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Share a teaching practice, help create a resource!

We are inviting UNC instructors to share an example of a teaching practice that’s working in their remote courses. Write a short paragraph to describe ONE instructional practice from ONE course that you have taught since the shift to remote instruction. It can be a specific technique, strategy, tool, or course design decision that you think enhanced student learning in that course. Browse the examples below.

Share your paragraph through our simple submission form. We will continue to update categories as we receive submissions.

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Accessing and Navigating Course Materials

I taught this course over the summer. Since the course was entirely asynchronous, I wanted to give my students a way to stay on top of the material. I organized all my course materials into weekly and daily subsections in the Lessons tool on Sakai. I used the checklist function to provide a concise list of the tasks students needed to complete each week. I tried to make this list as comprehensive as possible, including all assignments, quizzes, readings, and lecture videos. A lot of these repeated each week, making the lists easy to populate. My students raved about how much it alleviated their anxiety about staying on top of the work. I highly recommend this low effort, high impact tool!

Emily Boehm, Adjunct Instructor
Biology Department / Center for Faculty Excellence
BIOL 278, Animal Behavior
Enrollment: 35  Course format: All Asynchronous Remote

– Create weekly folder in SAKAI Resource and upload any resources needed or are useful. – students can easily access what they need in each week.
– Let students create a lesson by lesson folder in Dropbox, then I can find their work easily.
– Upload a pdf exercise sheet that I want them to practice in the breakoutroom in advance, then they can refer to the sentences that are just introduced and practice with a partner – they are not able to see the shared screen while they are in the breakout room.
– Frequent announcements with reminder, cultural info, and PPT that are used in class.
– Use SAKAI Tests & Quizzes to send written quiz feedback – it helps reducing the number of emails they receive
– One by one Zoom meeting with each student for a casual chat at the beginning of the course in order to get to know each other a little better.

Junko Fujioka, Visiting Instructor
Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
JAPN 101, Elementary Japanese I
Enrollment: 20  Course format: All Asynchronous Remote

Sakai organization:
1. Creating a page for every section with links to the readings for that week, assignments, discussing questions, etc.
2. Easily accessible links to classroom and ‘office’.
3. Warpwire introductory videos. I put together a 3 minute video introducing myself that was a bit serious and a bit silly. I asked students to upload short videos of themselves before the first day of class.

Jennifer Morton, Associate Professor
Philosophy
PHIL 61, First Year Seminar
Enrollment: 25  Course format: Synchronous Remote

Assessment and Grading

I was concerned about testing, particularly the midterms and the final. I did not want to worry about cheating by giving a traditional timed test. So, I changed the exam format by having students write their own exam questions and provide answers. The test was graded on complexity of the question, (using Bloom’s taxonomy), providing a correct answer with details on why the answer is correct, and providing alternative answers and why they were incorrect. They were given a list of topics for each exam, of which they had to select 4 topics to write their questions and answers. This exam was open book, open notes, open internet, although they were not allowed to collaborate with each other. This approach put the learning back onto the students, allowed them to think more critically about the material rather than memorizing facts, and gave them practice in how to pose good questions.

Supporting materials: Exam format instructions and rubric (Beck)

Melinda Beck, Professor
Nutrition / Gillngs School of Public Health
NUTR 240, Introduction to Human Nutrition
Enrollment: 120  Course format: Mostly Synchronous Remote

I used a virtual token system. Each student gets three tokens at the beginning of the semester. A token can be used, NO QUESTIONS ASKED, for:
—a 36 hour extension on any written assignment
—the chance to revise (within a week) an assignment that I graded and returned
–If you have an attendance requirement, students can use a token to
excuse an otherwise unexcused absence.

This system gives students autonomy, flexibility, and the chance to improve their work. It’s their judgment; they don’t have to convince some authority figure that they “deserve” it. It is more work for me — keeping track, regrading revised assignments — but definitely worth it. Students say that flexibility has helped keep their stress level under control. (Full disclosure, even though some students used up their tokens, I was still flexible about late assignments!)

