Working with notepad, coffee, and computer

As I write this, 43 institutions have decided to suspend face-to-face classes to slow the communal spread of the novel coronavirus [update as of 3/11 @ 1:46PM: the number is 147]. In almost all cases, the plan is not to cancel classes, but to ensure the continuity of instruction through “remote teaching.” In other words, thousands of instructors across the country are now being asked to transition their courses to an online modality, and to do so in the space of a few days or weeks.

Although I have no insider knowledge about what Wake Forest will do, it makes good sense for those of us teaching this semester to begin to prepare.

Luckily, we have many smart colleagues across higher education preparing resource guides for us (1, 2, 3). And here at Wake, Academic Technology, the Office of Online Education, ZSR, the Instructional Technology Group, and educational technologists in the professional schools are all working together to prepare Wake-specific resources in the coming days.

Yet the possibility of this transition may still be overwhelming for many of you. As someone imagining how she will transition her own divisional course this term, I feel this pain. Should Wake decide to close, each of the offices above, as well as the CAT, will be available to offer concrete advice for your specific situation. But the first step of preparation is to step back, take a deep breath, and set some realistic expectations.

You may be tempted to radically rethink what you’re doing right now. Please don’t. A radical redesign of your course or the introduction of radically new technology will take an enormous amount of time for you to plan and for your students to learn, all at a time when everyone is already stressed.

Just do your best to come up with some approximations using technology you and your students already know (even if it’s just email!), and if you can’t find an approximation, just drop the assignment (or goal) for the semester.

The resources I shared above, and that will be shared in the coming days, will have a lot of information about how to teach an online class well (yes, it can be done!). Some of these tips might be helpful for you, but most will be far beyond the scope of what you can or should do in this situation. You’re not going to teach a well-designed online course in this scenario. And that’s OK.

As you explore the tools and strategies above, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Will this tool/strategy help us continue what we’re already doing without much adjustment?
  2. Do we already know how to use it? If not, will it be easy for us to learn?
  3. How many other adjustments will we be making to the course structure and technology?

Another great piece of advice is to loop your students into your decision making process. They may have ideas you haven’t thought about, and giving them a say will increase their engagement. If we don’t immediately close, I’m planning to talk with my students about this when they return from Spring Break. We may even take 30 minutes at the beginning of the first class to practice with some potential tools.

Finally, it’s important to always remember why we’re in this situation in the first place. We’re doing this because our community is in the midst of a public health crisis, and that crisis will impact our teaching and our students in more ways than one. We should certainly do our best with the resources available to us, but also realize that protecting the well-being of our students and our community is our ultimate priority.


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