UGA: Insights on Transitioning to Online Instruction

Krista Richmond

Monday, April 6th, 2020

On March 30, the University of Georgia will transition to online instruction for the remainder of the spring semester. The change is part of the university’s effort to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. To be sure, that shift will be an adjustment for both faculty and students.
“Many of the concerns and distractions instructors have now are shared by their students. Empathy, communication, asynchronicity, a focus on the necessary and reassessing assessments will facilitate the transition for everyone impacted by these midsemester changes,” said Megan Mittelstadt, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning.
Those are some of the things Mittelstadt and Stephen Balfour, director of the Office of Online Learning, say that instructors should keep in mind during the rapid transition to online instruction in the coming weeks.
Empathy. Both faculty and students will have competing demands on their time and emotional resources in the coming weeks. They may be caring for loved ones or may themselves become ill. Students are dealing with a move during the middle of the semester. Many service industry workers, including UGA students, are worried about finances. Empathy will be very important as faculty and students finish the semester.
Communication. With a midsemester switch to online instruction, Mittelstadt pointed out that instructors and students already know one another and have built some rapport. They can leverage that rapport to continue building a community online. It’s important for faculty to make immediate, intentional efforts to promote effective communication with and between students. It’s also important for faculty to set clear expectations for their online coursework.
Asynchronicity. There can be significant variables in a person’s access to different types of technology, including their cellular and internet coverage and bandwidth or even varying time zones. This means that synchronous delivery methods, such as using Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate for live viewing of class sessions during scheduled class time, are not realistic solutions. Using Kaltura or Zoom to record video for introducing learning modules and the concepts that need it and then moving, as much as possible, the rest of the material to text and images would be ideal for these unpredictable circumstances, according to Mittelstadt and Balfour. Instructors may consider adding optional virtual office hours for students who can join live, whether by internet or phone, to help alleviate feelings of isolation.
Focus on the necessary. During this transition, students will not necessarily have the emotional and technical resources they had before spring break. As instructors facilitate student learning in new virtual spaces, they should keep the learning as simple as possible by not requiring students to learn new technologies or learning behaviors, using familiar formats (such as eLearning Commons) whenever possible and thinking about alternative ways for students to be successful. Similarly, faculty should consider what is essential for their students to learn to be successful during upcoming semesters or after graduation.
Reassessing assessments. Assessments will need to be retooled for an online learning experience, where both faculty and students have different resources at their disposal. Rich assessment practices can be designed where students can work with one another and/or with open notes. Assessments will need to be flexible to provide students equitable opportunities to demonstrate achievement.