Susan Bickford, Associate Professor
Political Science
POLI 472, Problems in Modern Democratic Theory
Enrollment: 25  Course format: Synchronous Remote

To encourage attendance and participation, we created nearly 50 digital worksheets. Students completed the worksheets during class. These were designed as low-stakes incentives to have students prepare for class, come to class on time, and pay attention / participate in class. In the course evaluations, the majority of students liked the worksheets, praising them for keeping them engaged. However, many did not perceive them as low-stakes, and some felt overwhelmed trying to engage with the lecture and worksheets simultaneously. For Spring 2021, I will limit student interaction with the worksheets to the beginning and end of each session, and experiment with making the stakes even lower.  Submitting the worksheet on time gets a minimum 50% score.  Getting a 75-100% score for an on-time worksheet will register as a 100% final score. My hope is that this approach will encourage completion but emphasize that practice, not perfection, is the goal. We used a simple system to ensure that the in-class worksheets would take less than one hour to produce, provide immediate feedback, and be low-stakes. See sample below. I am happy to answer questions about the technology involved.

Supporting materials: Digital worksheet sample (Majikes)
Note: Instructors can also use campus-supported tools such as Sakai and Poll Everywhere to facilitate auto-graded low-stakes assessments.

John Majikes, Teaching Assistant Professor
Computer Science
COMP 550, Algorithms and Analysis
Enrollment: 200  Course format: Synchronous remote

Building Course Community

I created an editable class Google document where each student got to share a photo of a favorite family member (including pets!) and a favorite place they like to travel to. At the beginning of each class, we selected 2 students to share in the target language (Spanish) about their photos and their lives. I enjoyed getting to know students and we had fun comparing our favorites.

Heather Knorr, Teaching Assistant Professor
Romance Studies
SPAN 203, Intermediate Spanish
Enrollment: 24  Course format: Synchronous Remote

I used Google Slides’ YouTube embedding feature to play music videos related to that day’s course content just before class. It let us begin on a positive note while also filling that awkward time as folks are trickling into Zoom. I enjoyed selecting the videos (I’m most proud of picking Salt-N-Peppa’s “Push It” for our class on childbirth), and students reported looking forward to seeing what that day’s music video would be. I chose a mix of older and newer songs, and it was fun to get Zoom chat messages from students saying things like, “I love this song!” or “This is my mom’s favorite song!”

Rosa Li, Teaching Assistant Professor
Psychology and Neuroscience
PSYC 250, Child Development
Enrollment: 120  Course format: Synchronous Remote

Building community in my class is very important to me, as it makes students feel welcome in the educational environment. This semester, I adopted a weekly email format (which was suggested from a colleague), where I had four main sections: 1) Brief recap of the week, 2) Changes and/or updates to the course (which were often due to an anonymous feedback form that I had open all semester long), 3) The week ahead, highlighting forthcoming deadlines, assignments, exams, etc., and 4) Dr. Ott’s corner, where I briefly shared details that were going on in my life. Students responded really well to this approach, often commenting on how the emails not only helped them stay informed about the class, but that they felt that they got to know me a little more. I am going to adopt this for all of my courses in the spring (all remote) and may even continue when we go back to in-person teaching.

Laura Ott, Teaching Assistant Professor
Biology
BIOL 252, Human Anatomy & Physiology
Enrollment: 200  Course format: Mostly Asynchronous Remote

I’ve experimented with recreating that buzz at the start of class in our zoom session by using the moments before class with a theme, activity, or poll. For example, one theme was bring-your-pet to class day. Students logged on before class and we shared our pets. There may be activities like an image showing a variety of cat faces and they choose what they most feel like or annotating my screen sharing a wordsearch. I’ve used anonymous polls to invite students to share something that put a smile on their face or something that might be a particular struggle this week. I appreciate their candor & it serves an additional purpose of helping us empathize with one another. Post instructions for the activity on your screen as they join zoom. I’ve heard from students that this makes them feel like part of a community & get to know peers.

Viji Sathy, Professor of the Practice
Psychology and Neuroscience
PSYC 210, Introductory Statistics
Enrollment: 200  Course format: Synchronous Remote

I held office hours twice outside (socially distanced), at one of the large tents on campus. While only a handful of students came, several students mentioned it in their course evaluations. They seemed to be very appreciative of the effort to make the course a bit more personal. This is easy to do for those of us who come to campus sometimes, at least when the weather is nice.

