This week:

  • I share reader insights into what works for them as Covid continues to affect teaching.
  • I point you to a new meta-study on active learning.
  • I share stories about teaching you may have missed.

What Works

Recently I asked readers to tell me how they have adapted to another semester of teaching under Covid. Your responses were innovative and creative. Some of you are still teaching fully online. Others have figured out how to provide access to students who may be quarantining. Still others concluded that keeping an online version of their course at the ready, even when everyone is face to face, provides a lot of much-needed flexibility. Here are a few of your ideas:

Make note-taking easier: Elizabeth Scheyder, a senior instructional technology project leader in the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, says she has started writing more-detailed slides to help those who missed class keep up with the discussion.

“Instead of pithy talking points, I elaborate more, so students who have to miss class can understand them. I don’t want to bore the in-person students, so I have the text appear one bullet at a time.”

To help students who aren’t there catch up with in-class discussions, she tabulates responses in one slide. If students are put in smaller discussion groups, she asks one member to take notes and send her a picture. She uploads it to a discussion board that she creates for each class.

Foster online discussions: Terry Ord, an associate professor in the School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales, in Australia, moved his class online during the pandemic, where it has stayed. Many of his students are from other countries, so he has had to figure out how to create a lively, asynchronous online community.

Ord created a forum centered on the lecture content. He broke his class of about 70 students into study groups of eight to 10 students, which remained fixed throughout the course. Then he released recorded lectures in groups of three to four at a time. The students had two to three weeks to watch them, post questions, and respond to other students’ questions.

“It was a huge hit,” he writes. “Most students went well beyond the requirements of the Q&A forum, spending time discussing ideas with each other and posting expanded details on content that they’d independently researched online. It was wonderful.”

The quality of discussion is actually better, he says, than in his face-to-face course, and the Q&A is mentioned as one of students’ favorite components, with many saying it pushed them to think for themselves.

Offer flexibility with assignments: During the pandemic, Alex Lange, an assistant professor of higher education in the School of Education at Colorado State University, began giving students more flexibility in their assignments and due dates, a practice Lange is continuing. “I found it helps students get some power and autonomy in the course, and I consistently hear about it in my course evaluations as something to definitely keep for the future.”

In one course, for example, students are given three due dates for short papers but only have to write two. In another, Lange requires five response posts over eight weeks, so students can skip three weeks.

“They do not need to tell me in advance which papers/responses they are skipping/not completing,” Lange writes. “I find this helps students structure their own time, not have to feel shame for telling me they will not do a certain week, and allows me to still have a predictable flow of feedback to offer students!”

Allow students to record presentations: Seth Matthew Fishman, an associate teaching professor of education and counseling at Villanova University, has kept the option of letting students record their presentations instead of having to do them in person.

“This provides a more universal-design option for students, some who struggle managing their fears of speaking or may be able to present themselves and their materials more effectively in a different format,” he writes. “I have noticed an increase in the quality of visuals and creativity; several students have commented they appreciate the option, even if they didn’t use it.”

It also saves time, he notes. “I have the links or files submitted in advance ready to show, reducing time between presentations fumbling with cords and space.”

To encourage students to try recording videos, Fishman, who is also assistant dean of curriculum and assessment in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, builds in several low-stakes assignments early in the course, such as a three-minute video on a higher-education historical artifact in his history of U.S. higher-education course.

Get creative with final projects: In her fourth-year course on nonviolent communication, Sharon Lauricella, a professor of communication and digital-media studies at Ontario Tech University, in Canada, allows her students to choose the format of their final project, rather than requiring a standard research paper.

Lauricella began using this approach a few years ago and thinks it has worked particularly well during the pandemic. This spring she received, among other things, a series of podcasts, a collection of artwork, a reflective Instagram account, and documentary-style videos.

“This freedom was so important because students (a) had the space and time to be as creative as they wanted or could be, (b) could play to their strengths, experience, and suitability to the subject of their project, and (c) it was SO FUN for me to assess each student’s submission because they were all so different.”

More Research on Flipped Learning

A new meta-analysis on flipped learning, reviewing data from more than 300 studies, offers some food for thought. “To Flip or Not to Flip? A Meta-Analysis of the Efficacy of Flipped Learning in Higher Education,” in the Review of Educational Research, found overall positive results with flipped learning. But as two of the authors, Patricia Roehling and Carrie Bredow, explain in this Brown Center Chalkboard post, it’s important to consider what you’re measuring and in what context.

For instance, flipped learning “was particularly effective at helping students learn professional and academic skills,” they wrote. They also found that the strongest academic gains and gains in intra/interpersonal skills were found in language, technology and health-science courses. Math and engineering courses showed the smallest gains, which the authors surmised were because the first group of subjects are more skills-based, and that class time can be used to practice and master those skills.

The authors also concluded that “more isn’t always better.” The greatest gains were found in courses that are partially flipped and include some lecturing. “Given the time and skill required to design effective flipped class sessions, partially flipped courses may be easier for instructors to implement successfully, particularly when they are new to the pedagogy,” the authors wrote. “Partially flipped courses also give instructors the flexibility to flip content that lends itself best to the model, while saving more complex or foundational topics for in-class instruction.”

We know that many of you have experimented with, or fully converted to, flipped learning in your teaching. What have you found works well in structuring a flipped course? Does flipped learning work better for some types of content and not others? Are there things you did to fine tune your approach that led to better learning outcomes? Write to me at beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com and your story may appear in a future newsletter.

ICYMI

  • “What is something that you were taught was good pedagogy but actually is not?” Read the responses in this informative Twitter thread started by Guy McHendry, an associate professor of communication studies at Creighton University.
  • Beckie and I have been enjoying this video, “Worst Lecture Ever,” produced by Lindsay Masland, an associate professor of psychology and the coordinator for early career programs for the Center for Academic Excellence at Appalachian State University. We see a second career in acting for Lindsay.

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

— Beth

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