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Memo to Undergraduate Students: Questions & Answers About Remote Learning

Friday, March 20, 2020

In a very short period of time much of your college experience has changed. Many of you may never have taken an online or remote class. We want to share with you what remote learning looks like in the College and offer some helpful insight before you return for classes online on Monday.

Where will students find their online courses?
All courses will be housed in Blackboard (https://courseware.ku.edu/). Many of you will be familiar with Blackboard, because it’s the online learning management system that we have been using for face-to-face courses.

What about internet access?
You’ll need internet access to participate in online/remote coursework. You may already have WiFi in your residence.

If you do not already have internet access, you may be able to use your cell phone as a hot spot, if your cell phone is internet enabled, to connect other devices to your cell phone’s internet service. The best option is to look up instructions for your specific phone or call your phone service provider. Another option is to call your local internet provider or your cell phone service provider to see if they have any special plans for data usage. We have already seen that some internet providers have low-cost or free plans for qualifying families that need access for education. Other providers are adding special plans for students who need to transition to remote learning. Finally, even if you do have internet access, you may want to check what your plan allows. Your internet usage likely will be increased over the next several months as we practice social distancing. It may be to your advantage to change your cell phone or internet plan so that you have a reasonable price for your increased use.

What will “class” look like?
Instead of going to class each day and learning with the instructor in real time, in-class activities will be replaced with alternatives such as pre-recorded lectures, readings, notes, or instructions, interactive websites, group projects (like wikis), and discussion boards. A few classes, especially smaller ones, may require everyone to login to video conference platforms, such as Zoom, at a specific time. Be aware of these requirements and plan to log in 10 minutes before the session begins so you can troubleshoot any technical issues.

How will students and instructors communicate with each other?
Since you won’t be seeing your instructor in person, e-mail will probably be the best way to communicate with your instructor. In addition, many instructors will be available by phone or video conferencing (such as Zoom). Instructors likely also will be using the announcement feature in Blackboard to keep all students in the course updated with the latest happenings. You should log into Blackboard daily to keep up with what’s happening in the course and check your KU e-mail daily. Communication is critical, so be sure you are looking for updates in your email and Blackboard, reading all information carefully, and asking questions.

What will assignments and tests look like?
This may look more familiar to students. Blackboard has several features that support online learning checks. For example, Blackboard has a quiz feature that supports the most common question types, such as multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and essays. Blackboard also provides a way to upload assignments so that the instructor can receive and grade them. Instead of handing in a print-out of an essay, students will be able to upload their electronic file to Blackboard and receive instructor feedback. Exams will be administered fully online but some may require an online proctor. If an online proctor is required it will be listed in your course syllabus or in the exam directions in Blackboard.

What about hands-on and performance-based classes like labs and the arts?
These are more challenging formats to transition to remote learning but our faculty are finding innovative ways to accomplish the goals of each experience through creative, alternative approaches. For example, in science labs, students may learn how instruments are used to collect data by watching recordings of people performing an experiment. You would then be given data to analyze, interpret, and summarize in a lab report. This type of activity will deepen students’ understanding of concepts taught in lecture, enhance students’ ability to reason quantitatively, think critically, and communicate your findings to others, and learn about the specialized tools and techniques used in the field.

In terms of an example from the arts, faculty are recording demonstration videos to share via Blackboard and identifying weekly goals for students to practice on their own. Because feedback on performance is so important, faculty are finding ways for students to record their practice using phones or webcams and share those recordings with their instructors for feedback. This maintains the opportunity to learn and practice appropriate performance techniques.

Finally, departments are investing in online resources to enhance the student experience. Examples include professionally produced online instructional videos of core techniques and simulation software that provide an interactive experience similar to a real-world environment.

What should students do if they have a hard time transitioning to this new format?
If you have any concerns or questions, it is essential that students reach out to your instructors. Students are sometimes hesitant to contact your instructor, out of worry that you are bothering them or that your instructor will think less of you for asking a question. Learning is always a collaboration between instructor and student, and with remote learning it is critical that students let instructors know how things are going. The instructor can’t see the look on students’ faces to know if you are confused or not. If you need help, you should connect with your instructor via e-mail, virtual office hours, or a phone call.

You can also find key resources, such as making advising appointments, at https://college.ku.edu/coronavirus. Also, take advantage of https://remote.ku.edu/. There are a number of resources there for transitioning to this new method of instruction, including tips and technology tutorials.

Next week will be a new experience for all of us. Be patient with yourself and others as we make this adjustment. And most importantly, please take good care of yourself.


John Colombo, PhD
Interim Dean
Director, Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies
Professor of Psychology