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Flex@Pitt Playbook

Flex@Pitt Course Design & Delivery: Adapt, Deliver and Offer

Flex@Pitt is an instructional model that frames options to help you to design and deliver a course that can accommodate the needs of in-person and remote students and instructors, address issues associated with possible rotating student cohorts, and flexibly respond to the possibility of changing public health regulations and recommendations. This information will be updated regularly. Visit Flex@Pitt Teaching Support for additional resources, workshops, diagrams, and tips.

(Click image to the left for a larger view of the model.)

Flex@Pitt Instructional Model: Fall 2020

On June 9, Chancellor Gallagher and Provost Cudd provided updates on resilience framework planning and some further direction for Fall of 2020. As the Chancellor noted, “our classes will rely on a dynamic, hybrid approach to teaching and learning.” For the Fall 2020 term, instructors and students should be prepared to move between in-person and online modes of instruction, as opportunities for in-class meetings, social distancing recommendations, and public health concerns can change at any time. To meet the needs of students who may be doing all or part of their learning remotely, classes should be structured to include a mix of in-person, online, and blended activities.

This is a general description of the Flex@Pitt Model. In the coming days and weeks, please check back to our website for examples of how the Flex@Pitt Model can be implemented in your course(s), along with resources available to help you use the model to prepare for the Fall, and the places you can go to ask questions and get help.

The Flex@Pitt model is an instructional model that accommodates in-person and remote instructors and students. Using this model, instructors are encouraged to flexibly leverage face-to-face class meetings, with opportunities for remote students to participate using video conferencing technology (blended), synchronous online activities, and asynchronous online content as appropriate to the size of their class, availability of suitable classroom space, content, and course structure (e.g., lecture-based, discussion, recitation, project-based, lab, studio). Instructors should also consider their students’ location and access to on-campus class session to determine the appropriate balance of in-class, blended, synchronous, and asynchronous activities.

Additional information and approval processes for faculty who prefer remote instruction only is forthcoming. We will distribute this information as soon as it’s available.

Note:  This model incorporates some principles of the HyFlex model, such as class sessions being offered online or in-person and availability of recordings.

Flex@Pitt: Academic Principles

Academic Principles

  1. Pitt educational standards must remain high, for both in-person and remote learners.
  2. Academic continuity is preserved when in-person instruction is not possible.
  3. Assessment of educational quality is done at the unit level.

Flex-Pitt-Operational-Principles

Operational Principles
  1. This model builds on work done by faculty in Spring 2020 and can be tailored to fit the pedagogical environment and needs of the academic unit.
  2. Faculty and students must be prepared to move between in-person and online modes, as conditions can change at any time.
  3. Some students and faculty will not be able—for a number of reasons—to attend or to teach in person for part or all of the semester. (Faculty should discuss their individual needs with their chairs, deans, or regional campus presidents.)
  4. All class sessions, whether live, blended, synchronous, or asynchronous should reflect total teaching/learning time and course objectives.
  5. Under scenarios where campus is closed to in-person classes:
    • All classes that are offered remotely should incorporate a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities.
    • All synchronous meetings will be available via videoconference and be will recorded where appropriate.
  6. Under scenarios where campus is open to classes:
    • Some classes can be taught on campus, based on space availability.
    • Class meetings will need to be modified to meet social distancing requirements (cohorts of students attending in-person on alternate days, room capacities reduced to accommodate health and safety regulations).
    • All synchronous meetings will be available via videoconference and recorded.
    • Students can attend on-campus class meetings, participate remotely, or rotate between the two. Some students may receive specific in-person attendance schedules.
    • Remote students can participate in synchronous class meetings live, though due to time zone differences may watch a video later.
    • Lab/clinical/studio/internship – models will vary.

