When University of Arkansas professor Derrick Mears first started teaching online, he had trouble getting to know his students because they weren’t all in the same room.
After investigating multiple technologies to help make his online classrooms feel more connected, he discovered Flipgrid. The interactive video platform has a social media look and feel with emojis and other fun features. It also integrates smoothly with laptops, desktops and smartphone cameras and microphones, making it easy to use, Mears said.
That was a few years ago.
Mears, who teaches educational technology to practicing teachers and prepares instructional designers in the College of Education and Health Professions, is now a pro at teaching remote classes. His expertise is in high demand now, as his peers seek to give students a great education amid the pandemic.
Mears is just one of several professors in the College of Education and Health Professions sharing online teaching expertise, or hard-won wisdom from the past few months, on a new website called COEHP Together: Remote Teaching Collaborative. Mears’ Flipgrid tip is among many he’s shared on the site, which is divided into three sections: organizing, interacting and evaluating.
Here, faculty share their best advice for teaching online or hybrid online/in-person classes with ideas for solving issues like how to make remote experiences more interactive, setting virtual office hours and using breakout rooms online to encourage participation and engagement. The faculty share a variety of online tools to help keep students engaged, interacting, and most importantly, learning.
The college’s dean, Dr. Brian Primack, initiated the website over the summer. He met with a group of faculty members, encouraging them to shoot videos and write posts offering their most helpful advice. Faculty members Mears, Paul Calleja, Kenda Grover, John Pijanowski, Mandel Samuels and Holly VanWinkle developed original content.
The Remote Teaching Collaborative is not a replacement for resources like the TIPS and Keep Teaching websites that were created for faculty across campus. It’s meant to be a space that prompts conversations about teaching and encourages all COEHP faculty to share tips, strategies, innovative approaches, mistakes, or lessons learned, Pijanowski said.
Pijanowski said College of Education and Health Professions faculty are encouraged to contact him directly — or any of the other Website developers — if they’re interested in showcasing a specific pedagogy, to ask for help, or to start a conversation.
He said the site’s goals are to develop a culture of learning together, to make online teaching better, and to offer support to one another while physically separated.
“Obviously, we’ve been focusing on how to make the face-to-face experiences of students and faculty as safe and effective as possible during this challenging time,” Primack said. “However, in parallel with that, we want to put forth a strong effort to make remote learning highly engaging for both faculty and students. Our team of remote learning specialists have done an outstanding job of bringing their hints to life in the form of videos and other vignettes.”
Primack said the goal is not to just make remote learning “good enough.”
“It’s to make it, at least in some cases, even better than in-person learning,” he said. “That may sound like a tall order, but with experts like ours facilitating the sharing of creative and successful techniques among people all over the college, we’ve seen this kind of success in action.”
VanWinkle, a nursing instructor in the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing, said participating in the Remote Teaching Collaborative was a chance for her to support faculty in a time of crisis.
“Having taught both online and face-to-face in our nursing programs over the past ten years, I have a deep appreciation for the unique tools educators rely upon both online and in the classroom,” she said.
In one of her videos, VanWinkle shares an idea for how she gets students to actually read her class syllabus — by using a scavenger hunt, of sorts. Even though she gave students a well-crafted syllabus, they needed an incentive to read and understand content.
“I needed assurance that students were aware of the critical aspects and policies of the course,” she said.
Mears said when he became involved in COEHP Together project over the summer, he was teaching fully online, but was witnessing faculty — including his wife, a K-12 teacher — transitioning to teaching online practically overnight.
“Knowing that building an online course usually requires several months — versus a few days — I could understand what faculty were being asked to do. I wanted to add my assistance where needed,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to share many of the ideas we work with daily in Educational Technology courses to the larger audience of faculty.
“Teaching blended or fully online is an opportunity to improve or reimagine how we provide instruction in courses.”