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Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching Methods

Asynchronous course delivery refers to delivering your course in a way that is not bound to a particular time or location. Course content and assessments delivered asynchronously leaves it up to the students when they participate in your class. Students who have other responsibilities or less frequent access to technology will benefit from asynchronous course delivery methods such as:

Synchronous course delivery refers to delivering course material to students at a particular time, all together. Course content and assessments delivered synchronously require students to participate in your class at a particular set time or window of time. Students who have other responsibilities or less frequent access to technology may need special accommodations such as recording live sessions for later viewing by those who were unable to participate.

NOTE: 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 encouraged 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.

Workshops/Training

  • Virtual workshop on Making Your Video Effective for Learning: Slides from a synchronous virtual workshop addressing ways of making educational video effective, centered on but not limited to Mayer’s Principles for Multimedia Design.
  • Teaching Online @ Pitt: The Teaching Online @ Pitt (TOP) course is now available. This is a self-paced, à la carte online course and instructors are free to explore what modules and topics are most relevant to their needs. These resources are designed to help instructors expand their pedagogical understanding of the practices that make for successful online teaching and learning. You can enroll in the Teaching Online @ Pitt course today.

Video

  • Tips & Tricks for Educational Video Creation: An 8-minute asynchronous video in which Sera Thornton gives some of her personal tips and tricks for educators wanting to make their own educational video, derived from her experience learning how to do this herself.

Documents

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  • 10 Suggestions to Improve a Lecture: Tips for improving a lecture.
  • Faculty Playbook: Delivering High-Quality Instruction Online in Response to COVID-19: Faculty Playbooks: Delivering Hight-Quality Instruction Online in Response to COVID-19.
  • Flex@Pitt Decision Table: A table to help instructors decide on the best format (synchronous, asynchronous, blended, etc.) for their Fall 2020 courses.
  • Flipped Classroom Planning Worksheet
  • Hybrid Delivery Models (Draft): Descriptions of different models of blended learning.
  • Synchronous v. Asynchronous Delivery Benefits and Challenges
  • ZOOM Webinars FAQ

Other Resources

Remote Course Development Strategies

Assess and Plan

Instructors should consider their familiarity with and current use of relevant instructional technologies (e.g., Canvas, Panopto, Skype, etc.), the structure and level of your course, the requirements of your discipline, the assignments and assessments you will need to deliver, and the particular needs of your students.

  • Instructors should determine realistic goals regarding what can be accomplished.
    • What learning outcomes need to be accomplished? What knowledge, skill or abilities do student still need to develop?
    • What aspects of your original syllabus can you maintain in an online version of the course?
    • Which assignments should you keep, and which should you modify or omit?
    • What assessments or exams will you need to administer? How will you administer them?
  • Determine your familiarity with Canvas.
    • How do you currently use Canvas?
    • Will you need support in setting up or putting your course materials into the LMS?
    • What access do you have to the internet and to necessary educational technologies?
    • What new technologies do you need to learn?
    • Do you know where to get support and assistance with educational technologies?
  • Evaluate your students’ access to technology.
    • Do your students have access to the internet?
    • Do your students have access to the devices necessary to participate in online/remote class activities, assignments and assessments?
  • Determine how your course will be delivered.
    • How will content best be delivered (synchronous vs asynchronous)?
    • What technologies will you use (e.g., live video, web conferencing, Panopto recorded lectures, readings, discussion boards)?
    • Can you use existing resources (e.g., Open Educational Resources (OER), YouTube Videos, LinkedIn Learning, Khan Academy, Ted Talks)?
    • What new materials do you need to develop or create?
    • Can you make any of your remaining assignments optional?
  • Determine how you will assess your students?
    • Will you need to administer quizzes, tests, final exams?
    • Will students be completing final projects or presentations?
    • Will you need to change your grading structure?
    • Should you consider alternative weighting for assessments and grades?

Should you adjust the timelines for assignments, exams and other course deliverables?

