Requesting OTLE help with online course transition

Because of our expected workload in the coming weeks, we need to start prioritizing help requests. We’re using a Google form to process help requests in the order they’re received.

Put in help requests at the following link:

Survival Snacks #1 - Synchronous Online Teaching (WebEx)

WebEx Tutorial Videos

Here are three brief tutorial videos regarding WebEx. The first is a step-by-step video showing you how to log into WebEx, start a meeting, share the meeting link with your students, and some of the tools you can use to administer a WebEx meeting. 

The second is a video that you can share with your students, showing how students can join your WebEx meetings. I suggest copying and pasting this video link into the Announcements section of any courses where you’ll be using WebEx for synchronous lectures or meetings.

The third is a video about sharing your WebEx recordings with your students.

Is WebEx right for you?
Relying on WebEx to deliver your content online is one option for getting through this situation. Is it the right option for you?

WebEx Pros
  • Minimal preparation required; you can largely deliver the lecture and discussion you were planning on delivering in a classroom.
  • You can record WebEx meetings so that students can watch them later.
  • WebEx meetings are synchronous: The students and faculty are online at the same time, and can ask questions and respond in real-time.
  • You can maintain the current class routine, by hosting WebEx on the same days and times that the class met previously.

WebEx Cons
  • WebEx relies on a robust internet connection. If every instructor uses WebEx at high-use times, the performance is not going to be very good.
  • Students are likely to lose attention and tune out during a long web lecture. Regular Q&A periods and other interactions will be critical.
  • Some students may struggle with the technology. Not all students have computers at home or in their dorms. Students CAN join WebEx via their phones, but the experience is not always great.
  • Synchronous online meetings offer less flexibility for students who aren't able to attend a meeting at a particular time.
  • You need a camera. Pretty much all laptops should have cameras and microphones built-in. If you’re on a desktop computer, you’ll need an external webcam.

    OTLE has a limited supply of cameras that we can check out, and we have more on order.

Alternative video meeting software

WebEx is just one of many online video meeting platforms available. WebEx is what MSU-Northern has paid accounts for, but other tools have fairly robust free versions. "Skype for Business" is also available to faculty through MSU-Northern's subscription to Office 365. and are also good alternatives. Because of our workload, OTLE is not going to be offering direct support for these other tools at this point.

Survival Snacks #2 - Asynchronous Online Teaching

In many situations, creating asynchronous (non-realtime) content is going to be a better, more reliable option for your online students. In an asynchronous course, the instructor creates and curates content that students can access at any time. Asynchronous content avoids problems like scheduling conflicts, internet bandwidth bottlenecks, and unexpected technology problems. Below are a few asynchronous formats that you might consider.

PowerPoint slides with notes

The simplest thing you can do to get started is to upload your PowerPoint slides and lecture notes into Brightspace. It’s best to use the Content area in Brightspace, and to organize content by creating weekly modules. If you haven’t been putting course material in Brightspace so far this semester, just start with a module for next week, Week 10.

If you don’t feel very comfortable with using and organizing the Content area in Brightspace, Jason made this tutorial video that explains the various features. 

Written lectures

Written lectures can be a really straightforward way to pull together and curate information for students. There are a few ways to do this:

1. Outline form. Start with a basic outline of the book chapter or current lesson in a Word or Google Doc. Find the key points that you really want to hammer home and add additional explanation, real-life examples, stories, or media links to the outline that illustrate those points well (e.g., a video, a news article, an infographic). Here is an example of this kind of written lecture.

2. Narrative form. Another option is to write out your lecture completely in narrative (essay) form rather than outline form. Here is an example of this kind of written lecture.

Once you’re finished, save the document as a .DOCX or .PDF and upload it to the Content area in Brightspace.

Pre-recorded videos

There are several ways to integrate pre-recorded video content into your course materials. For those that involve recording your computer screen, we recommend the free online program Screencast-o-matic. You can read directions for getting started here.

1. Video lectures. Pre-recorded video lectures involve either a webcam video of the instructor speaking at their desk, a screen-recording of a PowerPoint slide deck, or both together. Here is an example.

2. Screen-recorded tutorials. For courses involving specialized software or computer processes, a screen-recording can be an effective way of delivering content.

