The Pivot-Ready Professor

The Pivot-Ready Professor

By Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave & Leslie Cramblet Alvarez

With only a few days to the start of the academic quarter and a myriad of tasks to complete, faculty members across the nation feel anxious and stressed about the teaching and learning pivots that might be required this term. Add to this the many responsibilities and collective trauma of this historic moment, and the uneasiness is palpable.

Part of the uneasiness stems from the unknown. It is impossible (and counterproductive) to plan for every possibility this fall will bring. If this year has taught us anything, it is that flexibility and empathy are two essential elements for getting through uncertain times. The most important things rise to the top, and a little advance planning can help us make effective decisions when the time to pivot comes.

Considering the course guidelines’ key takeaways, we offer potential scenarios and pivots that can help focus your final push to fall.

Are You Ready for Fall?

The document shared by the Chancellor, prepared through a collaboration with the Fall Task Force, Creating a community care: An action plan for DU’s fall return to campus offers some course guidelines that can assist your fall planning. All these guidelines, listed below, are designed to make for a smoother path to a pivot. Keeping yourself and our students safe is the paramount concern. At the heart of these guidelines is providing a framework for designing a learning experience that allows for educational continuity, academic success, and minimizing stress. 

Planning for a Quick, Temporary Change

DU has a communication strategy in place to notify faculty, students, and other stakeholders if a room must be temporarily closed or a class must be temporarily quarantined. As a faculty member, your concern should be communicating how course learning outcomes will be met. You can rely on the university to communicate any logistical or COVID-related contingency plans. 

The Action Plan for return to campus recommends having a contingency plan in place, but, what if there is a quick, temporary shift? Be sure to plan for this possibility as well. Create an email template that you can easily update and deploy. Depending on the day’s activity, you may opt to move the class outdoors (weather permitting) or make a rapid shift to virtual learning. Depending on the planned activity, consider the following:

Class Activity Table

Communication Action Items: consider drafting these emails and saving in a Pivot-Ready folder on your computer desktop of one-drive.

  • Notification to view pre-recorded lecture on Canvas 
  • Guidelines and communication expectations for Zoom and Canvas discussion board 
  • Group-work virtual meeting expectations
  • Instructions on how to record and submit work digitally

After last spring, we know you’ve thought a lot about adapting activities to a virtual setting. We also know the work you do in your classrooms may not fit easily into these boxes, so these are merely guides. Talk more with us at the OTL if you’d like to brainstorm ways to adapt other activities to a virtual setting quickly. 

Planning for Student Absences

Traditionally in higher education, we place a lot of responsibility on the student when an absence occurs. During a pandemic, students may be absent while they quarantine even if they are healthy and able to keep up outside of class. This requires us to think about student absences differently and take a more active role in keeping students up to date. If they cannot attend in-person or synchronous sections of the class, how can they access course materials and stay caught up?

In the Action Plan for return to campus, it was recommended that you record all lectures. You should check with your academic leadership to learn if this is actually required, but, keep in mind that the spirit of that suggestion is making sure that there are ways for absent students to stay engaged.

Video-recording your lecture is ONE way you can do that. But, you should be choosy in what and how you record (see table below for more details). Video recording and providing access to lecture materials in Canvas is an essential aspect of ensuring equitable learning experiences for all students. However, there are situations where you should NOT record certain aspects of courses. And, there are other ways to ensure engagement and prepare for student absences. Consider these sample situations and pivots when planning to accommodate absences.

Communication Action Items: consider drafting these emails and saving in a Pivot-Ready folder on your computer desktop of one-drive.

  • All-student email you can use early in the term to let students know they should (1) email you regarding an absence; (2) do not have to reveal the reason for the absence; (3) work with you to catch-up with content and meet deadlines
  • Outline of asynchronous course elements
  • Instructions for being a “Student Note-Taker”
  • Buddy-system instructions for reaching out, checking in, and keeping in touch 
  • Instructions for pre-recording presentations and submitting work digitally 
  • Make your policies clear when it comes to students recording on their own. See our sample syllabus statements here

Planning for Longer-Term Pivot

Should the need arise, DU may declare a two week temporary shift to online. As noted in the Action Plan, all syllabi should have a contingency plan. As you would do in a shorter-term pivot, communicating with students about how to move forward is critical. 