Jeff Spinner-Halev, Professor
Political Science
POLI 272, Modern Political Thought
Enrollment: 100  Course format: Synchronous Remote

The courses I teach have a project component, where students are encouraged to form teams. But in online teaching settings students do not sit beside each other as normal times. The lack of socializing opportunities makes it difficult to ask student to find “birds of a feather” to “fly together”. Students are studying in silos. At first, I just asked students to “form groups”. But (of course!) no grouping happened after three weeks. I tried the following approaches (inspired by Dr. Megan Winget):

– “Top-down” approach: in one class, I came up with a list of candidate projects, put them on a shared Google Slides, and ask each student to sign up by putting their names on interested pages.
– “Bottom-up” approach: In another class, students came up with project ideas, and put them in Google Slides, so that everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and they merge into a team spontaneously.

Yue Wang, Assistant Professor
School of Information and Library Science
INLS 509, Information Retrieval
Enrollment: 22  Course format: Synchronous Remote

Course Structure

Because this was the first time I had taught an entire class on-line, and because the students were under a lot of pressure this year, I opted for a no frills approach. I delivered regular illustrated lectures in a style I have practiced for decades, to which I added on-line exercises tied to the textbook, and a few breakout sessions. I hung around after class to answer questions, and met with students on-line whenever they wanted to. It seems to have worked well, students stuck with the program and met expectations. Next time I will be a bit more adventuresome with breakout exercises.

John Eylers, Visiting Lecturer
Biology
BIOL 101H, Principles of Biology
Enrollment: 24  Course format: Synchronous Remote

I assigned tasks to be due throughout the week (e.g., reading quiz on Tuesday, first forum post on Wednesday, lesson activity on Thursday, second forum post on Friday). The majority of students reported in their course evaluations that they appreciated having assignments due throughout the week because it helped them engage with the material more regularly for an asynchronous class and it didn’t “pile up” at the end of the week when the majority of assignments were due for their other classes. They also liked the rhythm of having the same assignments due on the same day each week.

Desiree Griffin, Teaching Associate Professor
Psychology and Neuroscience
PSYC 242, Clinical Psychology
Enrollment: 120  Course format: All Asynchronous Remote

Student Engagement: Asynchronous Remote Options

I used the Perusall platform for collaborative annotations. I post the reading on Perusall, and student annotate and respond to each other’s comments. (See Supporting materials for more detail.) My classes are primarily synchronous remote, but every 3-4 class periods students did a collaborative annotation asynchronously instead of meeting on Zoom. This gives us all a break from Zoom, without sacrificing engagement with the readings. It helped to deepen their engagement with the readings, to discern connections between the readings and the world, and to appreciate each other’s thinking. “LOVE Perusall” was a common refrain in office hours and evaluations. I know none of us want to learn a new program right now, but it is worth it. I’m not technologically skilled and I taught myself how to use it pretty easily. It was originally developed for science and social science, but I used it for Nietzsche, Plato, etc.

Supporting materials: Guidelines for collaborative annotations (Bickford)

Susan Bickford, Associate Professor
Political Science
POLI 276, Major Issues in Political Thought: Truth and Politics
Enrollment: 23  Course format: Synchronous Remote

Students were asked to keep a “notecard” while working through each asynchronous lesson. Using Sakai Lessons, I had short video lecture clips (~2-10min) and posed questions (or activities) between these clips. (e.g. “Now that we talked about the lateral plexus in the horseshoe crab, look at this wiring diagram of the human retina and write down which cells you think maybe doing the same type of job in the human eye”). The correct answers or example answers were provided in the lesson so students could get feedback on their thoughts, or hear more examples if they had trouble with their own. Then, they submitted the notecards at the end of the lessons as a Sakai assignment, and they were graded for completion. Some created notecards digitally, some uploaded photos of handwritten notecards. Feedback from students was positive and they commented that it kept them engaged throughout the lessons and gave them opportunities to practice and think about the material more deeply.

