This week:

  • I describe one university’s foray into fully mobile access.
  • I pose a reader’s question on collecting nonverbal feedback from online students.
  • I point you toward some recent articles you may have missed.

College, Fully Mobile

A college can offer the best online courses in the world, but it won’t do students any good if they lack an internet connection or an appropriate device. So I was intrigued to learn that Los Angeles Pacific University had developed a new app, “myLAPU,” that gives students full access to their courses on the go.

The idea is that students can complete and submit assignments — in all of their courses — without leaving the app. (They can also connect with university services, such as registering for courses and chatting with an academic coach.)

While the move is timely, given teaching conditions in the pandemic, it was in the works before Covid-19 hit. The university, a fully online institution spun out of Azusa Pacific University, was designed to serve a working-adult enrollment fitting schoolwork around a host of other responsibilities. Those students might have a good internet connection and a laptop at home; but they might also need to submit an assignment from the sidelines of a kid’s baseball game.

University administrators realized they’d need to be fully accessible on mobile devices to reach today’s students, said Frank Rojas, executive vice president and chief operating officer. But the university also surveyed students about what they needed, he said. “They told us: We’re looking for faculty presence, accessibility. We want to be connected to other students, and we want to feel part of a community.”

All courses at Los Angeles Pacific are taught asynchronously and offer opportunities to connect with classmates in that vein, for instance in written or video discussion posts. Administrators wanted to be sure they didn’t give students another avenue for connecting that would be duplicative or confusing.

So the university created in the app a feature, inspired by social media, that allows students to share posts with the whole student body or in specific channels for, say, students who are moms or who are connected to the military. Students can also send direct messages to one another.

Those features have allowed discussions about courses to extend beyond the students who are taking them together, Rojas said. He’s observed students’ posing questions about a course they’re considering taking and getting information in response from students who’ve taken it before. “It is connecting students,” he said, who “might not have otherwise had a connection.”

The challenges of working remotely and of helping students connect with their peers are just about universal these days. So I wonder: What do you think about the mobile-app approach? Are there lessons here you can apply to your own teaching? And what else have you found to meet these needs? Drop me a note, at, and your thoughts may appear in a future issue.

Crowdsourcing: Nonverbal Student Feedback

A reader was struck by an aside in a recent newsletter in which I mentioned that Joel Brewster Lewis, an assistant professor of mathematics at George Washington University, uses emojis to gather nonverbal student feedback online.

The reader, Raquela Thomas, a postdoc at the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center, explained that she was looking for other ways to gauge students’ mind-set online. “I initially thought it made sense to require students to keep their cameras on (which ought to also help keep them engaged, since they can’t secretly be doing other things while on camera),” she wrote, “but I am learning about some issues with this.”

I told Thomas I’d pose the question here. How do you collect nonverbal feedback from students in your online courses? Let me know, at If I get some good responses, I’ll share them in a future newsletter.


  • For the latest column in his “Distracted Minds” series for The Chronicle, James Lang responds to a question he’s often asked: “My students aren’t the only ones having trouble focusing. How can I use these ideas to help improve my own attention?”
  • What lessons from pandemic teaching will professors carry forward? Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching is sharing instructors’ perspectives in a new series on its blog.
  • Maha Bali, Autumm Caines, and Mia Zamora offer insights on building community in an online course in the latest episode of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast.

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