Preparing for Uncertainty

Monday, May 25, 2020

As one of the most unusual semesters of our careers has drawn to an end, I applaud all the hard work that our faculty, staff and graduate teaching assistants put in to ensure that instruction continued effectively through the spring and summer semesters. With just three short weeks to transition over 11,000 sections from face-to-face to a remote format, you all worked diligently to create the best possible learning environment under unprecedented circumstances.  Our colleagues at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), Office of Online Learning (OOL), EITS, and University Libraries quickly assembled resources to support instruction through the spring semester. The Teaching and Learning Continuity website, which listed a number of resources for the campus community, saw more than 12,000 unique visits since it launched mid-March. 

While the pandemic created severe disruptions, we know that our students, staff and faculty will continue to face multiple challenges for the next several months. We’re not certain what the days ahead may hold or what the fall semester might look like. But this time, we can be better prepared. As President Morehead shared in a recent message, nine working groups comprised of about 140 faculty and staff are working diligently to see how we may best resume operations in the fall. To help us plan for the next several months, I wanted to share the insights we gained this spring and alert you to resources that may help prepare for the fall semester.

2020 Spring Stats
Lessons Learned 

UGA offers a number of resources for our faculty and staff to help them with their teaching and other student-focused responsibilities. However, remember that your peers can be an invaluable asset when tackling new technologies and practices for remote learning. Some colleges, such as the Grady College of Journalism, the School of Social Work, or the College of Education, quickly set up ways to connect novice technology users with more experienced colleagues to provide guidance. This enabled faculty to get the support quickly and frequently, often by others within their own departments. If you don’t already have such a program set up in your units, consider developing a peer-support system now. This could be especially helpful for new faculty and staff that might be joining your units over the summer.   

You may be surprised at some of the innovative solutions created for courses that weren’t thought possible to transition online. In March, faculty in Kinesiology moved 84 physical education courses online using a server-less application built by UGA Online that was integrated into Fitbit and eLC. This enabled students to complete these courses remotely. Another example is the transition of several studio art courses offered in UGA’s programs in Verona and Cortona, Italy, to the online format. Through a series of (very early morning) teleconferences, UGA faculty in Italy and instructional designers in the Office of Online Learning, took less than 2 weeks to move 5 studio art and 2 lecture courses online, allowing 9 faculty and 40 students to complete their programs on their original schedule. Needless to say, this effort required a lot of coffee! 

I share these examples to highlight that there are some creative ways to continue learning activities that are typically done in a hands-on manner. Evaluate such offerings in your own units and see if you can develop alternate strategies to ensure students can continue to meet the learning outcomes of such courses in future disruptions. 

Asynchronous content delivery with opportunities for synchronous engagement between students and instructors provides an equitable way to support student learning while maintaining important teaching relationships. Faculty in Mathematics (among others) provided asynchronous lecture material in various forms, while using synchronous sessions to connect with students, engage in discussion sections and facilitate collaboration among their students. Successful online instruction often builds content in small modules and implements ways to enhance both student-to-faculty and student-to-student interaction. As you plan your fall teaching, consider ways to enhance these interactions while also finding ways that may allow these to transfer from a face-to-face to the online environment

Over the past two months, nearly 18,000 new videos were produced by 2,470 UGA faculty for their classes. Our media server, Kaltura, has seen a 650% increase in the number of videos available for our students. The upcoming integration of Zoom with Kaltura will make it even easier to record and share Zoom meetings. We have seen that a majority of students greatly appreciate the convenience that close captioning provides. You may know that Kaltura allows you to add close caption automatically. While it’s not perfect, this service can greatly speed up your captioning. For classes with the greatest need, OOL and University Libraries offer additional captioning support to faculty. You can contact online@uga.edu to learn more about this support. In general, make it a point to add close captions to all your videos. 

CTL continues to gather examples (big and small!) of teaching practices that worked well for you during the remote instruction phase of the Spring 2020 semester. Follow this link to add your experience to the mix as it can help others in their planning. The CTL will curate submissions to produce a resource for all UGA instructors. 

Preparing for the Future

While we all hope for a relatively normal fall semester, we know this will be dictated by the pandemic itself. The many hours of ongoing contingency planning efforts highlight that a successful fall semester will require one key ingredient from each of you – adaptability. Much as we did this past semester, we need to plan for uncertainty in how we operate and develop ways to continue teaching and learning despite the disruptions that might occur. To help you prepare for the fall semester, here are a few things that we are doing right now: 

OOL is offering a series of workshops to familiarize faculty with fundamental best practices associated with online teaching this summer. These are open to all faculty and staff, and you can learn how to produce videos, create content, and pivot to online assessment by attending one of these courses. The first few sessions have been very well attended, with over 560 faculty participating.  If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to register and join one or more of these sessions as they end this week. 

Another possibility is that we will continue to need some form of social distancing in the fall. This could impact how and where we hold our classes. To help prepare for this contingency, CTL is currently developing an eLC-based course called, Preparing to Pivot (PtP). This course will provide instructors with strategies for future instruction, whether face-to-face, online, or a combination of both. This asynchronous (but paced) short-course will be offered in June and July, and a standing version will remain open to all UGA instructors beginning in July, regardless of participation in the scheduled short courses. To register, complete this Qualtrics form

While Fall semester planning continues, we know that eLC will remain a big part of our instructional delivery. Therefore, most Fall semester classes have already been loaded on eLC and EITS will continue to load new sections as these are added in Athena. You should be able to begin building your Fall semester courses in eLC immediately

Office of Academic Advising Services has centralized resources on the Academic Advising at a Distance webpages where students and advisors can self-identify and learn more about best practices and resources available remotely. Most of our advising efforts, including academic advising for students starting in the fall, is continuing online. 

You may recall that the Division of Academic Enhancement (DAE) developed a non-credit eLC experience for our students: Resources for Learning Online (non-credit): DAE at a Distance. This provides tips and strategies to students to help them maximize their learning in the online environment. DAE is currently updating this resource, and we hope to make it available for all students again in the fall. DAE will also continue to offer tutoring and coaching for all students. 

I’m humbled and amazed by what we were able to accomplish during this uncertain time. As we move forward through 2020, the Office of Instruction is here to offer faculty and staff the support they need to provide the best learning experience for our students.  Thank you for all your hard work and efforts. As always, if you have other suggestions regarding instruction at UGA, please let me know: ovpi@uga.edu

Sincerely, 

Rahul Shrivastav
Vice President for Instruction