Workshops/Training

  • Accessibility Recorded Workshop: Recorded workshop discussing accessibility in the (online and face-to-face) classroom.
  • Creating Scaffolded Projects for Remote Delivery Courses: A recorded video on creating scaffolded projects for remote delivery courses.
  • Essentials for Remote Teaching: A recorded workshop on the essentials of remote teaching.
  • Teaching Online @ Pitt: The Teaching Online @ Pitt (TOP) course is now available. This is a self-paced, à la carte online course and instructors are free to explore what modules and topics are most relevant to their needs. These resources are designed to help instructors expand their pedagogical understanding of the practices that make for successful online teaching and learning. You can enroll in the Teaching Online @ Pitt course today.

Video

Documents

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Other Resources

Student Communication and Engagement

Remote Learning: Communicating with Students

Instructors should conduct an initial communication with their students to determine students’ expectations and needs. (Consider also watching this student panel, held 3/20/20, during which students shared some experiences with the shift to remote instruction.) It’s important to keep channels of communication open: now is a great time to reach out to your students to check in on their well-being and preparedness. Convey your continued investment in your students’ success in the course, and ensure they’re prepared for upcoming assignments and assessments. (In addition to the suggestions below, you may wish to direct them to Student Strategies for Success in a Remote Environment.)

Encourage students to …

  • Take care of their health.
  • Continue to maintain open communication with you.
  • Reach out for help when they need it.
  • Remain engaged in the course
    • Important: If you have students who have been disengaged since resuming classes remotely (not submitting online work, not logging into the course site, etc.) you should attempt to reach out directly to them immediately to engage them. If they are unresponsive, consider notifying your department.
  • Update you on their progress and communicate the need for support and/or flexibility with course deadlines.
  • Communicate with Disability Resources Services as appropriate.
  • Remember that success in the course is still possible.

Ask your students …

  • How they are doing, and indicate your concern for their health, both physical and mental.
  • What else you can do to support their learning during this time. As an instructor, you should keep in mind that this situation may exacerbate pre-existing inequalities and practice compassionate and equitable leadership.
  • Whether or not they have the technology, time, and space necessary to complete assessments as (re)designed? (For example, if students need to record their presentations, do they have access to a webcam?)
  • Are they spending a comparable and manageable amount of time on course work? Students can feel like written “participation” in an online discussion board takes more time and effort than spoken contributions in a face-to-face format. You might discuss how, in remote instruction, both “in-class” time and “homework” time are spent online, while at the same time adjusting/adapting workload to address the significant, unexpected pressures students are facing.

Student Strategies for Success in the Remote Environment

5 Instructional Compassion and Equity Reminders, or Showing Students Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Guidelines: Communicating With Your Students as Classes Resume Remotely

Articles

  • Suggestions for Maximizing the TA Experience: Teaching assistants (TAs) are integral to the educational goals of the University, yet faculty members and course directors often wonder how best to involve their teaching assistants in their courses. As graduate TAs receive funding and make progress toward their degrees, they also contribute substantially to the student experience, in roles that may include: course planning, grading and providing feedback, leading recitations and labs, holding office hours and review sessions, developing lesson plans, creating assessments and activities, taking attendance and maintaining the class Canvas site.
  • Questions to Consider Before Assessing Student Participation: An article suggesting questions an instructor should consider before assessing students’ participation.

Workshops/Training

E-Books

(Note: All resources linked below require access through the MyPitt Portal.)

Videos

Teaching Resources and Links

  • Broadening Equity in STEM Center (BE STEM): Faculty and staff from five schools, the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Swanson School of Engineering, School of Computing and Information, School of Education, and School of Medicine, along with several academic and administrative units, including the Center for Urban Education and the Learning Research & Development Center, comprise BE STEM’s multidisciplinary collaborative team at the University of Pittsburgh. The team leverages academic and professional expertise centered on broadening equity work. BE STEM’s mission is to increase diversity in Pitt’s STEM programs by serving as a hub interconnecting like minded but siloed efforts and providing programs with relevant organizational support.

Documents

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Other Resources

Assessment Strategies

Assessments, Exams, and Finals in the Online Environment

During the term, you may need to evaluate your finals, exams, and other assessments for delivery in an online/remote format. Many assessments (e.g., research papers, written projects, essays) can be administered through Canvas or other web-based technologies (e.g., email). Often, these may need little or no modification.

