even dropping–some assignments if they heard from students (especially from several students) that the assignments aren’t working well online or are unmanageable. See if you can find a couple more students in the class who would be willing to share their input with the professors directly or, if not, you could send a group email to the professor quoting other students’ comments as well as including your own, and hope for the best. Just be nice about your criticisms and you might get a positive response :-). I know that I’d be open to hearing from students when our new spring quarter begins soon about what is and what isn’t working, since I’ve never taught online before. It’s a challenge to convert a course and the assignments for it to an online-only format, and your particular professors may have had to do so with little lead time and not enough experience or expertise in online teaching or advice about how to convert assignments and other course work to an online format.

  26. Thanks for your compassionate article. I’ve been working in online spaces for about a decade and there’s so much to learn! And, you’re right, that teachers can be such over-achievers. My colleague and I rushed together to put some of the resources down in a digestible booklet: http://leadinggroupsonline.org/.

    I thought your readers might want to know about it, because it’s in that spirit of be humane — and with some more detailed tips along the way.

      1. I wish I could share this with every one of my professors right now who are burying me in a deluge of busy work and little assignments all due on different days and times. I’m genuinely about to cry because I’ve missed so many assignments already due to the fact that I’ve been processing everything that has happened in my personal life already due to the pandemic.

      2. If you want to email me with the name of your university, I will contact your president, chancellor, or provost myself and tell them this, without sharing any of your information. (You can even send me an anonymous email from a gmail account if you like.) My email address is on my CV.

        Consider also contacting your student senators and student senate president and demanding leadership that puts students at the center: no work beyond what was already assigned, no required synchronous work, and no technology requiring significant bandwidth or new downloads of software.

      3. Before writing to the College President, Student Senate, etc., I’d recommend to Katclay6 that she talk with her instructor. I believe most of us are concerned about out students and that person just perhaps doesn’t realize that it’s not well organized or adding busy work to their students (particularly if they haven’t taught online before). Talking to your instructor and suggesting due dates on the same day, etc. might make that instructor re-look at their setup and make some needed changes for the good of their students.

    1. Thanks so much, Daniel. This resource looks really helpful (although I’m too busy grading for our winter quarter that just wrapped up to read the booklet carefully right now) as I continue to think about teaching all online for spring quarter. And thanks, thanks, thanks, to Rebecca for all her great advice! Thanks to others, too, who have been posting advice and suggestions–here and elsewhere online–for those of us who have never taught online before and now suddenly have to prepare all-online classes for spring quarter.

  27. Thank you thank you thank you. I appreciate your realistic and compassionate approach. You have raised the point about the OCD that afflicts so many of us teaching. You also point out how that can interefer with students’ needs for care and compassion from us.

  28. THANK YOU FOR THIS! After stressing myself out for the last 24 hours, THIS! YOU! have calmed me down!

  29. This is the BEST article/advice I’ve read in the last two weeks. Hoorah for Rebecca! Thank you! Thank you!

  30. While I don’t agree with all of the broad assumptions about student (un)readiness, I appreciate the acknowledgement of how crazy it is to think we can excel at this on short notice. My college posted the following message on its student COVID page:

    “Although it’s a big change, we’re excited about a new world of remote instruction. We have a 50-year history of innovation… offering new classes that aren’t found anywhere else in higher education. A shift to online learning is a bold new possibility for our creative and talented faculty…. In the vast majority of cases, our faculty and staff have been able to transform and adapt their material for remote instruction.”

    This hyperbolic PR stuff (written without faculty consultation) creates expectations that we can’t possibly meet. Best wishes to all as they participate in this scramble.

  31. And while you’re at it, don’t forget about librarians. We can do a lot, but we can’t do everything. Many college administrations are expecting library staff to come in to scan hundreds of pages of materials on reserve, if necessary. No one should be asked to endanger their lives — or someone else’s — by coming into work. Please adjust your expectations as we do what we can to help you from a distance.

  32. Thank you, thank you, thank you for articulating an immensely important message!!! So many of the efforts to expedite this transition of EVERYTHING to online is happening with completely unrealistic expectations — and in a vacuum. It will not serve the students and it will not serve teachers.

    1. One part of this that distresses me is how disrespectful it is of online teaching and learning. Every demand that we do this instantly, without training, without resources, etc is a reminder that some administrators simply don’t care to understand that teaching online takes time.

      They probably don’t understand it about in person teaching either.

      (Amid all the crises now, this is a small one, but it still makes me sad.)

  33. Spot on! As someone who has taught online — from ESL and GED to college courses and designed courses — since the 90s, this is first rate advice for this particular set of conditions. fyi just shared with Laura Gibbs aka @OnlineCrsLady

      1. The past few weeks I’ve been in several webinars about this transition, kept asking what about teachers new to online, reluctant and at a loss? Never got much of an answer — or at least not a useful one.

  34. Seriously? Digital/online education is the present and the future. While it will never replace human interaction, it will make higher ed more available, efficient, and useable to a greater majority of young people. The article should be about how to marry classroom/traditional higher education with online/digital learner to complement and enhance student skills from both; not how to do a bad job at designing and making available higher ed courses online. Shame.