3. Demonstration videos. Demonstration videos can supplement lab content by showing a procedure or experiment. Here is an example of a simple lab demonstration video. Currently Jason is on campus and available to help with recording. Some quick tips to help your recording session go smoothly:

  • Prepare items needed for the demonstration ahead of time. With enough preparation and organization, you can record multiple demonstration videos in less than an hour.
  • Don’t worry about making it perfect; authenticity is important. Own the mistakes and move on like in a classroom.
  • Make eye contact with the audience by looking directly into the camera lens.
  • Relax: it’s not going to be perfect. Focus on getting the content to the students.

Assessment of asynchronous content

Regardless of how you choose to present your course content online, it’s critical to include effective assessment activities. You need to ensure that students are engaging with the content and are retaining knowledge. The most common assessment tools in Brightspace are Quizzes, written Assignments, and Discussions. Each tool serves a different purpose, and most online courses use a combination of assessment tools.

If you haven’t already, start thinking about what kinds of assessments could effectively measure student learning in your course. Are multiple-choice and short-answer quizzes sufficient? What about personal reflection journals or short papers? If student interaction is important, online discussions may be appropriate.


Survival Snacks #3 - Quizzes and Assignments in Brightspace

Regardless of how you choose to present your course content online, it’s critical to include effective assessment activities to ensure that students are engaging with the content and are retaining and applying knowledge. The most common assessment tools in Brightspace are Quizzes, written Assignments, and Discussions. Each tool serves a different purpose, and most online courses use a combination of assessment tools. Today we’ll cover Quizzes and written Assignments.

First, start your Gradebook
Your life creating online activities is going to be much easier if you first build a Gradebook. Here’s a short video about creating a Gradebook, including the merits of weighted systems vs. points systems. Contact Jason or Caleb if you need any help building a Gradebook in Brightspace.

When should I use Quizzes?

Online Quizzes are primarily used for formative assessment: that is, helping you and the students gauge whether they are learning what they should be learning. For instance, Quizzes can test students’ basic comprehension of readings or lecture videos, or help them practice foundational knowledge.

Quiz questions in Brightspace can be created in a true/false, multiple-choice, short-answer, or written response (long answer) format. Generally true/false, multiple-choice, and short answer questions test lower-level thinking; however, they can be designed to test higher-order thinking. Here’s a Tech Snacks handout about designing higher-order thinking questions in Quizzes.

Setting up Quizzes in Brightspace

This video provides an overview of how to make Quizzes from scratch in Brightspace.

If you have quiz questions already created in a Word document that you use for paper tests and quizzes, you can convert them into Brightspace quiz questions. This question conversion tool will let you copy and paste text (with a bit of special formatting) and generate a Brightspace test bank that you can import into your courses. Read the instructions on that page carefully, and contact us if you need help.

Many textbook publishers offer pre-built quizzes and question pools, but we strongly recommend not relying on those if at all possible. Students can find virtually every publisher-created test question and answer on “study guide” websites like CourseHero, Quizlet, and Chegg. Here’s a handout we created on the topic of cheating and cheating prevention.

Admittedly, given the situation you might have no choice but to temporarily rely on publisher questions to supplement your assessments. If that’s the case, you should consider using them only for low-stakes, formative assessment and not high-value tests.

When should I use the Assignment tool?
Written assignments can enable a huge variety of assessment strategies: worksheets, reflection papers, journals, essays, research papers, etc. These can be lower-stakes assignments for formative assessment purposes, or they can be higher-stakes assignments that assess higher-order thinking and cumulative learning.

Setting up written Assignments in Brightspace
In Brightspace, you’ll need to set up a new Assignment folder for each individual graded writing activity. Here’s a comprehensive video showing how to setup an Assignment folder, how to grade and provide feedback, and what an Assignment folder looks like from the student viewpoint. Once your students submit a written Assignment to your folder, you can insert comments, edits, and other annotations directly in the submitted document in Brightspace. No downloading or uploading of files is necessary.


Survival Snacks #4 - Discussions in Brightspace

When should I use Discussions?

The Discussion tool in Brightspace can be used to engage students with important course concepts while also giving them an opportunity to interact with other students (and the instructor) about these topics. Discussions are typically used for formative assessment purposes and are usually graded as lower or medium stakes assignments.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using online discussion as a learning tool. Discussions in Brightspace, for instance, are not synchronous (real-time). This means that the instructor may have to work harder to facilitate timely contributions and conversational flow than they would in a live classroom. There are also advantages, however. For instance, students who are reserved in person may thrive with the opportunity to collect and organize their thoughts in writing.

