Whether a hurricane or a massive snow storm decides to barrel through central Virginia, do you have a contingency plan for your course if you can’t meet in the classroom? Having a contingency plan, regardless of whatever disruption comes our way, is always a good thing to have. The CTLT can help, and below are the tools/methods we support that can help you keep your students on-track even when unable to meet face-to-face. If you have any questions about these or simply want to get started on building your plan, reach out to your CTLT liaison or contact me (Mike Dixon) directly.

UR E-mail is the official communication method:
Make sure students understand that they are responsible for using and checking there UR e-mail accounts regularly and that you will only communicate and respond to them using your UR e-mail account. Students may e-mail you from one of their personal accounts, but to ensure your students get your replies and messages, always send from your UR e-mail account to a student’s UR e-mail account. If you use Blackboard for your courses, you can e-mail your classes easily using the new Qwickly tools below your course listing on the main Blackboard page.

Conducting discussions online:
The Blackboard Discussion Board tool allows you to organize topics for discussion (putting each topic in their own individual forum). You can even hide student entries from students who haven’t yet participated, keeping the late-comers from “borrowing” from the efforts of students who contributed earlier. Once a student has contributed their first entry, they can then see everyone else’s work and continue the discussion. Grading can be enabled for discussions and you can grade each student’s effort individually, without having to search through the entire set of threads. If you don’t have a Blackboard course set-up for your classes, you can use this link to login and request them now.

Help on Blackboard discussion boards:
-Creating and managing discussions [ lynda.com ]
-Grading discussions [ lynda.com ]

UR Blogs (WordPress blog) can be used to gather student input in numerous ways. Each student or a group of students can have their own blog to contribute within, or you can create just one blog for everyone’s contributions. There is no grading feature built in, so assessing individual student efforts in a blog may require a bit more work than the grading feature in Blackboard. Request a blog.

Providing asynchronous instruction or lecture recordings to your students outside of class:
Have you heard of Panopto? If you have created a Blackboard course recently, you might have seen a “Panopto Videos” link in your left menu. Panopto is a tool that lets instructors record from their own computers (or record in select classrooms equipped with cameras/mics) their instruction, whether it is a lecture, demonstration, or simply instructions for students to complete work. Whether at home or in your office, using your computer to record information for students can take the place of what you would offer in the classroom. We like to call this “desktop capture”. Panopto can record your computer screen, your voice, and your webcam (optional). Once you complete a recording, it gets processed and becomes available to your students to view in Blackboard. Panopto does have a one-way “live” broadcast feature, but students are not able to participate, just watch. Panopto is really designed to help you create recordings of content you would have covered in class.

Meeting with your class synchronously online:
While this method adds some complexity in terms of both trying to organize a good day/time for all students and you to meet at simultaneously and ensuring all students have sufficient Internet access and a suitable device to handle a live video conferenced class, it’s as close as you will get to the classroom experience online. While the University does not have a product or service that offers this service to all instructors on campus, there are a couple of solutions we can suggest.

We have some Adobe Connect “host” licenses that we can assign to instructors for a minimum of 7 weeks (Adobe doesn’t let us change hosts except for once per semester), or your CTLT liaison can set-up an Adobe Connect “room” for each your classes on a specific day or time (the liaison has to be in Adobe Connect at that time for this option to work, so collaborating with your liaison is essential). Adobe Connect requires Adobe Flash Player for computers, but for mobile devices it works without Flash. It allows your students to hear and see you (and you can hear/see them if they have a web camera and mic on their device), there is a live chat option for Q&A or for those having audio issues, and you can share your computer screen with the class, or allow a student to “take the reins” and do a presentation, etc. Each class session can be recorded as well for later viewing. Everything runs within your computer’s browser.

A free option that I have experienced in an educational setting that seems to work well is FreeConferenceCall.com. It does most of what Adobe Connect can do, but is a bit more simplistic to get up and running. It does have a recording option and runs within a web browser.

Giving and collecting assignments and assessments online:
There are a couple of tools that UR instructors have used for assignments and assessments: Blackboard and Box.

Blackboard has a good set of tools for both creating assignments and quizzes/tests, as well as deploying these for students to complete. Assignments in Blackboard are easy to grade. If students submit a written assignment using Microsoft Word, you are able to access that Word document within Blackboard and can offer annotations and commenting. Rubrics can be set-up in Blackboard as well, if you prefer to grade that way. Creating quizzes and tests in Blackboard can take some time to key in questions and answers, the latter of which is important if you want to offer a more objective type of assessment that will be automatically graded. Or you can pose essay questions in the same Blackboard test tool where students can submit and you can grade manually. Blackboard has additional features to reduce the chance for cheating, using timers and randomized questions/answer choices.

Help on Blackboard assignments:
-Creating assignments [ lynda.com ]

Lynda.com help on creating Blackboard quizzes or tests:
-Best practices for using online assessments [ lynda.com ]
-Create new Blackboard quiz/test [ lynda.com ]
-Creating multiple choice questions [ lynda.com ]
-Creating essay or short answer questions [ lynda.com ]
-Setting test availability and deploying the quiz or test [ lynda.com ]

More recently, as we’ve become accustomed to Box at UR, some instructors have used this tool to create a place for students to get assignments and/or a “drop box” location for students to submit assignments. Box can also store content for your students to access, including playable video and audio content. E-mail our science liaison Andrew Bell to learn more about teaching using Box. Check our workshop schedule for sessions on this topic, or request a workshop for your department.

Help on using Box to collect student work:
Uploading files to Box with e-mail

Other online learning resources for students:
Don’t forget that all instructors and students have access to Lynda.com…providing a huge video library that can help you and/or your students learn software, skills, methods and other topics useful to them and possibly your class. Instructors can create “playlists” in Lynda.com and share a link to the playlists to students as an assignment for students to view. Atomic Learning also offers easy linking to their content (or portions of a particular “course”) to share with students.

This is not a complete list of all the possibilities in terms of what these tools can do. The best first step is to talk with your CTLT liaison and discuss what is best for your teaching style and course needs. As one who has taught online for over 12 years, I can assure you these online tools can offer a robust online learning environment if used correctly. While I hope we never have to resort to a long duration without the ability to meet with our classes face-to-face, having a plan in place with the right tools ready to go provides piece-of-mind, knowing any disruption of class will be short-lived.

-Mike Dixon, Assistant Director
Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology @ University of Richmond
804-289-8066 (direct)