Key Terms & Phrases

  • Synchronous online: students participate in learning activities together in real-time online or remotely.
  • Asynchronous online: students participate in learning activities individually at their own pace online.
  • Blended (synchronous) learning: students participate in learning activities together in real-time with some students participating face-to-face and others remotely.
  • Rotating student cohorts: groups of students rotate between participating in class face-to-face and synchronously online.
  • Formative assessment: low-stakes assessment designed primarily to help students improve.
  • Summative assessment: high-stakes assessments designed primarily to evaluate students.

Fundamental Features of Flex@Pitt

Fundamental Features of the Flex@Pitt Instructional Model

  • Accommodates in-person and remote instructors and students.
  • Allows instructors to provide a combination of synchronous and asynchronous online learning experiences along with in-person blended class sessions, as appropriate and relevant.
  • If classes are able to meet in-person, students who can’t be there (because of classroom capacity, health risk status, or geography) can also participate (blended synchronous participation) via videoconferencing.
  • Class sessions are recorded.
  • All classes offer opportunities for in-class experience, when possible.
  • All classes have online components.
  • All classes have a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities.
  • All classes use the Canvas learning management system (LMS).

Probable Realities for the Fall

  • Not all students will be able to return to campus.
  • Some instructors may be unable to teach in-person.
  • Classroom capacities will be reduced. Typically, new capacities will be one-third of pre-COVID capacities.
  • Scheduled class time will be modified to accommodate social distancing processes and classroom cleaning.
  • Some courses will not have a physical classroom in which to hold de-densified, in-person class meetings.
  • In some courses, it may not be permissible for all students to meet in-person, in the classroom at the same time, and cohorts of students may need to rotate in-class attendance.

Key Recommendations

The shift to emergency remote teaching in Spring 2020 represented an emergency response to a quickly evolving crisis. Although much remains uncertain, our goal is for Fall 2020 to be more strategic and intentional. Designing your Fall 2020 course with a flexible model of teaching in mind will allow you to adapt to unpredictable logistical issues or sudden changes in public health mandates.

Using a flexible design approach, you can begin to determine the appropriate balance of face-to-face, blended, asynchronous online, and synchronous online elements for your course. Examine your syllabus and identify those activities, elements and experiences that best align with a face-to-face, blended, asynchronous online, or synchronous online delivery format.

  • As possible, hold live, face-to-face sessions. Note, in the Guarded operational posture, most instruction will be in person, except for some large lecture courses. In the Elevated and High operational postures, opportunities for face-to-face class meetings will be more limited.
  • Provide asynchronous and synchronous online activities/content  to support, augment and extend the live, in class sessions. These online methods are the pedagogical tools relevant when face-to-face meetings are not possible. If in-person classes are suspended, the online components of the course will help maintain instructional continuity and make a transition to full remote teaching smoother.
  • Become familiar and comfortable with the educational technology that will support the Flex@Pitt Instructional Model: Canvas, Zoom, and Panopto.
  • Note: The University will be making further announcements regarding available in-class technology.  Explore the resources, training, and support that is available at the University Center for Teaching and Learning.
  • Important Information About Recording Your Class
    In order to facilitate the free exchange of ideas during lectures, if a faculty member intends to record their lecture with student participation, they must advise the students, via e-mail and at the beginning of the lecture, that the lecture, including their participation, is being recorded. Students should not be required to participate in the recorded conversation and should be encourage to ask questions off-line. Further, the recorded lecture may be used by the faculty member and the registered students only for internal class purposes and only during the term  in which the course is being offered. Faculty who have questions should contact faculty@pitt.edu. Consult the University policies for additional information on copyright.

Implementation Examples

Examples of Ways to Implement Flex@Pitt

This model can be implemented using many different approaches, as appropriate to the operational posture in which the university is currently operating. For each approach, the Teaching Center recommends posting course content, videos of class sessions, and creating assessments using the Canvas LMS.