Vicki Chanon, Teaching Assistant Professor
Psychology and Neuroscience
NSCI 225, Sensation & Perception
Enrollment: 166  Course format: Mostly Asynchronous Remote

Class participation looks different in an online setting, especially if lessons are delivered asynchronously. So how does one incentivize class engagement and reward steady and thoughtful effort? In summer 2020, I invited my students to demonstrate engagement with the course and one another with a participation buffet (a smorgasbord of engagement, if you will). Students could: attend a synchronous session with a guest speaker and ask questions; ask and answer questions in the forum; attend one-on-one office hours during the term; and complete pre-class discussion questions. Each activity was worth a certain quantity of points and students had to earn a certain total points to fulfill the class engagement aspect of their course grade. It wasn’t possible to earn all point from just one category, but they could combine items to “fill their plate.” It made for an enriching experience and office hours were full!

Mara Evans, Teaching Assistant Professor
Biology
BIOL 464, Global Change Ecology
Enrollment: 26  Course format: Mostly Asynchronous Remote

VoiceThread has helped replicate the close reading of visual material we would typically do in class discussion and helped create another vehicle through which students can ask questions about and engage with course assignments. Specifically, in my film course, I post short video clips, and students post their comments and observations directly on the clip. VoiceThread also lets you post right at the moment you want to talk about. Comments can be typed, audio, or video. Then, in other work for the unit, I ask students to reflect on how their colleagues’ VoiceThread comments impacted their understanding of the class material. For assignments, I post a screencast overview of the assignment details (me going over them just as I would in class), and the students post clarification questions, which I can then address in follow-up comments and/or in class sessions.

Supporting materials: Screenshot of a VoiceThread comment on a video clip (Larson)

Jennifer Larson, Teaching Associate Professor
English and Comparative Literature
ENGL 143, Film and Culture
Enrollment: 35  Course format: Synchronous Remote

In my class, I have a project called Accountability Buddy Together (ABT). It is a 3-stage project where students and I apply what we learn in the texts we read in this class to our own lives, working with a classmate (buddy, as we call it). There are four components of this project: (1) texts, (2) buddy, (3) life, and (4) application. Each student chooses a buddy (based on the survey they did at the beginning of the semester). In my case, I choose a colleague of mine to do the project. There is a specific task for each stage, including (I) writing a 400-500 words essay and reviewing our buddy’s essay, (II) making a 3-4 minutes video and review our buddy’s video, and (III) doing an interview with our buddy. In each of these tasks, there are specific goals and components involved. I modeled the whole process by doing the tasks first, sharing my example with the students.

Supporting materials: Student comment from the course evaluation:

“[T]he ABT project component of the class was actually amazingly executed and incredibly beneficial. I would be excited to see this aspect of the class developed further and even added to other classes. It also apparent that Dr. Tang is incredibly educated, intelligent, sociable, and emotionally proficient. She made repeated efforts to gauge where everyone was at and how to support them”

Min Tang, Teaching Assistant Professor
Philosophy
PHIL 213, Asian Philosophy
Enrollment: 36  Course format: Synchronous Remote

At-home labs involved using nearby playgrounds, the microwave, building ramps out of books and household items, etc. Students had to be creative and look at the world around them differently, but engaged with the material to make it work at home! Favorites from the semester included building your own thermos, creating a Rube Goldberg machine and melting marshmallows in the microwave.

Jennifer Weinberg-Wolf, Teaching Assistant Professor
Physics and Astronomy
PHYS 100, How Things Work
Enrollment: 70  Course format: Synchronous Remote

Student Engagement: Synchronous Remote Options

In my class, I use breakout groups (6 students, same all semester), but sometimes I have a quick question not warranting usage of breakout groups or the poll function. Here I use a game I created called “Pen Pals.” Each student selects a student in their 6-person group, initiates a PRIVATE chat message with an answer, but does not send until I say to hit “enter.” Not everyone receives a message every time, but if you do this several times within a session, they likely will. This works well with a question with multiple answers like “Name a function of an endothelial cell?” The advantage of using the private chat is that the general chat does not get inundated. Modern students probably never had “pen pals” as faculty did 40+ years ago, but they benefit from recalling/proposing something from their own brains and reading what others thought of.