Setting up Discussion Forums in Brightspace

Here’s a comprehensive video showing how to set up Discussions. You’ll also want to have your Gradebook set up before you start building discussions. Here’s a video showing you how to set up the Gradebook.

Grading discussion activities can feel overwhelming, but it’s manageable if you use a Grading Rubric and the Gradebook. As demonstrated in the video above, Caleb has created a generic Grading Rubric for Discussions and made it available in all courses. You can use it as-is, make a copy and modify it to meet your needs, or create a new Grading Rubric from scratch. Feel free to contact Jason or me if you have any questions about Rubrics.

What about Video Discussions?

A new feature recently enabled in Brightspace is the Video Notes tool. You can use Video Notes to quickly record and upload short, auto-captioned videos up to 3 minutes. As of yesterday we’ve enabled Video Notes for students, so that they have the option of recording short videos and using them in their Discussion posts.

You might want to consider Video Discussions as an alternative option or supplement to written Discussion posts, to allow students to see and hear each other. And for those who are ready to start using Video Notes right away, here’s a tutorial video that you can share with your students.


Survival Snacks #5 - Maintaining Social Presence in Brightspace

What is social presence, and why should I care?

Social presence is the awareness of other people in an interaction, and a conscious appreciation of the interpersonal aspects of that interaction. In the context of online learning, it’s the recognition that there are other humans at the other end of the computer interface. It’s an intentional effort to reveal yourself as a person, and an effort to recognize your students as people.

That might sound a little “squishy,” but your ability to maintain social presence in this strange time is going to be critical for keeping students active and engaged in their learning. If students feel like they’re being left adrift in a hastily prepared online course with no instructor guidance, they’re going to stop checking in and completing work.

How can I create social presence?

1. Craft weekly messages to the class. Even in the best of times, students can feel anxious about their progress or isolated and lost without an overview of where the class has been and where it’s going. Regularly summarizing the class’s key conclusions and overall progress as a group can sustain a sense of direction and help students feel a “common experience” in the course. It also builds instructor presence. This message can be presented in text or video form in the Announcements section.

2. Call attention to model work or interesting points. Direct the class to a particular discussion post or dialogue that is intriguing or meets your expectations well. Likewise, if a student excels in a written submission, you might ask if you can share a passage (named or anonymously).

3. Use social cues to humanize the course. Now is the time to start practicing your “written voice.” When it comes to weekly announcements, emails, and discussion posts, you should strive to express authenticity and personality. When appropriate, use social cues that either reveal yourself as an individual, or recognize the individuality of your students.

Social cues that reveal the instructor
  • Expressing humor
  • Exhibiting emotion
  • Providing self-disclosure
  • Interjecting allusions of physical presence (and temporality)
Social cues that recognize other participants
  • Using greetings
  • Addressing people by name
  • Complimenting others’ ideas
  • Offering support/agreement for an idea

What does all this look like in practice? Maybe something like this:

Good morning everyone, it’s Monday and I’m sitting at my kitchen table with my laptop and a cup of coffee, hoping everyone is doing okay! Last week’s discussion was great. I really liked what Amy said about using social media in her teaching practice. “This month is Native American Heritage Month and I had my sister who is a Dakota Language Teacher in South Dakota do a Facebook video chat of her and one of her classes. My students asked questions and she was able to answer them live.” Inspiring stuff, Amy.

What tools are available to help maintain presence?

1. Video Notes. As we’ve described in previous sections, the new Video Notes tool in Brightspace makes it quick and easy for faculty and students to record and post short, 3-minutes-or-less videos directly into Brightspace without the need for a screen recorder or YouTube. Use Video Notes as part of your weekly announcement. Consider using Video Notes as part of your written feedback on student assignments. Video Notes can also be used as part of Discussions.

2. Brightspace Chat. Brightspace has a live text Chat tool, available under the Classroom tab. The Chat tool is extremely simple but can also be extremely useful for live written conversation or virtual office hours. You can create General Chat rooms where anyone in the class can hop in and out at any time. You can also create Personal Chat rooms that are only visible to students that you select. Here’s a video about using the Chat tool in Brightspace.

3. WebEx Office Hours or Check-Ins. Instead of using WebEx (or other video conferencing tools) to host virtual lectures, you can use WebEx to host virtual office hours, or optional weekly “check-ins.” Students often appreciate having the option of popping into a meeting once a week, to ask questions or just to make sure they’re on track with the rest of the course.