Preparing for the Spring 2021 Semester

Preparing for the Spring 2021 Semester

  • “How do I create swift trust in an online classroom?”
  • “What’s the best way to structure my class this spring?”
  • “How do I focus on student belonging this semester?”

These are some of the questions instructors have asked as they prepare for the Spring 2021 semester. With the unique format of all courses starting online synchronously or asynchronously, and with some transitioning to an in-person component, we’ve gathered some strategies for responding to these concerns and others in the Spring 2021 semester.

Build Community Online

  • Learn about your students. Use a survey to find out about your students before the semester starts, which you can set up using the Canvas Quizzes tool. Find out what your students’ circumstances are, what things are on their minds, what their goals are for your class and for the semester. Take note where you see difficult learning environments and gaps in technologies access. Look for ways to meet needs, and check in mid-semester.

  • Learn names with Name Coach. Record your name in Name Coach, and have students record their names. You will all know how to pronounce each other's names, which can help build respect and a sense of community. Find Name Coach in Canvas.

  • Connect with students via video. Shrink the distance between you and your students. Let them see your personality and what you love about your course. Create a short (2-3 minute) video introducing yourself, and have your AIs and UTAs do the same. Include details like what interests you most about the course topic or a non-course related fact about yourself. Create a low-stakes video assignment asking students to do the same. You can use video in Announcements, in SpeedGrader feedback comments, and in other Canvas tools like these that use the Rich Content Editor (RCE). Using video personalizes your message to students and helps bridge the online space. Create short videos using the RCE, or use Kaltura for video that you may want to reuse, such as a welcome/intro video, a short screen-capture demo, or an explanation of a difficult (or interesting!) concept.

  • Foster communication, collaboration, and peer support among students. This Knowledge Base page provides information on best practices for both Canvas Discussions and CourseNetworking (CNPost), two tools that can help students connect with one another. Use Zoom breakout rooms to get students talking with each other. Set up a shared IU-only Google doc, or even a Canvas discussion to make it easy for all students to connect. Even Canvas Groups in the People tool can be used for informal student collaboration, as well as for collaborative assignments.

  • Activate Piazza in Canvas for peer problem solving. Piazza is similar to chat, discussion boards, and a little like social media, allowing students to ask questions and answer those of classmates, both procedural and content questions. Students can “vote” responses (and questions) up or down. The instructor and/or AIs can guide the discussion if things get off track. Piazza has useful analytics to let instructors know about the question and answer activity of participating students.

  • Contact students frequently. Reach out to students in a variety of ways: email, Canvas Inbox, Gradebook “Message Students Who…”. Give students opportunities to privately discuss their concerns with you.

  • Communicate clearly and succinctly with your students. You will need to communicate with your students to let them know about course expectations and any changes to the schedule. The IU Knowledge Base provides information on tools for communicating with students: email, Canvas Announcements, Zoom, and the Student Engagement Roster.

Center Equity in your Instruction

  • Revise your syllabus. Normalize the fact that we all face challenges and need to ask for help. Point to resources like Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), internet/technology resources, food resources, etc. Look at the SEP Syllabus Review Guide for ideas about including equity, belonging, and growth mindset into your syllabus. Find out about IU’s accessibility and assistive services so that all your students can participate in your course.

  • Make backup plans. Have a plan for the worst case circumstances. What will you do if your students get sick or have to isolate? If you do? Your AIs? What should your students do if your Zoom connection stops during class? If theirs do? Make sure students are familiar with the UITS Support Center (812-855-6789) for their technical support.

  • Extend flexibility. Your students are facing unique life circumstances, have varied access to technologies, and are working far outside the consistency of a classroom. Don’t hesitate to offer some flexibility in due dates to help all students reach learning outcomes. To accomplish this, Canvas allows for differentiated due dates: Assign an assignment to an individual student, Assign a quiz to an individual student, Assign a graded discussion to an individual student.

  • Acknowledge the stress and event(s). Processing stress and trauma has big consequences on our ability to learn and memorize. Consider how you can make space for this in your class. Validate students’ feelings. Name the event and the possible feelings they may be having. Provide resources. Acknowledge that your students may not be able to attend class sometimes.

  • Consider assessment alternatives that do not require surveillance. Surveillance-based proctoring (e.g., Respondus Monitor or Examity) is fraught with equity issues. In classrooms, students take the exam in the same environment with the same technologies. There are vast differences in the environments and technologies access of dispersed students—quiet room, family or house mates who respect the testing efforts, access to internet, devices, other technologies (e.g., webcam, printer); time zones. Look for alternative ways to assess student learning that do not require surveillance. Note that the use of Respondus Monitor and Examity require completion of an online acknowledgement.

Structure your Course and Instruction to Support All Students

  • Publish your course—or at least parts of it—very early. Students are looking for their Canvas courses early, wanting to know about course expectations, and in some cases, just making sure they can access all their courses. Help students with their planning and peace of mind by publishing as much of your Canvas courses as you can early on, preferably with a welcome message to build a sense of belonging from the start.

  • Use Modules to organize access to course content and activities. Canvas Modules are a way to organize related course activities and resources into units. Modules, along with the Syllabus, can be a roadmap for students through your course. With Modules, students can easily find what they need to do without the frustration of clicking all over a course site to find a due date, an activity, or a resource. When you use Modules, remove other tools from the navigation so students access your course from Modules only. The Canvas course template modules can streamline your course content set-up.

  • Leverage collaborative learning to keep students engaged and connected. Use peer review in Canvas, collaborative project assignments, VoiceThread discussions about media, and/or Zoom breakout rooms to help students connect and collaborate on course activities. See this Pressbooks publication about active learning in Zoom.

  • Learn about TILT and UDL assignment design. Create assignments that support success for all students by using Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies in designing learning experiences for students. Use rubrics, scaffolding, chunking, and multiple means of engagement to connect course activity to learning outcomes and help struggling students especially, and in fact to benefit all students in building competence and knowledge as you guide them through the content and activities of your course.

  • Facilitate learning with frequent quizzes. Help students engage with content by strategically using quizzes for frequent, low-stakes, comprehensive practice with course material. Quizzes can be created in Canvas Quizzes, Quick Check, and Kaltura video. Using quizzes strategically helps establish semester-long assessment so that misconduct on infrequent high-stakes assessments is less desirable.

  • Guide and support with announcements. Used judiciously, Canvas Announcements provide timely information and maintain instructor presence and a sense of support for students. Use these thoughtfully, as students may be receiving many announcements from all their courses.

  • Integrate Office Hours into Canvas. Take time to explain what office hours are—what to expect and what kind of questions students could ask. Use a sign-up system (such as the Canvas scheduler or an IU-only Google doc). Drop a link to office hours in the Canvas navigation. Consider renaming office hours to “Pat’s Office,” “free help sessions,” or “coffee talks,” to seem less intimidating. Consider requiring a check-in meeting to make sure everyone attends, or create an office hours assignment in which students earn a few points for attending and asking one or two questions.

  • Encourage the use of Writing Tutorial Services (WTS).WTS tutors can help students with any writing background on any type of academic writing, including brainstorming, outlining, identifying patterns of error, content, formatting, and revising. Consider inviting WTS to your class to further explain their services.

If some of these ideas interest you, visit the linked resources for more recommendations. You can also reach out for a one-on-one consultation by emailing or attend some of our upcoming events.