Kurt Gilliland, Associate Professor
Cell Biology and Physiology/School of Medicine
MTEC 101, 102, 103
Enrollment: 190  Course format: Synchronous Remote

In this class, students design and build projects in the BeAM Maker Space. Students living in or near Chapel Hill could come to the maker space in person. Remote students sent in their digital design files, and through a livestream from BeAM over Zoom, they could interact with the teaching assistants who were operating the equipment and watch their designs come to life. It was the next best thing to being there in person. Similarly, live-streaming could be used with other hands-on activities in remote projects.

Richard Goldberg
Applied Physical Sciences
APPL 110
Enrollment: 64  Course format: Synchronous Remote

In Calculus 1 we spend a lot of time interpreting graphs. It was fun posting the graph and having students color the part of the graph corresponding to some property, e.g. where the particle is speeding up. This also made a good breakout room activity. I might have 6 related questions, and then I had 6 copies of the graph available to annotate up, and I called on 6 specific breakout groups to report out, each annotating a specified copy, and then I went over the answers. Sometimes I also asked students to annotate my figures while I was setting up an applied problem, like an optimization problem. For example, I asked them to assign variables to the parts of the figure that needed them.

Linda Green, Teaching Associate Professor
Mathematics
MATH 231, Calculus I
Enrollment: 150  Course format: Synchronous Remote

1) Bringing in great outside speakers that we would not have even thought to reach out to in past years. With the virtual format it is a much lower lift for speakers to join the class and we were able to line up an amazing and diverse set of speakers from across the US and Canada which was a highlight for many students in the class. 2) Additional “ah-hah” (impromptu the first time and then became a norm) – asking speakers to stay longer after the end of class to enable interested students to ask more questions and engage in deeper discussions. 3) Building on that “ah-hah” – as a teaching team we naturally fell into a practice of staying on Zoom after class to give students the opportunity to ask questions that they couldn’t during regular class, or just to chat. All of this helped to build more rapport and a sense of connection among the professors, students and speakers.

Susie Greene, Professor of the Practice/Entrepreneur In Residence
Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship
ECON 125, Introduction to Entrepreneurship
Enrollment: 365  Course format: Synchronous Remote

I like this course to be a mixture of discussion and mini-lectures, but I had heard from colleagues that class discussions are hard to do over Zoom. I did do a few class discussions, but I mostly had students discuss questions in breakout rooms and then report back. To build community, I assigned the students to the same breakout room every class; the assignments were mostly random, but I made sure that each group had a mix of seniors, sophomore, juniors, and first-years. I was very happy about how well it worked; indeed, because I made them rotate the reporter, I suspect that I heard from a wider range of students than I would have if the class had been in-person. Additionally, the students themselves said that they really liked the breakout rooms, and they enjoyed talking to the same students each time. It worked so well, I’m trying to think how to implement something similar in person.

Nora Hanagan, Teaching Assistant Professor
Political Science
POLI 280, American Political Thought
Enrollment: 43  Course format: Synchronous Remote

To engage my students, I often paused to ask questions and get student responses. I used polls and breakouts, but another method I used was effective and easier to implement on the fly. I would ask a question to everyone. I didn’t want to leave it to chance that one (or the same few people) would unmute themselves to answer. Thus, I used these instructions: “Please type an answer in chat, but don’t hit enter yet. I’ll prompt with a 3-2-1 when you should hit enter.” Employing this simple technique ensured that almost all students answered, without being influenced by others’ answers or assuming that someone else in the class would answer. The diversity of answers I received helped me spark deeper discussions or simply served as a quick check of understanding for all students. I found this technique works well with small and large classes.

Kelly Hogan, Teaching Professor
Biology Department
BIOL 444, Molecular Basis of Disease
Enrollment: 20  Course format: All Asynchronous Remote

Google docs is an easy way to facilitate group work in breakout rooms. I create a Google document for each one of my classes and share it with my students as one of the essential tools needed for the class. We use Google docs during the whole semester for group work, so most days I just remind students to have the assigned Google doc ready, I don’t need to send or transfer additional files.  Before class, I put in the Google doc all the instructions and materials students will need for group work (I can post text, images, hyperlinks…). In class, when I create Zoom breakout rooms, I refer them to the instructions in the Google doc. When breakout room time is over, I can share the Google doc on my screen, and we can go through and discuss their answers together, or we can edit together the text they have written in group work, or I can use Zoom annotation tools. It makes break out rooms very efficient.

