Transitioning to Remote Course Delivery

Overview

This article will provide guidance and best practices for suggestions on how to prepare your classes in advance of a disruption, and procedures you can follow to ensure you are still able to reach and teach your students if any shutdown or incident prevents your class from assembling on campus. 

 

Audience

University Employees

 

Information 

These are the six areas of course development to examine and prepare for online delivery:

  1. Communication with Students

  2. Synchronous Discussion (Collaboration)

  3. Asynchronous Discussion (Discussion Board)

  4. Provision and Deployment of Course Materials

  5. Formative and Summative Assessment and Grading 

  6. Measuring Participation

The above areas will be detailed with descriptions of best practices and links to resources, providing guidance and step by step documentation including text, images and video.* 

* It is important to note many resources in this article are hosted by Blackboard and may contain additional information - please keep in mind that when clicking through these links, the version of Blackboard that Saint Peter's University is using is "Blackboard Learn Original Experience", not "Blackboard Ultra". 

 

1. Communication with Students

In both short term and long-term scenarios in which the classroom is inaccessible, communication to students on a frequent basis is key. The “ANNOUNCEMENTS” area in Blackboard allows faculty to create messages that are sent to the entire class of students. Announcements are best used for guidance purposes, and brevity is an important consideration, however they can be as detailed as you like. 

It’s best to use Announcements to: 

  • Let students know the latest about when classes will resume/where they will occur.

  • Let students know what they should be working on, and when they should be working on it.

  • Alerting students of upcoming assessments.

  • Providing overall feedback on class activities.

  • Generally providing students with the information they need on a continuing basis to be able to succeed in your class. 

To create an Announcement, go to your Blackboard course, and click on the “ANNOUNCEMENTS” button on the left side. Then, click the “Create Announcement” text. 

Here, you will be able to enter both a “subject” and “body” text. The “subject” is what will appear as the subject line of your communication - make sure to be detailed but brief. The “body” is the message you would like to send. Expand the toolbar to reveal 3 rows of icons that can be used to create and format your message - you can include text, images, audio, and video, as well as links and files. 

Once you have crafted your subject and body of your Announcement, make sure to click the box next to “Sent Email Immediately”. This guarantees that the message will be sent to your students. Finally, click the “Submit” button. You will see the message has now been posted, and you will also receive a confirmation email as well. 

If you wish to modify an Announcement you have made, hover your mouse pointer over the title of the message, and click the grey Chevron (arrow) dropdown, and select “edit”. After making your changes, click ‘Submit” and the changes will be saved. 

This short video shows how to create and use Announcements in your course: 


2. Synchronous Discussion Tools for Collaboration 

Collaboration tools, such as Google Meet, can be used in a variety of ways, for example: 

  • To hold synchronous class sessions, by hosting a meeting and having the class join in using their computers, tablets, or mobile devices, while you discuss and demonstrate the lesson; 

  • Lecture-capture, by creating a meeting with just yourself, enabling the Recording feature, and presenting material along with narration as if you were conducting a classroom lecture; then posting your saved session to Blackboard for students to review.

  • Facilitating class discussion projects remotely, by hosting a meeting, having students join the session, and engaging in discussion concepts and topics, or allowing students to present group or individual projects using these video and audio tools.

Please refer to this article to learn about Google Meet, and how it can be used to provide the above solutions and more.

 

3. Asynchronous Discussion Tools (Discussion Board)

Discussion board is built into your Blackboard courses, and provide you with the tools to conduct asynchronous discussion - that is, responses posted over a period of time. In using discussion board, you can present one or more questions for students to reply to (as "Forums"), in which part of the assignment is also to view their classmates’ responses and provide feedback on their replies. This is an ideal tool for large classes in which it may be difficult for all students to meet remotely at the same time. Using this tool in a larger class also allows more opportunity for students to contribute to their classmate's discussions and expand upon points made. 

Here's a short video showing how the discussion board can be set up in your course. 

Here is a video demonstrating one way to grade discussion forums and other collaboration tools such as Blogs, Journals and Wikis: 

 

4. Provision and Deployment of Course Materials

Over 90% of Saint Peter’s University faculty have added at least one piece of content to their Blackboard course, such as their Syllabus. Creating and posting course materials for students is not much more complicated than creating and posting the syllabus in your course. 

First, it's best to make sure you can organize your content. On the left menu of your course, determine where you want your course content to be added, and click on the blue button to add it - for example, "Week by Week". 

