UPDATE: here’s the tl;dr:
Last Friday afternoon, my university (University of Calgary, a big public research university) announced that classes will no longer meet on campus for the rest of the semester. Courses are to be delivered online instead.
Obviously the cancellation of on-campus classes doesn’t come as a shock. A few days before the cancellation, faculty were asked to start preparing for this possibility. And I haven’t been living in a cave, so I’m well aware of all the other colleges and universities that have been cancelling on-campus classes. But still, I’m in the same boat as I’m sure many of you are–having to completely revamp how I will teach several weeks worth of a class, on fairly short notice. Here are my initial tentative thoughts on how I’ll do it. I have no idea if they’ll be useful to anyone else, but that’s for y’all to decide. And if you have any feedback or relevant experiences you want to share, that’s what the comments section is there for, I’m all ears!
- Background: this semester I’m teaching a large(ish) intro biostats course–128 students. It ordinarily has 3, 50-min. lectures/week, plus a weekly 3 hour computer lab led by a grad student TA (6 lab sections; 3 TAs). We have 4+ weeks left in our semester, so ~1/3 of the semester. We have a textbook from which we assign readings.
- I am not trying to make lemonade out of lemons here. I am not looking to use these next four weeks to try out any new pedagogical techniques that I hope to reuse in future. If that’s what you’re doing, good for you (seriously), but it’s not me. If I end up doing new prep that I can reuse in future, or discover that I love making videos about ANOVA, or whatever, great. But that will be a happy accident. My job is to help my students master the remaining course material as best I (and they) can in very difficult circumstances. Without either under- or overrating the importance of that task in the grand scheme of things.
- I am polling students this weekend as to what their biggest concerns are about the course moving online, and to ask them for their suggestions as to how to run the rest of the course.
- One of my biggest worries is making sure students keep up with the material and practice it. My current course has incentives for students to attend lectures and labs, and to pay attention and engage when they’re there (e.g., clicker questions during lectures, which they have to answer 75% of to get a participation mark worth 5% of their final grade). Now there are no more in-person lectures they’re more or less obliged to attend. So one idea is to put a lot of practice problems online, and oblige students to do them by giving marks for problem completion. (and maybe also some bonus marks for getting problems right?)
- Planning to put my lecture slides online (which will make many students happy; I don’t let students have my slides when I’m teaching in-person classes because I think students learn better when they take their own notes). Debating whether to record myself talking about them in PowerPoint or Zoom. Will take into account student opinions on this.
- Am considering going through YouTube and identifying good videos covering the concepts and techniques I want to cover, so that I can point the students to them. Am dreading doing this because there are a lot of bad intro stats videos on YouTube.
- Labs can still continue more or less as usual, I think. They’re computer-based labs using R. The vast majority of students already use R on their own computers rather than using the computers in our computer lab. The lab manual and prelab slides are already online, and students who have to miss a lab due to illness already just work through the lab manual and practice exercises on their own time to stay caught up. And they already mostly do the lab assignments on their own time and submit them online, so that can continue as usual. Some lab work is group work, though, which might be more challenging for the students to complete if they have to coordinate their own group meetings online. And they won’t have a time when they’re all in the same room as the TA to ask the TA questions. So maybe set up some kind of online chat room where students can ask questions about the course material? Maybe even schedule weekly chats with the TAs during the timeslots in which the labs were previously scheduled? Pretty sure our course management software (D2L) has a feature for group chats.
- The course was supposed to have a 2-hour final exam worth 30% of the course mark. Not sure what to do about that. This is a question on which I’d really welcome input, because I’m torn. Here are all the options, as I see them. Note that I think some of these options are bad, but I’m trying to cast a wide net here. Options include (1) cancel the final exam; base the mark in the course on the midterm + the lab assignments. (2) distribute an open note final exam online (due, say, 24 h later), ask questions that demand reasonably lengthy written answers, so that students can’t plagiarize one another without being detected. It would be a lot of work to write and mark such an exam, but it could be done. (3) Distribute my usual sort of final exam online. Tell the students they’re on their honor not to plagiarize their answers. Don’t worry about the fact that some of them might plagiarize anyway. I only have so much time and mental energy to deal with all the fallout from COVID-19, so maybe I shouldn’t spend too much of it writing and marking a whole new final exam just to make sure a few students don’t plagiarize. (4) Figure out if our course management software (D2L) has the capabilities to give a decent final exam. I’ve never used D2L to give quizzes, much less a final exam. (5) Come up with some sort of replacement assignment for the final exam. Maybe have every student do some little independent project about some application of statistics in everyday life. Or maybe have them all write reports about the COVID-19 data! 🙂 😦