Examples of implementation strategies include:

Full In-Class Approach: Teach in-person and remote students at the same time. Most students will be present in the physical classroom and some will participate in the class remotely (because of geography, health status, or other relevant consideration), using video conferencing technology (e.g., Zoom). Videos of class sessions should be posted for online asynchronous viewing. In a variant of this approach, the Rotating Cohort Approach, because of social distancing limitations, not all enrolled students will be allowed in the classroom at the same time. Smaller cohorts of students will attend in-class sessions on rotating days, while other cohorts of students participate remotely in the live class session. In both approaches, supporting the meaningful participation and engagement of remote students will be important. In-class opportunities will be most relevant when the university is in the Guarded operational postures.

Flipped Hybrid Approach. Create a “flipped classroom” in which the instructor provides all students with asynchronous learning activities (e.g., a short video lectures, reading assignments, discussion prompts, case studies, problem sets, quizzes, etc.) to complete prior to synchronous sessions. This reduces the amount of time students participate in synchronous class sessions. In this approach, the amount of in-class meeting time can be limited and focused on hands-on instruction and facilitated student practice.

Fully Online Approach:  Some large enrollment lecture courses may be offered fully online. If your course is approved for fully online delivery, no class meetings are required. Offer a balance of asynchronous and synchronous activities to meaningfully engage students, provide a sense of community, and help establish connections between you and your students. A slight modification, the Majority Online Approach, might involve having students assemble in-person at the beginning of the semester, to meet each other and establish initial interpersonal connections, at mid-semester for a check-in, and at the end of the semester for final presentations or assessments. The key point is that with a very small number of exceptions, all instructional activity takes place online. A fully online format will be the primary mode of delivery if the university is operating in the Elevated or High operational postures.

Separate Sections Approach:  Offer two separate sections of the course: one for those in-person and one for those taking the course remotely. This approach may be appropriate for courses with mid-sized enrollments in which there are a significant number of remote students. In this approach, with a few exceptions, most instructional materials like readings, lectures, and assignments would remain the same for each “section,” but one group of students would complete coursework face-to-face and the other would complete work online.

Download the PDF of the Flex@Pitt Approaches Chart.

Approach Delivery Where students Participate Proportion of students in the classroom May work well for the following class types:
Full In-Class Sync Face-to-face Most

Small or mid-sized classes assigned classroom space that can accommodate social distancing guidelines

Labs, studios, internships, clinicals

Rotating Cohort Sync and Async (rotating) Face-to-face and online (rotating) Some (rotating)

Mid-sized classes assigned classroom space that can only accommodate a portion of students at a time while adhering to social distancing guidelines

Potentially labs, studios, internships, clinicals, depending on the course

Flipped Hybrid Sync Online and face-to-face (together) Most

Small or mid-sized classes assigned classroom space that can accommodate social distancing guidelines

Labs, studios, internships, clinicals

Fully Online Sync and Async Online None

Large courses (with approval)

Classes that are not assigned a classroom space

Classes in which all students opt to participate fully online

Majority Online Sync and Async Mostly online All or most on the few occasions the class meets

Classes of any size that do not require a significant hands-on, face-to-face component as in some labs, studios, internships, and clinicals

Classes in which all students opt to participate mostly online

Classes with instructors who cannot participate in face-to-face instruction consistently throughout the semester

Separate Sections Sync and Async Either face-to-face or online Some Large- to mid-sized classes in which many, but not all, students opt to participate online.

Implementation Steps

Flex@Pitt instructional model.
(Click image for a larger view of the model.)

1. Determine classroom availability and capacity.

  • Availability: If a classroom is not available to accommodate your course, your students will not have the opportunity to meet in-person at regularly scheduled times. In these situations, you will need to use synchronous and asynchronous online teaching methods. If a classroom is available, your task will be to identify the balance of face-to-face, blended, synchronous online, and asynchronous online activities that best meet the needs of the students in your course. See the Implementation Examples area of this playbook for additional information.
  • Capacity:  If a classroom is available, will it allow all your students to meet in-person, at one time, while adhering to social distancing guidelines?  In the fall, room capacities will be reduced to accommodate health and safety regulations. This means that in some instances not all students will be able to meet in-person at one time. You may need to consider how to split your class into cohorts and determine how the cohorts will rotate in-person attendance on alternating class days. On any scheduled class day, a cohort that does not attend in person, can participate synchronously in the live class session, using video conferencing technology (this environment is called a blended synchronous classroom).