Pello Huesa, Lecturer
Romance Studies
SPAN 204, Intermediate Spanish
Enrollment: 19   Course format: Synchronous Remote

We always start class with “show and tell.” The group is asked if they have anything ‘new, strange or different to report. The central objective for the course is to sharpen their proposed dissertation topic. I ask them to assign a “star sign” to the topic and develop a horoscope description for their topic or work. For example: “Gemini: play by the rules, don’t try to challenge the institutions.” In a subsequent session, they are to assign their topic a Myers-Briggs type and explain why that applies to what they are doing. For example: “INTJ–I can solve any problem with this analytical approach, and, it works well on community prevention programs in rural areas.” Those who have the same types are then grouped to review their assessments. These “anchoring” classifications actually have a lasting effect as participants can re-visualize their thinking and work to improve based on a reference point that is easy to imagine.

Tom Ricketts, Professor
Health Policy and Management
HPM 860, Creating Knowledge for Population and Public Health
Enrollment: 15  Course Format: Synchronous Remote

One practice that worked well was sharing a short 2-3 minutes video clip of anything related to our course. It could be from Twitter, TikTok, Youtube, Netflix, a song, etc. I made a sign up and let students take over researching and finding interesting videos to share with the class. They would always speak quickly about why the video pertained to our course.I got TONS of feedback and it also allowed the first 3-4 minutes of class to be low-stakes so students with Wifi and other issues could join class and not miss out on vital material! It was a also great time to take attendance!

Caroline Robinson, Teaching Assistant Professor
Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
ARAB 101, Beginner’s Arabic
Enrollment: 17  Course format: Synchronous Remote

After extensive research on breakout rooms and feedback from students, I heard that it is often disruptive when the instructor “pops in” to check on progress. In order to ensure that students 1) were clear on the instructions for the breakout activity and 2) did not feel awkward when I entered the room, I used Google Jamboards. In advance of class, I created a one-slide Jamboard with the instructions and the activity, and then copied the same slide 15-20 times (the number of breakout rooms I anticipated). Students used the Jamboard link and clicked directly on their slide number (the same as their breakout room number) and were all able to collaborate on the slide in real time. More importantly, I was able to scroll through all of the slides on my end and left sitcky notes or comments, or, if one group was heading in the wrong direction, I would prioritize entering that specific room. Students loved it!

Supporting materials: Sample 9-slide Google Jamboard (student notes/responses appear on right side and bottom of each slide)

Danielle Smith, Teaching Assistant Professor
Exercise and Sport Science
EXSS 322, Sport Marketing
Enrollment: 44  Course format: Synchronous Remote

I planned 4 conversation points and prepared detailed and visually appealing instructions in a PowerPoint slide. The students were distributed into 4 Zoom breakout rooms, and each group was assigned one conversation point, which they prepared together during a pre-defined portion of time. While students were in groups, I planned how to divide the students into presentation groups, which I then formed manually in the Zoom breakout function to ensure every group had a representative from each of the preparation groups. The new groups were also given a pre-defined portion of time to present the 4 discussion points, upon which the class returned to the main Zoom session to evaluate and go over pending questions.

Kristine Taylor, Teaching Assistant Professor
Romance Studies
PORT 102, Elementary Portuguese II
Enrollment: 19  Course format: Synchronous Remote

I frequently ask my students to sing, since music helps students to learn Spanish in a relaxed and fun way. I was worried about how this would translate to a virtual environment, but decided to give it a try anyway. On the first day of class, I began class by showing my students the video of Marc Anthony’s song “Vivir mi vida” (includes subtitles) and told them we were going to sing it together. I gave them a pep talk about singing despite their embarrassment and found that most of them did. We did indeed sound terrible, but that made them laugh, which was a great ice breaker. At the end of class, I broke them into groups in the Zoom breakout rooms and had them rewrite the lyrics, asking them to write lyrics for what we would do in Spanish this semester. So instead of “I’m going to dance,” they wrote things like “I’m going to study”. The groups voted on their favorites and ended class by singing the new version together.

Elizabeth Tolman, Teaching Assistant Professor
Romance Studies
SPAN 204, Intermediary Spanish
Enrollment: 19  Course format: Synchronous Remote