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Surveying the Teaching & Learning Landscape: How Faculty Are Planning for Fall 2020

Last week, we surveyed faculty to find out their plans for the Fall semester so that we could share with the wider Miami community. We've received a lot of great insight and feedback from the survey, so much so that we'll roll out a series of articles ahead of the Fall start.

In light of the announcement that Miami classes would be fully online until September 21st, we asked: How are you planning to adjust your course to be remote for one month?

Preparing and planning

Many faculty have been involved in various stages of course planning by having prepared in the past, preparing throughout the summer or last-minute, or simply not preparing at all. "My classes were already designated as hybrid," one instructor wrote, so they already had lots of online material. Over the summer, they "planned for some students to take the entire course remotely." Another instructor wrote, "I was already planning to be remote for the semester."

Working hard over the course of the summer "to prepare for a hefty teaching load, new classes, and shifting playing field" was undoubtedly a common experience. Some faculty noted they were completely redesigning their face-to-face courses for the digital learning environment: "I'm ‘hacking' everything." Many are spending these last weeks ahead of the Fall 2020 start to prepare and adapt learning activities and assessments for the online format.

Chip Hahn, an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Speech Pathology & Audiology, wrote: "I am planning as if the course will be fully online/remote for the entire semester, and if we actually get F2F time, that's an unexpected bonus."

Others are simply waiting to prepare, whether they are holding off on planning because of the changing situation or find themselves confused by messaging.

Using technology tools

Whether teaching a face-to-face, hybrid, or online course, there is a wealth of available technology that can impact the student experience. We found a good balance between faculty who knew about course tools already and those that are actively learning how to navigate a digital learning environment.

Many instructors plan on hosting online synchronous class sessions with Webex or Zoom. To increase engagement, faculty are planning for group activities, chats, and polls during live classes—some hope Top Hat can help facilitate that goal. Others will hold scheduled online office hours.

For those who aren't planning on having synchronous class meetings, they're leaning on video and applied readings. In some courses, recorded video lectures will be "chunked" into parts—smaller, 5-12 minute segments—for better student engagement.

Over in the sciences, special considerations have to be made. Since students can't attend in-person classes for labs or practice problems, those activities will have to be moved online. In addition to virtual labs, TAs will complete a lab and videotape it; students will then take data from the video or use data collected by the TAs for analysis.

Taking different online approaches to achieve course goals

We found a few schools of thought. Some faculty are thinking about adapting and translating a course to an online experience, instead of mirroring a face-to-face course. This group is thinking about how to accomplish the same goals through different means, taking advantage of the medium to deliver an equivalent learning experience.

Others are thinking of transferring their course to an online experience, seeking to mirror or re-create the in-person experience through live, synchronous methods. One professor notes he will "make use of Zoom and its breakout rooms to accommodate whole class and small group discussions."

Faculty in between these two options are planning for a blended online learning experience, seeking the best of both synchronous and asynchronous online experiences. Blended learning can be a great option when planned carefully as a seamless, integrated experience; otherwise, it can lead to double the workload for the instructor. 

For more of a blended online learning experience, one idea mentioned was to take each day of what would have been a scheduled class and give it a different focus. Lynette Hudiburgh, Senior Lecturer in Statistics, is going to use Webex Teams and meet synchronously. "One of our class days each week will be used to answer questions and work through problems together," Hudiburgh wrote. "The other day will be set aside for group work on projects."

Keeping students in mind

As we all deal with these sometimes stressful and challenging moments ahead of the Fall semester, it's important for us to keep our students in mind. Julie Alexander, a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Farmer School of Business's First-Year Integrated Core (FYIC), wrote: "I will be balancing synchronous and asynchronous content, providing resources strategically so as not to overwhelm, and using terms like 'contribution' instead of 'class participation.' I'm also renaming my office hours 'student drop-in hours.'"

Next week, we'll share more ideas and advice from fellow Miami faculty as we prepare for the Fall start on August 17.