Responsive teaching and assessment strategies
In Fall 2021, Penn State will return to pre-COVID modes of instruction, which for most (95% of courses) means in-person and synchronous. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring the best of the innovative teaching and learning strategies you used in remote more mixed mode courses with you when you return to campus. And while we hope that the pandemic is waning, we can continue to expect the unexpected for ourselves and for our students. Planning for flexibility, consistency, organization, collaboration, support, and clear communications is useful under any conditions.
Surveys of Penn State students conducted Spring 2021 indicate that the following strategies were especially effective in promoting learning.
- Sharing your lecture notes and PPT slides before class and encouraging students to reflect on them before coming to class
- Engaging interest and encouraging application of lecture/readings with educational technologies, group discussions, or online collaborative documents and whiteboards, both in and outside of class
- Providing accessible course materials for every student’s use
- Recording lectures for viewing missed classes and reviewing content
- Offering flexibility around due dates, number of exam attempts, and ways to complete assignments
- Clearly stating and consistently applying course/assignment requirements, rubrics, and communications
- Using Canvas's Syllabus page, modules, calendar features, and announcements
- Providing support when learning a new tool or when things go wrong
- Scheduling virtual office hours and Q&A sessions in Zoom
These results are similar to those for other surveys conducted by Penn State in Spring 2021 and by Educause. They also appear among the effective teaching and learning practices in our Faculty to Faculty video series, and in the Universal Design for Learning framework.
The recommendations below are drawn from Penn State faculty and other sources. We encourage you to explore and implement any practices that resonate with you and are practical for your teaching environment this term.
- Place information about advising and counseling services on the first page of your syllabus.
- Visit the Office of Student Conduct website for the most up-to-date COVID 19 Classroom Guidance, for up-to-date information and recommendations, including managing emotional/mental health challenges and sample syllabus statements.
- Penn State's Keep Learning includes answers to common student questions. Prepare responses to suit your course.
- To accommodate various emergent challenges, modify your late and attendance policies, extend the amount of time to complete assignments or exams, or provide more than one attempt at online exams.
- Establish a preferred means of communication and direct your students to use it. Consistent, frequent, and timely communication benefits everyone.
- Create an opportunity for students to communicate their individual challenges and collaborate with them to address those challenges (e.g., ask “Is there anything I need to know that could impede your continued progress in this course? What can I do about it? What can you do about it?”).
- Provide your students with options for accessing course content, demonstrating participation, completing assignments, and communicating with you.
- When feasible, consider offering students a choice of discussion prompts. A large class responding to several different prompts will prompt more involved and thoughtful responses (Cassandra Sardo, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Justin York, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign).
- Conduct both synchronous and asynchronous discussions. Real-time discussions appeal to students who enjoy quick interaction, while asynchronous discussion threads (e.g., in Canvas or VoiceThread) benefit students who wish to have more time to think about their responses. Using both formats provides opportunities for both types of students to demonstrate their learning.
- Creating virtual spaces for students to interact informally (i.e., without the pressure of a grade) can contribute to a sense of community, which, in turn, positively influences formal discussions. For example, create a “Parking Lot” discussion forum in Canvas where students can post their thoughts and feedback that is not directly related to the course content.
- Consider turning discussions into the sharing of stories as a way to engage students through digital storytelling, including through cartoons, videos, animations, and more.
- Use Penn State's Keep Teaching as a central resource for teaching and assessment strategies, policy updates, and webinars on teaching and learning topics.
- Provide your students with a variety of options for demonstrating participation and completing assignments, such as permitting either written or audio/visual discussion responses.
- Provide estimates of how much time an assessment should take, clearly express what’s to be done, and share your rubric or examples of quality work when possible.
- Canvas offers multiple assessment formats and integrations with many educational apps already in use by Penn State faculty. Visit Keep Teaching to explore these options.
- Use frequent, low- or no-stakes assessments to provide students with multiple opportunities to practice applying newly acquired knowledge and skills. However, adding more low-stakes assessments without reducing the number or density of high-stakes assessments can indeed be overwhelming. Make all or some low- or no-stakes assessments optional, and strive for an equitable distribution of content across high- and low-level assessments.
- Break up longer exams into small, lower-stakes, mini-exams.
- Use a large test item bank so that each student receives a different set of questions. Merge item banks across multiple faculty or use published item banks.
- Use problem- or project-based assessments instead of multiple-choice testing.
- Use authentic assessments to prompt unique and genuine student responses.
- Wherever possible, provide several options for completing assignments, such as permitting either typed or audio/visual online discussion responses; writing an essay, recording a video, or creating a PowerPoint presentation; selecting from several topics, problem sets, or homework activities.
- Condense complex rubrics with multiple criteria and levels of performance into single-point rubrics for clarity and grading efficiency.
- In Penn State’s and national surveys, students report a better experience when Canvas is used as fully as possible, even for in-person courses, including substantive use of the following features.
- Syllabus page
- Modules (weekly or topical course schedule)
- Media Gallery (for recorded lectures)
- Send a welcome email or announcement with information about the course and how to prepare for it (e.g., brief bio, syllabus, Canvas course name, how to contact you, etc.)
- Remind students to set their PSU email accounts and Canvas emails and announcements to forward to their preferred email addresses and give them time in class to ensure that they have done so.
- Create announcements in Canvas on a weekly, or more frequent basis, in order to proactively stay in touch with students. This is particularly critical for students who might already feel isolated, marginalized, reluctant, or overwhelmed, without assuming that students in one of these groups are in all of these groups.
- Weekly preview announcement featuring the week’s topics, reminders of pre-class preparation, and due dates.
- Weekly review announcement featuring clarifications, summaries of class discussions, and due dates.
- Periodically, direct students to “like” or respond briefly to these announcements to add a measure of accountability for reading them.
- Record and post a lab demonstration or creative performance. Ask students to watch the video (before class or in class) and then to
- Describe the process or critique the performance in their own words
- Identify errors
- Describe how the results would change if X were changed
- Recordings can be stored in the cloud or uploaded to Canvas using Kaltura, which features split screen capability to display yourself and your desktop, video quizzing, auto-captioning, and auto-transcripts.
- Canvas SpeedGrader features highlighting, rubrics for specific comments, a text box for general comments, and audio/visual recording for individualized feedback.
- Schedule office hours, virtual meetings, and study sessions.
- Consider recording pre-lecture content or reading/homework guides for students’ use before a class meeting. Use those recordings as a basis for in-class quizzes or group discussions, in which students can
- Summarize the key points of the readings/homework
- Answer a short set of questions
- Develop solutions to a problem (closed or open-ended)
- Analyze a case or scenario
- Share solutions and correct misconceptions.
- Record short videos as a replacement for readings.
- Record class lectures for future viewing and/or review.
- Anticipate varying degrees of knowledge of and comfort with educational technologies, online collaboration tools, software, and apps. The “digital native” is a myth. The Help Desk can assist you and your students with Penn State approved software and technology.
- Regularly poll students for technical difficulties and prepare for their eventuality.
- Many museums and other institutions continue to offer free virtual tours. Consider asking students to participate in such a tour and to reflect upon their experience by answering questions, writing a short essay, or recording a short audio/video essay.
To Request Support
As you plan to return to campus, the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence faculty consultants are available to assist you. Contact a faculty consultant or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.
To schedule a consultation with an instructional designer, technology consultant, find technology training for Canvas, Zoom, or Kaltura, or to reach Tech Support, visit Keep Teaching, Technology Training.