2. Determine who will be attending classes face-to-face and who will attend remotely.

Remote Instructor: Because of physical health risk status, you may not be able to be present in the physical classroom. If your course does not have a physical classroom in which to meet,  all course activity will be remote.  If your class has assigned classroom space that accommodates your students and you have a colleague, teaching assistant, or teaching fellow who is able and comfortable facilitating face-to-face activities, you can conduct remote synchronous sessions using a web-conferencing technology tool like Zoom while your colleague, TA, or TF facilitates in-person.

Remote Students: Determine if you will have students who intend to participate fully remotely, synchronously and/or asynchronously, enrolled in your course by conducting a student survey using Canvas or Qualtrics. Because of health risk status or other relevant considerations, some students may not be able to return to Pittsburgh or to campus. These students will not be able to attend any in-class meeting and will need to participate fully online by attending synchronous online class sessions using a web-conferencing technology tool like Zoom or reviewing lecture videos uploaded in Panopto and by completing activities and assignments online.

Determine if you will have remote students who are in time zones that are incompatible with blended synchronous participation. Video record the class meeting so these students may view them when their schedules permit, and you will want to consider alternative options for classroom participation, such as written or recorded oral assignments. In this context, it is wise to record all live class sessions and make the recordings available to all students in Canvas.

3. Determine your students' access to technology.

Not all students will have access to high-speed internet and the hardware for effective remote participation. This is true for your remote students and for your face-to-face students who may need continued access to course materials for online activities and after the Thanksgiving break. You can ask students about technology access on the same beginning -of-the-course survey in Canvas or Qualtrics.

With this information, you can begin to determine the appropriate balance of face-to-face, blended, asynchronous online, and synchronous online elements for your course. Examine your syllabus and identify those activities, elements and experiences that best align with a face-to-face, asynchronous online, or synchronous online delivery format. Activities that align best with face-to-face instruction are typically hands-on, requiring application of knowledge and instructor facilitation.

4. Determine which class activities should occur face-to-face, synchronously and remotely, and asynchronously and remotely.

Face-to-face: Identify and prioritize which course activities require or are best-suited for face-to-face, in-class delivery. These might include activities that involve hands-on observation, oversight, coaching, practice, delivering feedback in real-time, or evaluation. Other activities that benefit from face-to-face interaction include real-time problem solving, deep analysis or discussion, product or design critique and refinement, and evaluation of important skills or techniques. Examples may include wet labs, engineering labs, musical performances, clinical skills, or artistic technique.

One strategy to consider with regard to face-to-face activities is to schedule high-priority in-class experiences early in the semester, before the potential for a possible late-fall COVID resurgence is more likely.

It will also be important to plan ahead for how your in-class activities might be transitioned to an online delivery format in the event that the university is required to suspend face-to-face class meetings again. Use the Canvas learning management system to upload your syllabus, course materials, lectures, and to create and grade high-stakes assessments throughout the semester can simplify a possible transition to fully online delivery.  You can sign up for Canvas training or review Canvas resources on the Canvas@Pitt website.

Synchronous remote teaching and activities:  If you have remote students who are participating in live, in-class sessions, it will be important to thoughtfully consider how they will engage with the in-class activities and interact with you and the other students in class.  For classes with a large number of remote students, it is generally helpful to have a teaching assistant or other support person available to help monitor questions, virtual hand-raises, and chat from the remote students. If no support person is available, plan periodic breaks (while students engage in independent work, for example) to check in with synchronous remote students. Breakout rooms can be used to promote interaction and collaboration among remote students.

