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Covid-19 Teaching Strategies

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it's that we need to be adaptable. When the pandemic first hit us here in Arizona, in March of 2020, we added conferencing hardware to classrooms, promoted the use of masks indoors, practiced social distancing, and adopted new tools for synchronous remote teaching, including Zoom and Collaborate Ultra. We adopted a modified version of the HyFlex teaching strategy, which we called NAUFlex. When effective vaccines became available in early 2021, we thought we were on the path towards a return to normalcy, but the Delta and Omicron variants have proven more tenacious than we expected. Associated with the resurgence, we have seen shifts in the workforce and issues with the global supply chain that have created additional challeges. With cases on the rise again, we need to consider the possibility that we might need to pivot back to online in a hurry. While that would be unfortunate, we are at least better prepared now than we were at the beginning. And, if so, here are some of the strategies we could employ.

NAUFlex: The NAUFlex teaching method allowed students to attend class in-person or virtually via conferencing software. It's nice that it's flexible, but this is one of the most challenging things to do well, because it requires the instructor to present to two different audiences at the same time. Because it's live and involves a lot of technology, it's also hard to fix when things go wrong, particularly on the instructor's end, but also for students who don't have reliable high speed Internet or high end hardware.

Synchronous Online: Synchronous (live) online is easier than HyFlex because there's only one audience, and they are all online. With practice, instructors can monitor the chat while presenting, and can take breaks to respond to questions. If they are really skilled, that can do instantaneous polling, invite student presentations via screen sharing, and facilitate student collaboration via breakout rooms. This preserves many aspects of the in-person experience, but it's still prone to show-stopping technical challenges. Most of our faculty adopted Zoom rather than Collaborate, and felt that it had all of the features they needed, including ease-of-use, instant polling, breakout rooms, and more.

Asynchronous Online: Making content available in the Learning Management System, Blackboard, is less prone to catastrophic failure, and works well for students with low bandwidth or the need for flexibility. Designed well, such courses can still be dynamic and engaging, but it takes work. The biggest mistake instructors who have not taught in this mode before make is to try to force it to be the same as live, in-person. Courses need to be re-thought for this mode of instruction to be effective. The best practices for online asynchronous courses require not just translation but transformation of the teaching and learning process.

Good News? On the bright side, we are structurally better prepared for remote instruction than we were at the beginning of the pandemic. Many more of our classrooms now have conferencing technologies in place. Zoom now requires NAU authentication, so disruption by non-class members is no longer a nuisance. Zoom recordings are now automatically pushed to Kaltura, our streaming media server, and it's a simple operation in Blackboard (Build Content/Kaltura Media...) to point to them. Recordings can be captioned for free with machine captioning, and analytics can show you who's watching, and for how long. We are gaining experience with the tools, and with the teaching practices to be effective in this environment. If we can all remain patient and flexible, we'll get through this together!