Simplifying a class

I think now is a good time to simplify our online classes. So while everyone is giving advice on how to add things, I figured I’d do the opposite.

Students are overwhelmed, by everything. So are we.

Faculty who have had only a half-semester teaching online are trying to prepare their classes for fall. Some of these classes will be simple, and effective. Others will be cluttered with features, or try to do too much, or not follow basic principles for student ease of use.

I’ve been doing this for awhile, and I already responded this summer by reducing the workload in my classes. But for fall I had considered keeping things the same as before, the same pattern of activities and readings.

Instead I am considering some ways to simplify.

I’m stuck using Canvas so these ideas relate to that LMS, but apply to others as well:

1. Remove “Until” dates

I have always had assignments close a week after the due date, and have told students that between the due date and “until” date they’ll get half points. I’ve never enforced the point reduction — it was just to help keep students on track. It was always inconvenient for me to re-open assignments for individual students anyway, so I’m going to remove all the “Until” dates (a batching process only possible with James Jones’ brilliant hack) on everything except the one assignment I really need to close on time. It’s been pretty clear that students appreciate the extended time.

2. Convert self-assessments to automatic points

For my primary sources, I have students post in a discussion board, then take a one-question checklist quiz to check their work. They often don’t check anything but the boxes! And this summer, I’ve had a student not submit anything, but do the checklist anyway just to get the points. The exercise isn’t working. It would be better to just give them the points when they post, then spot-check myself if certain work needs improvement, and request such improvement with no point reduction.

3. Be more available for immediate response and encourage communication

I have always been good about responding to students when they message me, but over the summer I’ve gotten even better, checking my messages continually. Students have said they really appreciate a quick response, especially since the class is only six weeks long. I intend to keep this up for fall. In addition, I have adopted some new habits designed to encourage students to contact me individually, including inviting them to “keep those questions coming!” when they contact me with a question, however simple it is.

4. Remove unnecessary assignments from the system

This is a Canvas thing. When I change what I’m doing, and no longer use an assignment, I used to just “unpublish” it. But if you do that, and it has a due date or until date attached to it, it still shows to students in various places unless you chase it down and undo that. It’s too automatic. So now I will delete them, confident that if I need them back I can import them from a previous course iteration (I already download classes when they’re finished, just in case).

I’m sure there will be more, but it’s a start.





2 thoughts to “Simplifying a class”

  1. Nice list, Lisa. The one “addition” I might suggest – based on feedback from my own students – is vary the types of assignments week to week. My students seem to appreciate that I had big assignments every other week and little assignments in between, and varied from papers to videos to infographics.

    And as to encouraging communication, I use Twitter with my classes, which adds an interesting “real time” feel to the class.

    1. Good addition, although I must say I give lots of little assignments and very few big ones now. Variety is important. Now if only there was an easier way to add choices. . .

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