For ideas on how to engage students in active learning in a synchronous blended classroom, see Vanderbilt’s page on Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms.

Consider supplementing instruction by offering virtual office hours, synchronous discussion sessions, and synchronous question and answer sessions to provide an opportunity for students to ask questions, clarify confusion, and interact remotely.

Synchronous online sessions can also be used when face-to-face class sessions are not possible. Short remote lectures, class demonstrations and, synchronous discussions or problem solving sessions are all good ways to engage students in real-time virtual class experiences in the remote environment.

Asynchronous online content: Determine which of your existing course activities and assignments can be delivered asynchronously.  Video recordings of lectures broken into 5-10 minute segments, demonstrations, worked examples, produced video content (e.g., TED, YouTube), and procedural steps work well in the asynchronous environment. In addition, reading assignments, writing assignments with peer critique, student projects, problem sets, discussion posts/responses, and narrated PowerPoint, are also well-suited for asynchronous delivery. In many instances, your current content and activities can be converted to asynchronous delivery without the need to develop new content or materials, and once created, these resources can be used in blended synchronous classes as well. More important in the current environment, if the university is required to suspend face-to-face class meetings in order to comply with public health mandates, asynchronous content should be able to be easily used without modification.  For information about how to create online content, sign up for Canvas training or review Canvas resources on the Canvas@Pitt website.

5. Design assessments.

Devise an assessment strategy that incorporates formative and summative assessment. Summative assessments should be created and graded in Canvas. Sign up for Canvas training or review Canvas resources on the Canvas@Pitt website to learn how to create and grade assessments in Canvas. Consider the possibility that in-person assessment may not be possible and explore other options for assessing student learning.

6. Design for accessibility.

Course content and deliver must be accessible, so review  accessibility best practices when designing all face-to-face and remote course materials.

7. Communicate with students.

  • Face-to-face class meetings:  Will class meet in face-to-face sessions? If yes, identify when, how often and where.  For those students that are unable to attend face-to-face classes, explain how they may attend remotely using video conferencing tools and/or access recorded class sessions in Canvas.
  • Rotating cohort assignment and schedule (as relevant): Will all students be able to meet in that classroom at the same time?  If not, which group should attend face-to-face sessions when?
  • Minimum recommended technology requirements: What technology tools and internet access will students need to participate in online class activities? What should they do if they lack these tools or access?
  • Requirements for remote participation: What does good participation look like when students are not in face-to-face class sessions?
  • Expectations for change: What happens if class delivery transitions to fully remote? How and when will you communicate changes to students?

Student Engagement

Engage, Communicate and Motivate.

  • Convey your investment in student success.
  • Express empathy and your awareness that we are not operating under usual conditions, and that success is possible.
  • Establish “instructor presence.” Make sure that the students know that you are there for them during the educational process through regular communication and feedback.
  • Develop a communication plan for conveying important course information to students using a consistent structure and medium. Consider communication methods that will reach both face-to-face and remote students. For example, you might post an announcement in your Canvas course shell every Monday.
  • Communicate your course delivery plan to students on your syllabus and in your Canvas course shell. Discuss expectations for student participation in various modes of delivery during the first week of the semester, including logistics and safety guidelines for face-to-face class sessions.
  • Communicate plans for the semester (including “contingency plans”) at the beginning of the semester. As much as possible, have these plans outlined in your syllabus.
  • Communicate clear expectations for deadlines, format, exemptions, etc., but also your willingness to consider situations which may require flexibility on your part.
  • Build flexibility into your plan for the semester. Students may experience disruptions to their academic experience for various reasons. Consider how you will support them and respond to those disruptions. Including student support resources on your syllabus and in your course shell, allowing flexible assignment deadlines or limited number of grace periods, or inviting students to request extensions may be helpful to students dealing with challenges throughout the semester.
  • Build in opportunities to cultivate class community, particularly early in the semester. Use activities that allow students to reflect and draw on their experiences, select readings or topics that are most interesting to them, and prompt them to interact and discuss with their classmates. Conveying respect and interest in your students also helps build a healthy class community.
  • Use regular informal check-ins to establish a feedback loop with your students. By conducting surveys biweekly or once a month to ask students about their progress in the course, their well-being, and their perception of learning activities and teaching, you can
  • Make adjustments during the course to improve students’ learning experiences.

