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Flexible Design for Changing Delivery Modes

Decorative image of a boy studying in an empty classroom.
Image credit: Pixabay

One challenging aspect of teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic is the need for educators to be flexible in delivering courses in face-to-face (F2F), hybrid, and online formats–sometimes simultaneously in several formats and in other instances with the format changing within a semester. This can feel like you are creating the class two or three times, but there are ways to create materials and assignments readily adapted to other delivery formats on the fly.

The most flexible way to design a course is to develop it as a hybrid course based on a flipped classroom model. This means the majority of your course content would be built to be delivered online and in-class meetings would be spent discussing, applying content in activities, or elaborating on course materials (either faculty- or student-led). In this scenario, if synchronous F2F class time is not an option, you can adjust those activities for synchronous online delivery via video conferencing (e.g. Zoom) or asynchronous individual or group activities posted online.

The Flipped Classroom Model

Image credit: University of Texas at Austin Faculty Innovation Center.

Numerous faculty use a flipped classroom model in F2F courses already. It presents most lecture and course materials to students ahead of the class so that synchronous class time is focused on refining student understanding of the concepts and applying the concepts through discussion and group activities like pair work, role-playing, case study analysis, etc. A number of these active learning strategies typically used in F2F courses can also be adapted for online. The primary difference between F2F and online delivery of that activity then becomes the tool(s) you utilize to facilitate the learning goals and type of engagement you want to create.

Selecting Online Apps and Tools

Finding a website, app, or tool to facilitate the type of engagement or learning goals you have in mind can be daunting. Two important things to keep in mind as you decided on a technology are: 1) let your learning goals drive the tool you select not the other way around, and 2) make sure it is something that is readily available and accessible for your students.

You may also have to think creatively about ways to use a tool beyond its original purpose. For example, Slack was designed to be project management platform for business although it works equally well to organize group discussions and files for a class or for a specific assignment.

The site Websites, Apps, and Tools for Higher Education is one place to start your search for a technology that fits your needs. Tools are organized into four broad categories: communication and collaboration; visual and audio presentations; assignments and practice; and student portfolios and work submission. You may want to refer to this guide to help you compare and narrow down these technologies to fit your goals.

Consistency and Communication

If your course does need to move to a fully online format, it is important to maintain as much consistency as possible in course organization and assignment due dates. If discussions are typically on Tuesdays, have online discussions also due on Tuesday. Continue to use module, unit, or other organizational structures and keep the naming practices consistent.

You also want to maintain clear and regular communication with students. Using the course announcements in your learning management system or sending out an email with information about the change in format can guide students through the transition. Continue to send messages once-a-week to narrate the course and where students should be or what they are doing. A tool like Remind can be helpful to pre-schedule these reminders and have them sent automatically.

Ideas for Group and Peer Work Online

Decorative image of students working in a group.
Image credit: Pixabay

Shifting group and peer work to an online format is possible. Students can work in the learning management system group area that often provides a discussion, file exchange, and collaborative work space like a wiki. Google Drive can work equally well for collaborative brainstorming or creation of a shared presentation–including the ability to see who contributed what to the documents through the track changes feature.

Peer-review and exchange of assignments can be automated and even anonymized with a tool like TurnItIn or Peergrade, or the faculty member can assign pairings and simply tell students to exchange papers via email.

Other in-class activities can be implemented online too. The two-minute writing assignment or “exit tickets” can be replicated using low-stakes reflective journal assignments. To increase engagement and interaction beyond the typical discussion board, trying using Padlet, Flipgrid, or Explain Everything.

Recorded Lectures: Best Practices

Numerous institutions provide a center for teaching and learning or instructional design support team, and they may be able to help record your lectures for you. Faculty can also opt to record their own lectures using tools like Zoom (just record a meeting with only you in it), Panopto, or narrating slides. If you record video content for yourself, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • have good lighting in front or at 45-degree angles on either side of your face;
  • use a headset with a microphone or a stand-alone microphone on your desk rather than the built-in microphone on your computer;
  • consider using an external webcam if you are writing on a board or showing material (rather than screen sharing the image or content) so that the image quality is high enough for students to read/see what you write;
  • limit your video segments to 10 to 15 minutes whenever possible, even if this means breaking a larger class period into several videos;
  • consider making the slideshow available along with the video for students to take notes on the slides or be able to view them in greater detail;
  • always edit the auto-captioning in YouTube or provide your own written transcript for videos you utilize in class.

In summary, designing your course for flipped learning and planning for a middle-of-the-road hybrid delivery method can help you switch between delivery formats quickly and with minimal additional work. There are also many technology tools available to provide the space for student engagement with one another or with the content. You can facilitate deeper learning with pedagogical practices like spaced-retrieval and active learning activities as well.

Additional Resources

University of Connecticut Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Active Learning Strategies.

University of Illinois at Springfield. (n.d.). Online Instructional Activities Index.

University of Texas at Austin Faculty Innovation Center. (n.d.). Flipped Classroom.

Weinstein, Y. & Sumeracki, M. (n.d.) The Learning Scientists.

Cite this page: Cannon, J. A. (2021, July). Flexible Design for Changing Delivery Modes.

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