As you plan how to move to online teaching for the rest of the semester, it may seem that using a video conferencing tool like Zoom is the best option to replicate the face-to-face classroom experience. But using a live (“synchronous”) approach online raises a number of challenges, including:
- students who now live in different time zones (perhaps several away!)
- students who may live in countries where Zoom is not allowed
- students who now have family obligations that keep them from meeting at the same time
- students who suddenly have living arrangements that are not conducive to participating in live meetings
- students who may not have adequate access to technology and internet
These and other issues of equity and access should be considered when how to plan your course; the “digital divide” still exists, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, and we need to take that into account when planning activities that provide equitable access to all your students.
Surveying your Students about Access
As a first step, collect some information from your students about their current situation. To create a survey, you can use Canvas quizzes and use the “ungraded survey” option under the “quiz type” drop-down.
Consider asking questions like these:
- Do you have your own personal computing device, or one you can regularly use for coursework? (specify: computer/laptop, tablet, smartphone, other)
- Of the devices you own, do any have a camera and microphone?
- Do you have internet connection? (specify: yes, unlimited; yes, but with limited bandwidth; yes, but only via a cell phone plan; no)
- Is there a quiet place available where you can attend online classes? (yes, no, other)
- What time zone are you in?
- Have your obligations changed (examples: child care, elder care, sickness, work responsibilities, etc.) that may keep you from meeting during our previously scheduled class time or meeting deadlines?
Once you have a better understanding of what your students are facing, you can make a more informed choice about how your class will proceed.
Altering Our Expectations about Synchronous Classes
Because many of our students will have shifting obligations, time zones, and technology access, it is unlikely that they will all be able to easily participate in synchronous classes via Zoom. We need to be prepared to offer our classes asynchronously or work with low bandwidth solutions (audio or text only). The University is now strongly encouraging instructors to choose recorded video options (like Kaltura) over live ones (like Zoom) whenever possible in order to address the challenges mentioned above, and to make sure students with technology or scheduling challenges are not marginalized.
If you’re committed to having parts of the class be live, plan them to be short amounts of time, such as a 30-minute “question and answer” time, where students can ask clarifying questions about the material and their attendance is not required. For example, if you’re teaching an archaeology laboratory course, you might have your students watch a YouTube video about flotation sample processing and analysis. (There are many videos already available online for STEM lab courses.) Your students could then write a synopsis about the two main points they learned via Canvas discussion, and come to your Q&A synchronous meeting to ask any clarifying questions about the process.
If you do have live Zoom meetings, record any live classroom sessions and be flexible with how students can attend and participate, including options to engage with you and classmates in other ways. Allow time for students to get their connections, microphones, and/or cameras organized. This may be a new experience for some of them. When you create a Zoom recording, the program creates both audio and video files. Share both with your students via Kaltura, as the audio files are better for students with bandwidth issues. We need to accept the very strong likelihood that not all of our students will be able to participate in a live class, so we must consider low-threshold options and approaches.
Choosing Kaltura for Video Delivery
Kaltura is a video-based management system in which you can record, store, publish, and stream videos. It is free to all IU faculty and students, and all you need is a computer with a camera and microphone. Kaltura integrates with Canvas, allowing you to share videos easily with your class, and allowing your students to watch videos on their own schedules. A great benefit of Kaltura is that the program recognizes bandwidth issues and can adjust accordingly, making it easier for your students to watch the videos without long delays or poor quality. Plus, you can get information about who watched videos and for how long, giving you feedback about student engagement.
There are two main options for creating Kaltura videos: Express Capture and Personal Capture. When you login to Kaltura, click “Add New” in the right-hand corner and choose one of the options. If you use “Express Capture,” you can create a basic recording of just you talking into your webcam; this tool is also available in all input windows in Canvas—just look for the colored starburst logo in the menu bar. Although limited, this option does not require the installation of any software on your computer. You can use “Personal Capture” to record presentations that use a combination of voice, webcam video, screen action, and PowerPoint slides. More on using Kaltura can be found on the Keep Teaching Resources page under “Keep Teaching Tools.”
We learn better when we have breaks to process and apply new information. Keep your recordings to short chunks (5-10 minutes). This will also lead to smaller files, and it will be easier for you to update one short recording if needed, versus needing to re-record an hour-long lecture.
Taking our classes online quickly can be a challenge, and picking the best tools to support our learning goals is an important part of the solution. We hope you will take time to understand your students’ new contexts—especially in this very uncertain time—and pick tools and teaching approaches that best support their learning in a difficult situation.
Thanks to CITL consultants Lisa Kurz, Leslie Drane, and Matt Barton for collaborating on this post.