Within this area, it's best to set up one or more learning modules to store your content - think of these as "folders", to help organize your content by week, chapter, topic or unit. One way to set up your modules is following the class weekly schedule. For example, a module named “Week 4: The Civil War (March 9 - March 15)” would contain all materials you would use when teaching this topic in class. Here's a helpful step by step process for setting up these learning modules. Once you have learning modules set up, the next step is to add your content. The video below goes through how to enter your learning module and add content. 

Note - you can follow the steps in the above video outside of your learning module, to add content directly to your course as well. 

 

5. Formative and Summative Assessment and Grading

Formative assessments are assignments, reviews, and observations that happen during instruction. These include writing drafts, informal quizzes, and discussions. Instructors can use formative assessment to improve teaching methods during the teaching and learning process.Formative assessment can be conducted online in the form of knowledge checks, discussions, quizzes, or assignments. These are largely feedback-driven and should have minimal bearing on the student's actual course grades, but should help you as the instructor determine how well they are understanding your course materials and whether your curriculum needs any adjustment. Formative assessments can also serve as a basis for considering differentiated instruction, if you determine through formative assessment that some students are performing better than others.

Summative assessments are assignments that are used after instruction to make a judgment of student competency after instruction is complete. Summative assessments can also be conducted using knowledge checks, discussions, quizzes or assignments - the key difference is that these assessments should provide the basis for the student's grades in the course, challenging the student to demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired in your class, while providing adequate feedback for improvement.

Both formative and summative assessment should include due dates, which are strongly recommended for ensuring that students understand their submission deadlines, as well as helping you keep track of missed deadlines/submissions.

Grading should accurately assess the student's knowledge of the subject manner and incorporate feedback. Grades entered for assignments in Blackboard will be visible to your students in their "My Grades" area in your course. While grades can be expressed in either letter or number format, we strongly suggest entering grades into Blackboard using numerical values, so that any calculated grading and weighted totals that you wish to set up will accurately calculate. Letter grading is always tiered - For example, a grade of "B+" in your class may indicate a score of between 86 and 89 on the assignment. If you enter B+ directly as the assignment grade, it will calculate based on the average between the tier parameters, which may not give you an accurate final calculation. In the same example above, if you grade the student as having an 89 on the assignment, then all calculations will use the correct value of 89 to calculate other grades. Please note, however, that you can choose to output a letter grade to students, while recording the corresponding numerical value - this is determined by the Grading Schema used. Here is an article on setting up and deploying Grading Schemas in your course. See the "Assessment and Grading Resources" section below for more information on grading assessments.  

Discussion Forums for Assessment

Discussion Board (Section 3) can be used for both formative and summative assessment. In using discussion forums for formative assessment, ask your students to reflect on knowledge they have gained from your course's content in a way that allows them to both demonstrate concepts gained, and to uniquely "put it in their own voice" for other classmates to reflect on. In assessing students this way on the discussion board, grading with a rubric is recommended, although not mandatory - however, it is essential to provide relevant feedback on their submissions. The discussion board provides an excellent opportunity for this in terms of classmates being able to provide this feedback along with the instructor. A good example of a formative assessment using the discussion board would be to insert students directly into the role of a character within an event, or concept covered in the materials, provide a relevant situation, and have them reflect on a course of action to take in the role of that character in that situation, along with mandating that all students must provide insight into their classmate's perspectives. This, coupled with feedback from the instructor, can solidify the student's understanding of the character, the role, and the situation identified as well as multiple perspectives. While feedback should be given, these do not necessarily need to have a quantitative grade - they can be scored based on whether the student participated and completed the objectives outlined. 

Alternatively, discussion forums can be used for summative assessment in a similar manner - The difference in this case is that the student should be presented with a rubric based on the quality of their responses, rather than simply measuring their participation. Again, here, feedback is valuable and should be provided, but the student should be scored based on the rubric, which the student should be familiar with prior to undertaking the assignment. In a discussion board, the classmate participation element can be scored as well - quality and depth of reply and using correct references should be part of the scoring mechanism. 

Blackboard Assignments for Assessment

Blackboard Assignments can also be used for both formative and summative assessment. Similar to discussions, formative Blackboard assignments should allow the student to reflect growth or knowledge gained. A good example for a formative assessment is a series of reflection papers in which the first assessment serves as a baseline, and having following iterations demonstrate growth in knowledge or change in opinion based on the course content they have encountered since the baseline was submitted. 