However, some assessments (e.g., multiple-choice exams, finals) often require the instructor, TAs or a proctor to be present. If that is the case, it may be helpful for you to think about alternative ways to assess your students in the event that traditional face-to-face administration of exams is not available. Below are some key considerations for thinking about course-level assessments (particularly, multiple-choice exams) in a modified instructional environment and some alternative formats for assessing student learning that may be helpful if you suddenly have to move your class online.

Remote administration and proctoring of exams. Social distancing and the avoidance of gathering in groups is an important directive in the current disruptive context. Therefore, proctoring of exams at the University of Pittsburgh Testing Center will not be available.

Many vendors have been contacting the University through direct marketing campaigns with offers of free access to their remote proctoring services. While these technologies may appear attractive given our current remote teaching situation, there is no one-size-fits-all product, and a university-wide solution will not be integrated in time for finals for a variety of reasons.

It is important to note that some faculty have already used Zoom to successfully proctor synchronous exams, while others have modified their exam formats entirely. The Teaching Center recommends that faculty consider alternatives to traditional exams at this time, and we are available to help.

Set realistic expectations to help both you and your students. Let students know that you may need to make changes that will help them continue to learn, and that these changes may require some adjustment from instructors, TAs and students. Communicate with your students early and often about any changes you may make and reassure students that you are taking into account any unusual external circumstances in assessing their work in the class.

Recognize that learning can be demonstrated in many ways. Multiple-choice exams are a common method of assessing student learning in higher education, and they have many advantages. It may be helpful, however, to explore other assessments you can assign to allow students to demonstrate their learning.  Multiple-choice exams tend to be very effective for committing key concepts to memory and for prompting recall, both of which are fundamental to learning.  However, assessments that call on students to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and apply information are also very effective, though they may require more time from instructors to plan and evaluate.

Evaluate course changes for impacts on equity and inclusivity. Changes made to your teaching should not adversely impact students. When considering a possible change, ask yourself if the change has the potential to disadvantage any particular group of students in your class.

Recognize that each assessment method has both advantages and disadvantages.  Each of the methods identified below has strengths and weaknesses that you will need to determine and assess based on your instructional context.  Weigh your concerns about integrity of the testing process against the possible consequences for students from changing your tests/assessments. You may also want to consider the amount of time you and your TAs (as relevant) will need to modify the tests/assessments and to grade or give feedback on them.

Is a Final Examination required or necessary?

The first question to consider is whether or not a final examination is required or necessary. It may be that students have produced sufficient content to demonstrate the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities for your course. In such instances, a final exam may not be necessary. Check with your department chair or dean to identify appropriate policies and guidelines regarding the administration of final exams.

What alternatives exist to face-to-face finals and exams?

The following suggestions are designed to address issues of academic integrity that can arise when exams are administered outside of the classroom.

Shift to an Open Book exam format.  This format promotes student learning and can help to neutralize the possibility that students will inappropriately rely on other resources to complete the exam by allowing them to consult other resources.  The following elements can be added to the exam (alone or in combination) to help ensure that students maintain academic integrity when course assessments happen outside of the classroom.

  • Add a section to the exam that requires students to give the course-related sources they used to answer each question (including page numbers, where appropriate), as well as the citation information of any other resources they used. Consider telling students they can use outside sources if they also give a well-considered recommendation as to whether the outside sources should be incorporated into the class in future quarters.
  • Add a question that asks students to write a short reflection on what they learned either about the content or about their own learning processes from the process of researching the questions.
  • Have students choose one question or problem on the exam that was difficult and explain the process they went through to find the answer and/or to solve it.
  • Have students choose the most interesting question or section on the exam and write a short paragraph explaining why they think it was interesting. A variation on this: Have students choose the question or section of the exam that targets information they feel is most applicable to their future careers and explain why they feel it is valuable for them to know this information.

