Teaching a SAIL Class Online

There are several tools available at Penn that are well-suited to facilitating an active, collaborative class remotely. Given that everyone will be adjusting to and juggling many changes, providing flexibility on when students complete tasks and whether they need to work in groups can lessen the burden on both yourself and your students. In light of the challenges of the current circumstances, you may choose to change how you run your class.  To get the most out of your time and effort, you may want to consider: 

  • Are there course goals that students could accomplish individually, and could students complete those elements on their own time?
  • For goals and tasks that require student interaction/group work, could students complete some or all of this work outside of class time? 

For more ideas on how to adjust your course elements, see  below.

Asking students to work on their own time

For many instructors, students working collaboratively in groups, while the instructor is available to provide feedback, is a key goal and benefit of a SAIL class. However, given the disruptive nature of a sudden change in course format, both you and your students may find it helpful to have more flexibility in timing and format.

Asking students to complete some elements individually

Material that is not too complex or time-consuming, or which does not require students to grapple with multiple perspectives or ideas, might be a candidate for individual work.

  • Can students do more preparation between classes? 
  • Could you check student preparation levels before class?
    • Check student understanding with quizzes and surveys. These quizzes can be set up to be ungraded or only graded for participation if you’re using this as a teaching tool and not as an assessment.  Here is a guide to the different types of quizzes you can use and how they are graded. 
    • Check student understanding with Student-submitted questions or ideas via Canvas discussion boards (where students can see each others' posts) or assignments.
  • Can students start in-class activities on their own ahead of time, and come together in groups later to discuss and reach a consensus?


Asking groups to work together outside of class time 

If students can make some useful progress in groups without immediate feedback from an instructor, students may be able to meet with their groups remotely on their own time. This could include longer-term projects. Students may also be able to start in-class activities ahead of time, or finalize in-class activities after the class session ends. You may wish to remind students that they can contact each other through Canvas if needed.
  • Possible meeting platforms for students:
    • Skype
    • Google Hangouts
    • Any software they're already comfortable with!
  • Students can also work collaboratively on Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides, or through Canvas discussions. Regardless of how students meet, ask groups to upload notes to Canvas discussions or assignments, or through a shared google document, so you can track progress.

Running class and group work live through Zoom or BlueJeans

You can still take advantage of your existing scheduled class time to hold your class session live virtually.

Before using synchronous sessions in your class this semester, keep in mind:
  • As classes get larger (than 20 or so), managing remote sessions becomes more challenging.
  • Be aware that many students may not be able to attend, due to technology, time zone differences, or other disruptions. If much of the important learning happens during these sessions, how can you be sure no one gets left behind if many of your students cannot participate?
  • Live sessions do require additional technological experience, so consider how comfortable you are with the platform available, or with learning a new platform.
If you decide to meet with your students live:
  • Try it out to see if it works with your class, and adjust from there
  • Consider whether you need to do so for every class period. Is this a better fit for only certain tasks, or can you meet with a subset of the students at a time?
There are also asynchronous options presented in the above section.

To meet online, use: 

  • Zoom (available to Annenberg, Penn Law, School of Engineering, Penn Vet, School of Arts & Sciences, and SP2).
  • BlueJeans (Available to Annenberg, Penn Dental, Weitzman School of Design, Graduate School of Education, Nursing, Perelman School of Medicine, and Wharton).

Course elements and possible live remote solutions

Student group work during class time

BlueJeans and Zoom both allow you to separate students into breakout rooms, so students can meet with their groups. Groups can be automatically or manually generated.  

  • Zoom Breakout rooms
    • Be sure to tell students to install the Zoom application on their device in advance; they will need it to participate in the breakout room.s
    • If you wish to assign groups, you can pre-assign student groups to save time.
    • Students can ask for help from within their groups. Students can get an overview of how to participate in breakout rooms here.
  • BlueJeans breakout sessions
  • Group size can be even more important online - try to group students by 3-4 at the most if possible, to help them talk to each other.

Check student understanding during in-class activities

  • Provide activity checkpoints; students can upload their thoughts to a shared Google Document, Canvas discussions, or Canvas assignments at specified points. You or the TAs can check their progress periodically.
  • For those already using Poll Everywhere: Polling will still be available online and can be incorporated during class.
  • Circulate through BlueJeans and Zoom groups. As the host, you can jump in and out of individual group rooms.
  • If you are on Zoom, you can send clarifications, reminders, and questions to all groups as they work using Zoom Broadcasts.

Provide summaries and conclusions from the class activity

  • Close breakout groups at the end to bring everyone together and provide a live summary. Send student groups a time warning before closing breakout groups, so students know to finalize their discussions. Zoom Broadcasts.
  • If students submit their activities or worksheets to Canvas, provide feedback on their work through the Canvas SpeedGrader.
  • Post answer keys or written summaries to Canvas.

Integrate your TAs

Ask TAs to monitor group work. 
  • Ensure TAs have access to the materials used for checkpoints, such as google docs, so they can help you monitor progress. Written work, or uploaded pages, will be easiest for your TAs to monitor and follow up on.
  • In Zoom, TAs cannot move between breakout groups, but can chat with students one-on one.
    • You can temporarily add TAs to student groups when students ask for help, so they can join the conversation. 
    • You can make your TAs co-hosts. Co-hosts can manage participants (such as muting/unmuting and asking students to share their screens), and start/stop recordings. 
  • In BlueJeans, you can make your TAs moderators to help manage the session and groups. You will need to copy your moderator passcode (found in your meeting details after you schedule a meeting) and send it to your TAs. Your TAs can then enter the session with that code.

Orient students, and yourself, to the new format

Any change in format can take some time to get used to, and online group work will likely be new to most or all of your students. Give yourself and your students some time to settle in. The following are a few tips for making sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Provide students with an outline of the class agenda, such as what they can expect to do during class time. Should they expect to join a Zoom or BlueJeans session? Will there be breakout rooms? 
  • If using live sessions, including breakout rooms, set aside some time on the first day for you and the students to get used to the technology. Are there low-stakes or low time-pressure activities students can use to practice at the beginning?

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