Blackboard Assignments generally are thought of as summative assessments and can be used this way very effectively. Quite simply, the instructor provides the instructions for completion of a problem, project, or solicits answers on questions concerning the subject matter, and the student demonstrates this knowledge by creating the project following these instructions, answering the questions, or solving the problem, by uploading their responses digitally; the student should receive a score that reflects relevancy to the goals of the project, problem or questions, and as a rubric, is available to the student before undertaking the assessment. This score should be accompanied by constructive feedback that goes into any missed points in detail. 

Both formative and summative assignments can make use of SafeAssign, a built-in plagiarism checker, although it is much more widely used in summative assignment. Here's how to set up and use SafeAssign in your Blackboard assignments.

Blackboard Tests for Assessment

Tests can be set up on Blackboard to assess students formatively through use of knowledge checks. In setting up knowledge checks, an assessment can be configured so that students have multiple attempts to take the test, and are given informative and helpful feedback. Knowledge checks can be "end of chapter" assignments consisting of true/false, multiple choice, matching, short answer, or essay type questions. Timers and visibility restrictions can optionally be applied, but are generally not needed in this capacity. These tests should be configured so that the student is able to see both their results and feedback immediately following their submission. 

Tests can also be used summatively on Blackboard, including for midterms and final exams. All manners of questions can be asked, and restrictions such as timers, visibility settings, and access limitations can be implemented. Creating/utilizing a deep pool of test questions assures students will have less chance of encountering the same questions, and the results reporting can be configured that it only becomes available after a specified due date, or after all attempts have been graded, to discourage cheating or plagiarism. Many 3rd-party material providers such as Cengage, Pearson and McGraw-Hill provide instructor resources that can contain pre-built test banks that can be used for Blackboard courses with the assessment tools. Instructors can also design and administer their own personalized tests. 

Assessment and Grading Resources

For more information on Rubrics on Blackboard and how to create these, please click here for our Knowledge Base article.

For more information on how to grade using a Rubric in Blackboard, please click here for our Knowledge Base article. 

Here's information and steps on how to set up an Assignment on Blackboard as well as how to edit/manage it.

The below video shows how to grade Assignments that have been submitted by students: 

This article explains more on how to grade Blackboard Assignment submissions.

This article explains how to set up and configure a Blackboard Test. 

This article explains how to edit/modify Blackboard Test questions.

This article explains how to configure the options for your Blackboard test, such as setting a timer, visibility, and when/how the student will be able to see the results. 

This article explains how to grade students' test submissions in Blackboard.

This article explain how to navigate and use the Grade Center in Blackboard. This allows you to view your students' grades, to create and manage columns for assignments which do not have online submissions, access assignment submissions that have already been graded, and calculate weighted average and totals for your students. 

 

6. Measuring Participation

In traditional classrooms, participation is visible and audible in the classroom, and is often part of calculating the student's grade. Digitally, participation can also be considered for assessment, but there are different ways to assess this. 

One such way to assess participation can be gauged when using collaboration tools. The same participation metrics used in a classroom can be applied to virtual class sessions through a collaboration tool, such as involvement in discussion, attentiveness, and presence in meetings. Outside virtual class sessions, digital participation can be gauged effectively using the reporting tools within your Blackboard course, such as the Retention Center. 

This article shows how to use the Retention Center, which will help you keep track of your students' participation in terms of meeting deadlines.

This article provides information on other course reports that you can use to determine your student's level of participation and access within your Blackboard course. 

 

Conclusion

The best practices and concepts addressed in this article have been collected and assembled through direct experience in conducting effective online classes and collaboration across industry peers. While technology rapidly evolves and the specific step-by-step details of creating, setting up, accessing or conducting a technical task may evolve over time, best practices in teaching should apply to both online or on-ground delivery formats. Effective communication to students, deployment of materials, collaboration and discussion, and assessment should provide your students with as much feedback and guidance online as in-classroom. 

Other institutions have also posted guidelines and resources on similar subjects - these can be found below. While they may not be entirely relevant to your personal classroom experience or any transitioning need affecting Saint Peter's University classes, the best practices and concepts highlighted can prove to be a valuable resource.

The primary and supplementary resources referenced here can and should be able to be utilized during any time of need; from conducting class sessions during a snow day to providing materials to students and conducting effective assessment remotely during a long-term campus closure. 

 

Support

For more information on Google Meet, visit their Help section to search for answers.

For assistance with issues or for a demonstration or guidance with using the tools outlined in this article, please make a request for IT Client Service assistance via our service catalog, email us at servicedesk@saintpeters.edu, or contact us at 201-761-7800.