    1. I’m a big advocate of online teaching, as you will find if you poke around in this blog.

      But in the middle of a public health crisis, without enough resources, with students who may be in crisis AND who didn’t come prepared to learn this way isn’t the time to embrace that challenge. For faculty who haven’t already built an online course, there isn’t enough time to do it to the standard of excellent online education. Recognize that and build for where your students are and you can still reach your learning outcomes; build a course with unfamiliar, costly, and hard-to-use tech and we will lose students.

  35. Thank you for your thoughts and advice. It really helped me to put all of this (putting a class online) in perspective.

    Muriel

      1. Thanks again, Rebecca, for all your posts, good ideas, collegiality, and compassion (including advice to practice self-compassion as well as compassion for our students). Once I finish my grading for winter quarter in the next day or two, I’ll really devote myself to reading all the advice I’ve been gathering before I start teaching online in two weeks as I design my now all-online spring course.

  36. Thanks for the helpful article, Rebecca, but it’s really geared toward those teaching on semesters. Those of us on the quarter system only had to manage a week or two of moving our classes online as our winter quarter drew to a close, but now, and still with only a bit more advance warning, we have to totally re-design our about-to-start spring quarter classes to be all-online. Those of us on the quarter system really don’t have enough time or experience in online teaching to create a really wonderful and successful online course. Much of your advice is still useful (like not aiming for perfection and keeping larger social, political, and affective issues in mind), but some points really only pertain to those trying to get through a semester that is, for many people, already well underway. Can you adapt some of your other advice for those of us who are about to start a new quarter, with new classes, and have only about 2 weeks between finishing our grades for winter quarter and starting spring quarter to learn all we can about teaching and learning online?

    1. Would it be helpful to have a quick tutorial for how to do this for the longer haul? I’m thinking that many of us are already thinking ahead to intensive May terms or 7 or 14 week summer terms, which are unlikely, I think, to be in person. Even with more time to prepare for them, there isn’t enough time to follow the procedures to create the best online-by-design class (A 3.0 class takes 100 hours in my experience, and I don’t see how someone teaching a May course could get that done while also managing what they are carrying now.), so we may be in for at least a summer worth of doing the best we can with limited resources, preparation, and time.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Rebecca. I’ve tried twice to post replies (starting right after you’d quickly responded to my original post) and they went into the ether (due to login issues, I think), so I’ll keep this shorter (and cut and paste it before trying to post it). Our new spring quarter starts, nominally, March 30, but the univ. admin. is giving faculty (and students) the week after that to engage in “continuity of instruction preparation.” Like most of my colleagues, I’m still grading work from winter quarter before our grades are due later this week. So is there some additional advice you can give those of us who will have, in effect, less than two weeks to design a class to be online-only? TIA for your reply.

  37. After a crazy week trying to put 3 physics courses on-line, your post is more than welcome, thank you so much!

  38. Thank you. Your words are very helpful reminders of more of what others are dealing with.
    Best health and safety, Sue Michaelsen

  39. Ok, I read your article and you make valid points. However, your comment “Electives and GE classes are an important part of a good education, but we have already decided that what students learn in any one of those courses is not vital,” I find insulting to those of us who teach the arts. I found nothing vital in math or science classes. Language arts? Definitely. History? Definitely. To say that whatever subject YOU teach is the only VITAL, life-giving well of knowledge is pompous, arrogant and overly pretentious.

    1. Higher ed—even the classic liberal arts, of which I am a graduate and in which I teach—have already decided that GEs are a whole are foundational but that any PARTICULAR GE is not.

      For this semester only, I recommend that if you have to triage your classes (which not all of us have to do) and if you are teaching both GEs (which are usually taken by 1st and 2nd year students) and core courses for graduating seniors, after you meet your minimum obligation to your GE students, give your extra attention to your major students.

      This isn’t because GEs aren’t important; it is because the university has already decided, in naming a class as a GE, that it’s primary value isn’t in the specific course content but in how it teaches students to think critically, engage a different disciplinary approach, etc. And since we typically require many GEs from students, if they don’t get that in stellar form from your individual class between now and mid-May, it will be okay because they have or will get it in other GE classes along the way.

      I don’t suggest that to denigrate GEs. I say it because strong GE programs mean that, in this crisis, we can give them less attention for the short term.

    2. Your comment makes a lot of assumptions…the author did not single out humanities and art classes in that comment. You made the assumption that they meant “art classes are pointless”, and you also made the assumption that they teach STEM. Neither of those things were mentioned in the article. They only mentioned gen eds, which CAN INCLUDE STEM CLASSES. Your reaction is completely out of bounds and there is ABSOLUTELY no reason for you to be so insulting!

      1. Thanks for stepping in, Zithee. Some of the meaner comments in response to this post have been just bonkers. I’m trying to chalk them up to high anxiety and the safety that folks feel in being anonymous online, but whew! It makes me grateful for good colleagues!

    1. I am hopeful that students will soon inform admins that they need and want F2F classes. Even though there are good digital books available, most students still prefer paper ones. I think we will find the same with online classes. Even when they are great, they don’t serve most students’ needs.

      Now, will admin care? I don’t know.

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