Strategies to Address Cheating Online

Using the Closed-Book format, you may find the following suggestions helpful. Consider reducing the number of single-choice answers (e.g., multiple-choice questions) in order to add:

  • Short answer questions.  Adding several short answer questions that have been tailored to information presented in lectures gives students a chance to display what they have learned. It also encourages students to maintain academic integrity by tying their responses to what they learned by attending your class.
  • A metacognition task. Insert a section where students look at errors on a past exam and explain the correct answer to earn a certain number of points determined in advance by the instructor. This develops metacognition, helps students improve their learning, and makes connections to students’ past class performance.
  • A transformative reflection. Provide a question asking students to write a short reflection on how the course has changed their thinking about the course topic or about a course sub-topic. This helps students to become more aware of the effect your class has had on them intellectually.
  • Resource recommendations. Have students give a recommendation for two scholarly articles, news articles, videos, or other instructional media that the students have researched by writing a short (1-2 paragraph) explanation of how these pieces could help future students understand the course material.
  • An application task. Have students choose a question from the exam and explain how the knowledge it tests is important when applied to the field. Make sure you have discussed applications in class, and if not, it may be helpful to let students know that you encourage innovation on this task. If application is something you have not discussed in class, you may want to modify your grading criteria to reflect this.
  • Move to an entirely short-essay exam format.  If possible, convert your multiple-choice questions to a series of questions that require students to write one-to-two-paragraph responses synthesizing course content.  Tailor the questions to your course’s specific content to encourage students to produce their own work and to discourage inappropriate reliance on outside sources (i.e., plagiarism).  Be sure to let students know the criteria you’ll use to evaluate their responses (e.g., a rubric) before they take the exam. If students have been expecting a multiple-choice test throughout the quarter, you may want to be mindful of the effect a sudden change in format can have on students’ ability to be successful on the exam, and weigh this against any changes you might make. If you feel the change is warranted, explain to students the reason for the change, and reassure them of your concern for their learning.
  • Assign an annotated bibliography.  If a traditional exam is not possible, and it serves your learning outcomes for your students,  you might consider having students write an annotated bibliography in which they choose 5-10 key scholarly articles from the course readings and write a short critical summary for each, explaining what the article is about and then giving their assessment of the article’s value to the field. Initially, students may think this is a difficult task, especially if they have never encountered such an assignment. Giving students a model for the task can be helpful and reminding students that it builds on skills they likely already possess (writing summaries, for example) can go a long way to ease their anxiety. If this is a novel task for students that is being introduced, due to external circumstances affecting your course, you may want to adjust your grading criteria accordingly.
  • Assign an application task. Give students a real-world problem-based application of the concepts (or just a single key concept) from your course and ask them to explain they would use the information learned in your class to solve the problem. This would require students to analyze the problem and then synthesize a response to it by revisiting the concepts learned in your course and applying them to the scenario you have described. This, again, could be difficult for some students. If application is something you have not discussed in class, you may want to modify your grading criteria to reflect this.

Articles

E-Books

(Note: All resources linked below require access through the MyPitt Portal.)

Videos

Teaching Resources and Links

  • Information Literacy Rubrics: The ULS Information Literacy and Assessment Working Group has created several rubrics that can be used by faculty and librarians to incorporate appropriate structure and assessment to the development of their instructional sessions.
  • Sample Rubrics by AAC&U: Interactive site where you can input learning outcomes to get downloadable rubrics.
  • STEM Assessments: Here, we provide information about some assessment instruments that have been developed in the fields of Physics, Biological Sciences, Mathematics, Chemistry and Computer Science education. This information is by no means comprehensive, but it is intended to provide a starting point for thinking about assessing teaching effectiveness and investigating the extent to which various instructional goals are met by implementing a transformed course.

Documents

  • 5 CATs: Classroom Assessment Techniques
  • Alternative Final Assessment Ideas: The purpose of this document is to create a list of alternative final assessments that instructors may not have considered using in the past that are:
    1. Remote delivery-friendly.
    2. Responsive to the unique challenges students face this semester and do not create unnecessary, additional burdens for faculty or students.
    3. Accessible, equitable, and flexible.

    The goal is to help instructors think creatively about how students might demonstrate mastery of student learning objectives.

  • Sample Syllabus Statement on Specs Grading: A sample syllabus statement on specs grading.