FAQs

The FAQ section is updated regularly to document and address current questions and concerns from faculty and staff.  Visit the Flex@Pitt FAQs for updated information.

On June 9, Chancellor Gallagher and Provost Cudd provided updates on resiliency planning and some further direction for Fall of 2020. As the Chancellor noted, “our classes will rely on a dynamic, hybrid approach to teaching and learning.” For the Fall 2020 term, instructors and students should be prepared to move between in-person and online modes of instruction, as opportunities for in-class meetings, social distancing recommendations, and public health concerns can change at any time. To meet the needs of students who may be doing all or part of their learning remotely, classes should be structured to include a mix of in-person, online, and blended activities.

This is a general description of the Flex@Pitt Model. In the coming days and weeks, please check back to our website for examples of how the Flex@Pitt Model can be implemented in your course(s), along with resources available to help you use the model to prepare for the Fall, and the places you can go to ask questions and get help.

The Flex@Pitt model is an instructional model that accommodates in-person and remote instructors and students. Using this model, instructors are encouraged to flexibly leverage face-to-face class meetings, with opportunities for remote students to participate using video conferencing technology (blended), synchronous online activities, and asynchronous online content as appropriate to the size of their class, availability of suitable classroom space, content, and course structure (e.g., lecture-based, discussion, recitation, project-based, lab, studio). Instructors should also consider their students’ location and access to on-campus class session to determine the appropriate balance of in-class, blended, synchronous, and asynchronous activities.

Note:  This model incorporates some principles of the HyFlex model, such as class sessions being offered online or in-person and availability of recordings.

Academic Principles

  1. Pitt educational standards must remain high, for both in-person and remote learners.
  2. Academic continuity is preserved when in-person instruction is not possible.
  3. Assessment of educational quality is done at the unit level.
Operational Principles
  1. This model builds on work done by faculty in Spring 2020 and can be tailored to fit the pedagogical environment and needs of the academic unit.
  2. Faculty and students must be prepared to move between in-person and online modes, as conditions can change at any time.
  3. Some students and faculty will not be able—for a number of reasons—to attend or to teach in person for part or all of the semester. (Faculty should discuss their individual needs with their chairs, deans, or regional campus presidents.)
  4. All class sessions, whether live, blended, synchronous, or asynchronous should reflect total teaching/learning time and course objectives.
  5. Under scenarios where campus is closed to in-person classes:
    • All classes that are offered remotely should incorporate a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities.
    • All synchronous meetings will be available via videoconference and be will recorded where appropriate.
  6. Under scenarios where campus is open to classes:
    • Some classes can be taught on campus, based on space availability.
    • Class meetings will need to be modified to meet social distancing requirements (cohorts of students attending in-person on alternate days, room capacities reduced to accommodate health and safety regulations).
    • All synchronous meetings will be available via videoconference and recorded.
    • Students can attend on-campus class meetings, participate remotely, or rotate between the two. Some students may receive specific in-person attendance schedules.
    • Remote students can participate in synchronous class meetings live, though due to time zone differences may watch a video later.
    • Lab/clinical/studio/internship – models will vary.

Workshops and Training

Consultants are available to assist faculty as they prepare to teach in the fall 2020 term. Please visit our workshops page to view a full schedule of trainings and to register. You may contact us at teaching@pitt.edu with any questions or feedback.

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