When COVID-19 demanded a move to online delivery, what had been mostly an optional or innovative initiative to teach online was now a universal mandate. The first thought that sprang to Robin Morgan's mind was, "I'm grateful so many faculty have completed online training and know Canvas and the basic skills for success in an online environment." Morgan, a psychology professor at IU Southeast, has been a long-time advocate of professional development for online faculty.
It took multiple IU support groups and thousands of faculty leveraging their own expertise to transition all classes to online formats in the space of two and one-half weeks. Entities like the Faculty Academy on Excellence in Teaching (FACET), the campus centers for teaching and learning, eLearning Design & Services (eDS), and Digital Education Programs & Initiatives (DEPI) were among the units that formed a support network across schools and campuses to provide just-in-time basic and targeted resources and services, including Canvas templates, workshops, learning communities, webinars, and consultations.
With a presence on each campus and in each school, FACET faculty provided discipline-specific expertise to less experienced colleagues.
At IUS, Institute for Learning and Teaching Excellence (ILTE) staff at each school "literally walked the halls asking what faculty needed before teaching went 100 percent remote," said Morgan. ILTE also provided a continually updated Box folder with a range of resources for first-time online instructors—example syllabi, ideas for conducting online evaluations, instructions for using a phone as a mobile hotspot, and guidelines for online labs. IUS fine arts professor Barbara Kutis said, "ILTE did an incredible job providing assistance to faculty in the form of Zoom webinars and individual consultations. Key was their punch list of essentials—recommendations on how to convert assignments, understand Zoom, and set up quizzes."
eDS created templates for Canvas home pages and modules that faculty could tweak. They partnered with campus teaching centers and DEPI on the Keep Teaching website. In spring, they offered end-of-semester tips on grading and methods for evaluating student learning. For summer, they created templates and digital course materials. Even before the shutdown, they offered Keep Teaching webinars that focused on such critical tools as Canvas, Kaltura, and Zoom. Of eDS efforts, Bernadette Jessie, IUS professor of criminology and criminal justice, said, "My eDS contact was wonderful. I could not have made this transition without eDS."
Managing the anxiety
Moving courses online involved more than discussions of pedagogy. Faculty, staff, and students faced a broad range of challenges during the spring, both personal as well as educational; and the university understood the need for more than just instructional discussions to help the community manage the transition.
Kutis described a common feeling among faculty: "I've never taught online. Now, with our minds distracted by the pandemic, family, and childcare, we have the tendency to think, 'I have to be amazing.'" eDS manager Anna Lynch and colleagues set out to be a calming influence. "Before offering solutions, we paused and affirmed that this sudden shift was unpleasant and difficult." Faculty came together to help each other, attending webinars explicitly to bring information back to their departments. Said Lynch, "That was the key success factor. It took a whole community to provide that end-to-end support."
For many students, the online environment was new and daunting. The Keep Learning website helped students prepare for online learning. The Keep Learning at IU module in Expand explained how to communicate with instructors and classmates, find course material, attend lectures, complete assignments, take tests, and collaborate in groups.
Still, many students faced feelings of disruption, isolation, and lack of access to specialized software. "The upset carried over to classes and required lots of flexibility with students," said Kutis. Some depended heavily on resources in the campus Student Technology Centers (STCs). Pushing the envelope led to solutions. eDS staff member Maggi Ricci, working with UITS, coordinated the effort to make more than 1,000 STC computers available to students as virtual desktops. Even those with only a phone could access the computing power of a Windows 10 computer and the extensive software available via IUanyWare.
Individual faculty also provided workarounds. IUS psychology professor Meghan Kahn made videos on how to log into IUanyWare via a Citrix receiver and save downloaded SPSS files. Kutis helped her fine arts colleagues leverage the features of Zoom so they could annotate student work on a shared screen and take screenshots that allowed students to review their feedback.
The shift to remote learning proved difficult for some students. In her webinar, Bridging the Digital Divide: Teaching with Empathy and Equity in the Wake of COVID-19, Jessica Calarco, associate professor of sociology at IU Bloomington, suggested ways faculty could demonstrate empathy and help students adjust their expectations. In a letter to students, she counseled, "Please be kind to yourselves. . . . If this semester is not your best, . . . it will be okay. What you learn in your courses should ultimately matter more than the grades you earn." Calarco also shared questions and answers curated by the IUB Office of Diversity and Inclusion to address issues of remote education and inclusiveness.
"The pandemic has made faculty curious about teaching online," said Morgan. Putting courses into Canvas exposed gaps that can be addressed through best practices. Morgan expects continued faculty development, more faculty helping one another, and more faculty aligning learning assessment with constructing courses.
IUS business professor Lisa Russell believes it’s critical for faculty to be trained in online course delivery and authentic online assessment. Moreover, she said, "We need to listen to our students' voices on their experience during the 2020 spring, summer, and fall semesters. I cannot tell you how important that will be to the success of our online programs."
The conversion of on-campus courses to an online modality has highlighted the importance of relationships. Kutis said, "We're all in this together and needed each other to make this happen. My and my colleagues' driving motivation was trying to serve our students, so we came together to help each other as much as we could."
Preparing for the fall semester involves additional levels of challenge, says Randy Newbrough, assistant director, IUPUI Center for Teaching and Learning, and manager, Instructional Technology Consulting for the Campus Centers for Teaching and Learning. "In spring, migrating classes was, in a sense, easier; because the teaching centers worked together and with many UITS units to help faculty transition to fully online instruction. For the fall semester, we're preparing for many different scenarios: some faculty will be teaching remotely; some in the classroom. Similarly, they could be instructing some students who are in the classroom and some who are online. We want to ensure faculty have the tools to keep students engaged, whatever the modality, so their learning experience is the best it can possibly be."
Our experience in the spring has been instructive. The shift to online learning was "an emergency within an emergency," says Rob Elliott, senior lecturer of computer and information technology at IUPUI. While everyone's personal, work, and school lives were upended, we had to quickly create a remote learning setting that couldn't truly represent the richness and capabilities of online learning. "We've had more time to be thoughtful about fall classes," says Elliott. "Faculty got a sense of what worked and what did not and now have tangible experiences that can help improve the fall experience." IU provides a dizzying array of tools for creating engaging course materials, some with big learning curves. This need not be daunting. Elliott says, "You don't have to be expert in every tool. Just visualize the activities you want to do and focus on the tools that can help students learn the course materials and keep them engaged. We're looking forward to showing off what we can do in the online space."