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  • 5 CATs: Classroom Assessment Techniques
  • Alternative Final Assessment Ideas: The purpose of this document is to create a list of alternative final assessments that instructors may not have considered using in the past that are:
    1. Remote delivery-friendly.
    2. Responsive to the unique challenges students face this semester and do not create unnecessary, additional burdens for faculty or students.
    3. Accessible, equitable, and flexible.

    The goal is to help instructors think creatively about how students might demonstrate mastery of student learning objectives.

  • Giving Effective, Efficient Feedback Handouts: Handouts containing tips for providing efficient feedback.
  • Sample Syllabus Statement on Specs Grading: A sample syllabus statement on specs grading.

Other Resources

Stay Informed

Stay informed: Gather information to inform and guide your course modification plans and to stay abreast of changing information, guidelines and recommendations.

  • Consult with:
    • Your School and department regarding plans to best continue with classes in the event of changes to normal campus operations
    • The University Center for Teaching and Learning for instructional strategies to inform instructional continuity and assistance with Canvas and other educational technologies to support online education
    • Your instructional team, including co-instructors, TA’s, course coordinators, etc.

Canvas Resources

Help for Canvas Users

As always, 24/7 help for these tools is available via the Help button in the global navigation menu.

Workshops/Training

  • Recorded Canvas Workshops: Recorded workshops about Canvas.
  • Teaching Online @ Pitt: The Teaching Online @ Pitt (TOP) course is now available. This is a self-paced, à la carte online course and instructors are free to explore what modules and topics are most relevant to their needs. These resources are designed to help instructors expand their pedagogical understanding of the practices that make for successful online teaching and learning. You can enroll in the Teaching Online @ Pitt course today.

Videos

Teaching Resources and Links

  • Canvas Integration Tools List: This gallery contains the latest information on which 3rd party integrations are currently available or in progress. As integrations are added or updated, this gallery will be updated as well. Each card indicates the current status of that integration, provides a brief description, and where appropriate contains links to more information. If you would like to submit an integration request for consideration, please use this form.
  • Pitt Canvas Learning Center: Publicly available Canvas-based website of self-help resources. Mainly features technology, but could easily be expanded/rebranded as a central location for a lot of other content.
  • Canvas@Pitt contains more information about Pitt’s transition to Canvas

Other Resources

Educational Equity and Accessibility

Workshops/Training

Video

  • OCR Short Webinar on Online Education and Website Accessibility: A webinar on online education and website accessibility.
  • Recording of ODI Panel “I Can’t Breathe: From Agony to Activism”: This emergency installment of our This Is Not “Normal”: Allyship and Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19 town hall series — ‘I Can’t Breathe: From Agony to Activism’ — addressed the troubled history between race and justice, with a focus on the recent tragedy in Minnesota, and outline tangible actions the community can take to achieve justice and equity. The program featured a panel of community activists, educators, mental health experts and public servants.

Teaching Resources and Links

  • Instructional Accessibility at Pitt: Teaching in the Information Age generates and makes use of a great deal of digital content, including, but not limited to: Word documents; PDF files; PowerPoint slides; audio and video recordings; and web pages. Students with disabilities may have difficulty using such materials. This website offers recommendations and resources to help you evaluate and improve the accessibility of your course materials in order to better serve the vibrant and diverse community at Pitt.
  • Broadening Equity in STEM Center (BE STEM): Faculty and staff from five schools, the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Swanson School of Engineering, School of Computing and Information, School of Education, and School of Medicine, along with several academic and administrative units, including the Center for Urban Education and the Learning Research & Development Center, comprise BE STEM’s multidisciplinary collaborative team at the University of Pittsburgh. The team leverages academic and professional expertise centered on broadening equity work. BE STEM’s mission is to increase diversity in Pitt’s STEM programs by serving as a hub interconnecting like minded but siloed efforts and providing programs with relevant organizational support.

Documents

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Other Resources

  • Anti-Racism Resources: This page will be updated regularly with pedagogical approaches and general resources for anti-racist work in teaching and learning. Please email us at teaching@pitt.edu with any suggestions you may have for additional content. Thank you!

Archived Workshops and Training

Previous virtual workshops on various topics are available for viewing. Please note that captioning is an ongoing process and some presentations contain audio only.

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