Toggling between in-person and online this semester?

Many of us will spend this semester teaching in person some days and online the next, depending on school, county, or state (depending on how your state makes these decisions) guidelines, with little notice. To help yourself and your students, aim for a consistent experience, so that what they do when class meets together physically is similar to what they do when the course is fully online. Consistency will help students manage their time and help make sure that nothing (or fewer things) fall through the crack since it limits the changes in a semester full of them.

Create an LMS site that works the same if you are in-person or online. Allow however you start the semester–in-person or online–to set the pattern for the rest of the semester, independent of whether the class is online or in-person. For example, if students were completing weekly reading quizzes during an online start, keep it up after you move to in-person, or if you start in-person, including online reading quizzes even then, so students are familiar with them should they switch to online. This avoids having to re-orient students to a course that is organized in a very different way. Additionally, it will make it easier on you should you need to transition your course online or hybrid. 

Include assignments due within the first days of the course, whether online or in-person, that require students to use tech skills they will also have to use if you remain or move online. Include assignments that orient them to online learning, like a quiz over the syllabus, a time management assignment (like completing a time diary or a study calculator), and a discussion board post in which they introduce themselves. 

Assign graded work quickly. Typically, online courses require 2-4 graded assignments per week; set that pace at the start whether online or in-person. Include at least one substantial graded assignment within the first week. Students are more confident and engaged in courses that included frequent and early graded assignments.

If your hope is that your class won’t be online all semester, make something due at the start time of every class hour during times when you are online, even if you aren’t meeting synchronously.  This keeps students in the habit of “showing up” at that time. [Note that once-a-week deadlines are just fine for fully-online classes, but we’re now talking about classes that might move between online and in-person on a day-by-day basis.]

Require the submission of work to be via your LMS whether the class is online or in-person, being sure to put due dates and grades in the gradebook. This lowers the likelihood of passing germs in class and also makes it easier for your students who may need to stay in quarantine or isolation to complete their work. 

Because some students may need to stay in quarantine or isolation longer even if your class meets in person, avoid talking about online learning as burdens that we resent; this will only make quarantine or isolation harder for students already suffering. Instead of celebrating the end of this time, speak about the shift from online to in-person instruction as a way that we are flexible, resilient, and considerate of each other. 

Communicate correct information repeatedly. While we need to be flexible, it’s also exhausting for students when they receive multiple emails with continually updated information. In fact, they simply stop reading constant updates, figuring that the new information you just sent will be outdated before they need it. This creates a cycle of students ignoring your increasingly frustrated messages. Instead, decide and commit: make your choices (due dates, policies, assignments) and commit to them. Consistency is more important than perfection, so unless something is going very wrong, don’t make major revisions. 

Have a tip to share? Post it in the comments so we can all learn from your experiences!

Vermeer’s The Art of Painting (1666-1668) shows a painter facing away from us and his model, a woman in blue, facing us. Behind her is a large wall map of the Low Countries. The painting includes symbolism referencing history, poetry, and the Liberal Arts. Can we design courses so that a map to the kinds of thinking we will ask students do to is built right into them?

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