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Class Is in Session

For most Northwestern instructors and students, April 6 marked the start of a radically transformed spring quarter. The challenges for our community are many, but the Teaching & Learning Technologies team has seen an incredible response from faculty, students, and staff. We’d like to share some good news about how the first week of spring quarter went.

Class Is in Session

In a matter of weeks, our community moved about 2,260 courses into remote instruction format. We could see that the hard work done by faculty and staff to prepare for April 6 had paid off when we saw a relatively low number of support requests come in that first week. We received no reports of classes not able to meet as planned due to a technology issue.

It isn’t just that the technology systems were able to handle the increased demand. It also means that faculty and students successfully used software programs that were unfamiliar to many just weeks before. Over 1,600 faculty, staff, and teaching assistants attended a workshop with Teaching & Learning Technologies during the past few weeks. And there were many additional sessions held by departments, schools, and other units. Beyond those training sessions were the hours of preparation and organization that moving a class to remote instruction required. Your hard work showed as we jumped the first hurdle.

Student and Faculty Feedback

Over spring break, student employees from Northwestern IT and the Weinberg Media and Design Studio provided practice Zoom sessions for faculty. One of those students, Jane, ’20, shared that “one thing I’ve appreciated most with all my professors this quarter is that they are being very understanding and flexible.” She pointed out that recording Zoom sessions means that students can access the content even if they are in a different time zone, have family commitments, or are ill.

Student feedback organized by Annie Lin, ’20, Medill School of Journalism, included the observation that even when using the “raise hands” function in Zoom, students may not have the opportunity to contribute in class. Medill students suggest these two ideas to help manage student participation in synchronous sessions:

  • Assign students to be “chat moderators,” taking on the role of monitoring the chat and choosing who to answer, or have students propose questions and pick other students to answer. You can rotate these duties each week.
  • Instead of asking students to physically raise their hands, have students write in the chat box “I have something to say” or “I’d like to comment.” Select participants from the chat, so everyone has an equal chance to contribute. Since the chat shows messages chronologically, you can see who first participated.

Raquel Amorese, Assistant Professor of Instruction in Spanish and Portuguese, echoed the challenge of Zoom-classroom management. “While I’m presenting or sharing my screen, I can’t always see the students. So, I tell them to speak up when they have a question. I set that expectation for them,” she said.

Since instructors can’t share their screens to all breakout rooms in a Zoom session, pre-planning is important. Some instructors have taken to posting discussion questions into the chat before sending students into breakout rooms. Raquel Amorese has begun creating and sharing “detailed lesson plans that include all the questions, instructions, and important notes they need for their breakout rooms.” She then posts them to Canvas for students to reference during their Zoom sessions. She has seen this technique pay off in her sessions already. “Even though it’s more work upfront, we are able to spend more time in class on the material that matters,” Amorese said.

Finally, taking time during class to build connection is an important goal. Medill students suggested randomizing breakout rooms throughout a lengthy class so that students can meet with different people each time. Overall, student feedback showed that they appreciate flexibility and ongoing adaptation from faculty members.

Recognize Your Progress

Take a look back at the past month and consider the incredible amount of creativity and hard work it has taken to get where we are now. Classes are running. Instructors and students are adapting to challenges every day. Pat yourself on the back, take a break, and we’ll face the unknown instructional landscape ahead of us together.

Further Resources

Explore the resources in the Canvas Learning Center or request a consultation to address anything from your first two weeks of classes that you’d like to improve. You can also join our upcoming Town Hall conversation about transitioning to remote assessment.