Draft and share a general class statement that lets students know you are prepared to pivot to fully online teaching and learning. Clear communication will decrease anxiety, and the number of student questions you will receive early in the quarter. The goal is to let students know (1) How learning will continue if an online pivot is necessary; (2) What they can expect from you during a pivot; (3) Academic expectations during a pivot.

A few action items will help you prepare for this. 

 Action Items:

  1. Know what you can and cannot share with students–look to your chair, director, or dean for more information on this. 
  2. Draft and save an all-student email message that helps students understand your contingency plan, what they need to do to continue the course, and what they can expect from you on that day and going forward.
  3. Include live links to relevant campus resources to support students. Remember, some students might feel anxious about pivoting for an extended period of time. 

All these recommendations boil down to preparing for educational continuity. The best way to set yourself up for success is utilize Canvas as a single stop for as much of your course material as possible. Get students in the habit of going to Canvas for course materials, accessing Zoom, and taking formative assessments. In fact, as noted in the fall Action Plan, you should already be planning for a paperless term. This means all handouts, course assignments, quizzes, exams, and any material you would provide or accept from students should be accommodated in a virtual setting. 

As always, you can turn to the OTL for support in getting this set up in Canvas. 

Responding to Technological Challenges 

We know the first week will be a challenge. As we’ve seen at universities around the country and in some cases in our own homes as children begin remote learning, it will take some grace, patience, and empathy as you and your students adjust to this new setting. Technological hiccups can be frustrating but there are places to go for support.

IT Campus Partnerships has been working overtime to set up classrooms, provide trainings, and ensure your hyflex classrooms are ready for day 1. The OTL and IT have been collaborating on training the Classroom Assistants that your units were approved to hire. 

If you or your students are facing connectivity problems in the classroom and you have a Classroom Assistant, this student can help with basic troubleshooting. As always, IT Classroom Support is available to assist with technology questions, concerns, and trainings 7 days a week. Their phone number is posted in every classroom but it cannot  hurt to have their extension on speed dial. Dial extension 1-3595 from any on campus phone or 303-871-3595.

Last spring, the OTL published some blogs that may be helpful as you prepare for challenges the new term will bring. 

As for supporting your students, it is important to know that there are programs to help them as well: 

  • Laptop Loaners Program: The IT Help Center at the University of Denver provides short-term and long-term laptop loaners to undergraduate and graduate students for educational purposes. In addition, they also provide short-term laptop loaners to faculty and staff for academic or administrative purposes.
  • Technology Resources for Learning from Remotely: IT@DU has information on their website to help students prepare to seamlessly continue their online learning from a distance. This page will provide resources that will support students to:
    • Attend classes remotely
    • Prepare in advance for disruptions to campus operations (for example, a pandemic or extended severe weather)
    • Communicate with instructors and classmates during both normal operations and large-scale disruptions

Both students and faculty are anxious about the start of the term and we know you are working hard to create the best possible learning environment for your students. We hope these scenarios help you think through some contingency plans to get off to a smooth start. Please be sure to visit us for a 1:1 or webinar–we’re here to support your success! 

Summing up: Ensuring Educational Continuity for Students

  1. Plan ahead
  2. Prepare a draft communication that can be ready to go
  3. Know who to contact in your department should you be absent
  4. Set the stage with syllabus statements and talk about them in class
  5. Consider pre-recording some of your lectures
  6. Consider pre-recording the overview to every content module
  7. Plan for adapting in-person activities to online settings
  8. Prepare for absences, including on day one of class
  9. Understand that challenges will arise. Give yourself and your students grace
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